Duck Hunting is My Favorite
Cash the Springer Spaniel (as told to Kyle Wintersteen)
My days are generally quite routine. I wake up, scratch a little, ensure the backyard is free of squirrels and assume my position on the couch. But every once in a while, something special happens. It begins when my owner’s alarm rings at an unholy hour and he springs from bed like a flushed teal.
Could this be the day? I wonder.
I follow him downstairs with guarded optimism. Maybe he just has a flight to catch. But then he puts on his special jacket — the one that smells of coffee and mallards — and I know we are going duck hunting! I bounce up and down with delight, pausing at the height of my jumps to direct my thankful eyes to his.
We arrive at this place we call “the farm.” I won’t reveal where it is, as I’m not convinced my owner’s wife even truly knows. I’m then stuffed into a neoprene garment that matches my owner’s waders. It keeps me warm and dry, but isn’t it a tad demeaning when humans play dress-up with their animals?
I follow closely behind my owner — I suppose I always do, worrier that I am — as he and his buddies place decoys in the stream and brush my blind. Then, it’s time. I head to my “place” and shotguns are loaded.
A piercing whistle of wings approaches, but my owner’s hearing has been in apparent decline for several seasons.
“Hey!” I whine. “Hey! Call them! Call the ducks!”
“Cash, no, quiet,” my owner whispers.
“But there’s … !”
“Ducks, 10 o’clock guys.”
Two greenheads and a susie make a 50-yard swing off the edge of the spread. Every fiber of my being tells me to chase them. I’m certain I could catch one, and even if I didn’t, wouldn’t my pursuit shorten the retrieve? However, I resist this primal urge, because every time I stick a paw out of my blind something peculiar happens: I get struck by lightning. The bizarre phenomenon defies meteorological explanation, yet somehow my owner knows when it’s safe. He communicates this to me by saying my name.
The ducks cup their wings in full committal. I quiver uncontrollably.
A drake falls on the opposite bank. Then another! I fix my eyes solidly on the spot where the second duck fell in order to avoid a mismark.
I’m off to the races slinging mud and grass en route to my reward. I thunder across the stream, climb up the opposite bank and find the mallard buried in the thick surrounding grass.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever clutched a freshly killed duck in your mouth, but let me tell you, it is bliss. Pure nirvana. More satisfying than munching table scraps while rolling in something stinky. I love the taste of it. I love the smell of it. Heck, I’d rather fetch a duck than chase the neighbor’s cat, and I’ve had it in for that arrogant priss forever.
I race back to deliver the duck. I want my owner to enjoy it, too.
“Good dog, Cash.”
Oh, those words. I’d do anything it takes to hear them again and again.
Now it’s time for the second bird. I have a pretty good idea where it fell, and my owner assists with a guiding hand on my snout.
“Dead bird. Back!”
Again I sprint across the stream, and I hit scent 15 yards up the bank. Hmm, no duck, but it’s been here. I run downwind and circle back into the breeze, searching for a whiff of the fugitive. Ah, here we go, the bird is paralleling the stream. I work to the right as scent increasingly fills my nostrils. My efforts are interrupted by a whistle blast.
“Over!” my owner says, his outstretched arm directing me back to where the bird fell. Now, I’d never insult the man who feeds me, but sometimes he acts as if he has no sense of smell at all.
I ignore the command.
“Hup, darn it! Over!”
This time, I make a courtesy loop in the requested direction, then divert back to the fleeing bird. I find it well to the right of its last known location, stone dead on the water’s edge.
I deliver it to my owner, who’s chuckling at his folly.
“Sorry, Cash,” he says. “I know better than to doubt you.”
I rest a paw on his knee and communicate my thoughts through my eyes.
“It’s OK, buddy. I know you do. But your friends are laughing at you — want me to steal one of their sandwiches?”
Three ducks later, we head home. I take my position of esteem on the couch, while my owner starts cleaning ducks. I’d like to pitch in, but I leave him to his work. After all, he needs to feel that he too served an important role in the hunt.