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November 23, 2005 - The NH waterfowl season reopened today and as
I finally had a day off from some serious carpentry work I decided to
head out. Little did I know it would turn into what could have been
one of the saddest days of my life!
I woke up to some serious cold( 20 degrees ), a decent N/NW wind,
and flurries. Just a perfect morning for duck hunting. So I loaded
Thunder and my gear, hooked up the boat, and headed out to the
launch early just in case there was a crowd. The area I wanted to hunt, and the launch we use, has
minimal space so I was not taking chances. I was there ready to go a good hour before I really needed to
but figured on the opener it was a smart move.
I stayed in the truck but was all set to just launch and shove off if someone arrived and as it turns out I
made the right move. Another group arrived pretty early so by being ready I was able to get the spot I
wanted. The other guys actually passed me in the creek a while later and set up a few hundred yds away.
Worked out for both of us.
Anyway, the birds started flying and in short order I had a couple Mallards in the boat and unfortunately
a lost Mallard that dove on me before I could get the dog out and after it. It was belly up and then all of a
sudden it rolled and dove in a flash. Still not bad for the 1st 20 minutes or so. Finally there was a brief
lull so I looked at my watch( 6:52 AM )and when I looked back up a pair came from nowhere low and over
the marsh and were just there. I stood and fired a going away, reaction shot, and managed to knock one of
the pair down.
It crashed about 20 feet into the tall marsh grass on the far bank but I knew it was not dead. I got Thunder
out and got him over there and then it began. I have to say, with no embarrassment or humiliation, that
during the events I will now describe I have never felt at such a loss or so afraid. I seriously thought
Thunder was gone( I mean dead! ). So, Thunder crosses the creek and goes into the grass about 15 yds
from where the bird went down, but down wind, so perfect. He worked off into the grass after the bird so
I went back to sky watching as he is a veteran of this area and I had full confidence he would soon come
back with the bird. He had already done it twice that morning in the same area.
The grass. Maybe now is the best time to describe it so you know just what we deal with at this spot. This
is marsh grass that is about 6-7' tall and just one solid wave that does not end. The area the dog went into
is about the size of 3-4 football fields and would be the center of a horseshoe with the creek being the shoe
itself. You could kind of cap it with the tree line and highway. While the ground is actually pretty much
firm, and even at my size I will walk it, The grass is so darn thick however you can't see anything. I am
6' 3" and when I am in it all I can see around me is a wall of marsh grass! About halfway down the stalks
all the loose grass and other debris hangs up so you can't see to the ground. The dog can run under it
however. It is an extremely tough area to hunt.
So Thunder went into the grass after the bird around 6:55AM +/- and I put the blind back up to hunt while
I waited for him to come back. By 7:05 he had not come back however so I put the blind down and began
to try and see what was up. While I was not worried I was now focused on him and not anymore birds.
The wind was pretty fierce and blowing from me to him so I couldn't hear him working and with all the
grass blowing around I couldn't pick out where he was. I whistled him in a few times and called him once
or twice but didn't want to be too loud and mess up the other guys hunt who were downwind of me. At
7:15 however, with no sign of Thunder anywhere, I really began to start worrying about him seriously. He
has taken 10-15 minutes in that jungle before to get birds so I wasn't worried but at 20 minutes I was. Just
too long for him to be gone and not at least come back to look to me for some help if he couldn't find the
bird. I kept telling myself he was okay and just out there looking for the bird, which I figured was a
cripple running in the grass, but I just couldn't hear him or see him because of the wind. Deep down
however, as I said, I began to get a bad feeling.
He is no pup anymore as he approaches 10 and with both rear knees being surgically repaired( acl
injuries )I do, and was, worried he might have had a heart attack or one or both of his knees may have
gone and he was laying out there hurt. As thick as it is I also worry a lot in that area about him getting
trapped under the stuff and drowning. All kinds of horrible things were going through my mind at that
point.
So, I fired up the boat and ran over to where he had entered. Still no sign of him and at that point I
stopped worrying about the other guy's hunt and went into "save my dog mode". I began to whistle him
in seriously and call for him loud and often. Still nothing. Ihave to tell you it was very hard to keep calm. I
was also fighting back tears I admit because I just had such a horrible feeling. Thunder just does NOT
refuse to return for half an hour. At 7:25, with no sign of him still, I couldn't take it. I got on the cell phone
and called a local friend with a boat and asked him to please come down as soon as he could and help me
find Thunder. I also wanted him to know I was leaving the boat to go and look for him and wanted him to
know where I was. This is not a good area to be walking in alone.
So at 7:30'ish I started walking in after Thunder. I was whistling and hollering for him but he was just
NO WHERE! I began to get more and more nervous as I looked around and I realized how hard it was
going to be finding him in that stuff if he had passed away or was hurt and couldn't move. Finding a
needle in a 100' haystack would be easier. Trust me. That sinking pit feeling in my gut was getting worse
and worse. I got out into the middle of the area with no sign of him and just basically knelt down in
despair and to try and calm myself.
It was now after 7:45 and thunder had been missing for almost an hour. I just can't express how desperate
I began to feel and how hopeless as well. Some may find this corny or hokey( what ever you want to call
it ), but as I knelt there trying to calm down and focus for his sake, I started praying and asking God to
please help Thunder and help me find him. I asked that he please let me find him alive( hurt, fine,
whatever just alive )but if it was his time, and he was gone, to please let me find his body to take him
home. The thought of never finding him was almost more then I could take.
I got up and tried to think which way I should go? I just picked the general direction he had gone when I
last saw him and started busting through the grass after him calling his name and whistling. I had only
gone a few yards when I thought I heard something. I listened but nothing? So I called him again and
whistled then listened. There it was again. Kind of a pitiful whine/cry and some splashing. Let me tell you,
you have never seen a piece of heavy equipment make faster work of a landscape then I made of the
grass on my way to where Thunder was. I almost flew to him. When I got to him I was almost sick to my
stomach. The poor dog was trapped in a sink hole type thing with his collar stuck on a tree limb trapped
in the grass. It was so pitiful seeing him there struggling to get free and then just collapsing in exhaustion
and almost having his head under water.
I don't know how long Thunder was trapped there? I have no idea if he was there all along or was just
having a romp( and ignoring me )and got trapped on the way back or what? I do know he was about spent
when I got there and if I had waited any longer to go look for him he probably would have drowned or
hung himself with his collar. I also have no doubt God guided me to him. The chances of hearing him out
there on such a windy day, or actually walking in the right direction when you have no idea where to start
and can't see more then a few feet in any direction, are just about impossible but somehow I found him.
The wind died just long enough for me to hear him and somehow I went the right way. IMO it was God
helping us.
Anyway, I managed to break the limb that was in his collar( I couldn't even get him off without doing it )
and he dragged himself out of the hole/ditch he was in. His collar was caught so bad the brass nameplate
I have riveted on is all twisted in a spiral as was the collar. You have never seen anything like it. I don't
know how he didn't break his neck or choke to death? Thankfully I leave his collar very loose so he can
slip it easy if he ever does get caught. Most places I hunt are bare salt marshes with almost no cover so it
is not a problem. I "should" have taken it off here and will in the future.
So, after I got him out what a joyous reunion we had! There were a lot of tears, hugs, and tail wags. I
honestly thought he was dead, or at the least hurt bad, and to have him 100% okay was more then I dared
hope for. We went back to the boat then although he clearly was exhausted and kept stopping to lie down
so I picked him up and carried him the last 75 yds or so.
I called my friend to tell him the dog was found. He was coming to help and was
overjoyed to hear it. He actually met us at the launch to see the dog and help me load as I was so stressed
and drained at that point. I grabbed my dekes and got Thunder back to the truck and cranked the heat for
him. He was much better after a little bit and even ate a biscuit and drank some water. My friend walked
him around for a bit on the leash and he seemed fine.
After loading the boat onto the trailer I called the vet to see if I should run him up for a check just to be
safe. They said as long as he seemed okay to just keep an eye on him. By the time we got home he seemed
to have his second wind and was back to his old self. One of the scariest ordeals I have ever gone through!