The bond between waterfowl hunters and their dogs can be very strong. Such a connection is hard to give up. For Colorado Ducks Unlimited President's Council sponsor Mack Nichols, waterfowl hunting is all about the dog.

"If it wasnt for my dog, I wouldnt hunt," Nichols said.

He had hunted all his life but didnt take up waterfowl hunting until 1998. Thats when he thought, "I need a dog."

Thats when Nichols got his first dog, a black lab called Anthracite Annie. The family was living in Missouri at the time and two years later moved to a drier place.

"I assumed I would have to give up waterfowl hunting in Colorado," Nichols said, "but then I joined a duck club, the DT Ranch, and Annie and I just kept hunting."

Later when Annie was older but still hunting, they brought Jetta, a black lab puppy, into the family.

"We thought being together would help each of the dogs, but it didnt work out so well, because Annie was in too much pain," he said. "Annie was still retrieving ducks up to three weeks before she died."

Annie passed away nine years ago, just one week shy of her 13th birthday. She was cremated. A couple of years later, Nichols was hunting with Jetta and his grandson, also named Mack, at the spot Annie had her last hunt. At sunrise, Nichols waded into the slough to scatter her ashes at the place she loved the most. He didnt realize young Mack was taking pictures with his phone. Nichols daughter-in-law, Julie Nichols, did a painting of the photograph to commemorate his final goodbye to his hunting buddy.

"Theres an old country western song, Lord dont let me outlive my dog," he said.