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Banding Together for Waterfowl

All in a Day's Work

A dog's drive can be measured only by performance
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Dogs that hunt for professional guides may retrieve more birds in a single season than most dogs do in a lifetime

By Gary Koehler

Right out of the box, Ruff hardly took my breath away. When Tony Vandemore released his black Lab on a hilltop cornfield in northwest Missouri, all I saw was a diminutive pup, short in stature and weighing maybe 45 pounds. This was the dog that was going to be handling all the retrieving chores during our spring snow goose hunt?

To be sure, there was a sparkle in the pup’s eyes and a spring in his step, accompanied by the typical stretching, sniffing, leg-lifting, and other dog business that precedes such outings. But Vandemore and fellow Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Tyson Keller and their crew had killed more than a hundred snows the previous afternoon. And Ruff was the only retriever in camp. 

“He’s still learning, but he has learned a lot in a short amount of time,” Vandemore said in the dark of that February morning two years ago. “Ruff gets after them pretty good.”

Four hours later, after the gun smoke had settled and more than a hundred snow geese had found the last stop on their northern migration, Ruff was still patrolling the field, picking up cripples that had fallen up to 400 yards from our layout blinds. No less than a dozen had sailed out of sight over the field’s rolling humps. A handful wound up along the banks of a tiny creek.

The hilly terrain didn’t faze Ruff, who time and again returned with a goose in his mouth and then looked up at Vandemore for a signal directing him toward another bird. In a word, Ruff was a trooper—diligent until we were all confident that every last bird had been accounted for.

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