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A hunter tells his story
     E ARE starting our column with a story
     relayed to me by friend Scott Haight,
     whose Lab retriever Thunder is starting
to become a legend. Dog lovers, whether they are
hunters or not, should appreciate both the work
that these dogs love and do so well, and the obvious
bond between an avid hunter and his dog.
    “I went out yesterday afternoon to my favorite
salt marsh. With the first major cold front, complete
with snow and sleet on the way, I figured it would
make for a good afternoon shoot. Unfortunately, I
think the birds are now wired in to the weather
channel as the few birds we had, bugged out as the
front approached.
    “Anyway, I got set around 1:30 and began the
process of scanning empty skies. After about an
hour or so I heard wings over me just as another
group 150 yards away began to call. I looked up to
see a duck fly over and head into the marsh. I hit
the bird with a hard comeback call on my Haydel’s
Red Leg( man I love that call )and the bird turned
on a dime and came back to glide over me.
    “I stood and fired as it flared away with the wind.
Turns out it was a drake Mallard - but unfortunately
I was slow getting up to shoot, and got all tangled
in my coat and the blind, and hit it at max range,
only lightly wounding it. The drake came crashing
down and began to swim like mad up into a creek in
the marsh. I tried a finishing shot but it was too far
and all it did was make that bird go like a rocket.
    “I got the dog out and sent him after the bird as
fast as I could. Thunder got across the big creek and
was after it, up the creek mouth it went in, but the
darn thing got up one of those small ditches that is
like a tunnel. For those of you not familiar with East
Coast tidal salt marshes let me explain. In the old
days they hayed the marshes( and even some still
today - they hay the marsh I am referring to still ).
They cut long irrigation ditches into the marsh, like
two to three feet deep and a foot wide, and they are
still there today.
    “They provide plenty of escape avenues for
crippled birds too. Many of the ditches have begun
to roof over in sections with tunnel-like channels
still open underneath. It can be a real nightmare
finding these cripp’s even with a dog. It takes a real
experienced “marsh dog” to know how to do it.
    “That is the situation that confronted Thunder.
He followed the bird to the ditch but it was too
narrow to go up the whole way. So he got on top and
followed the bird until it entered one of the tunnels.
Poor Thunder was running back and forth, up and
down, that ditch trying to find a way at the bird he
knew was there but couldn’t get to.
     “I finally went over in the boat and got out to
help when it dawned on me he wasn’t able to get to
it. When I got there I had to laugh because the roof
of the tunnel had a lot of small holes in it( softball
size )and Thunder would find where the duck was
and try to force himself into that little hole. His rear
end was stuck straight up, tail going 100mph, and I
could hear him whining and grumbling in the tunnel.
    “He even tried to dig to the bird a couple times,
whining the whole time. Man was it a riot and I
wish I had my camcorder with me. His face was
solid marsh muck from forcing it into the holes - he
looked like a raccoon.
    “I found a good-sized, long stick and began to try
and force the bird back into the open out of his
refuge by poking it into the holes and wiggling it
around. Unfortunately, this particular ditch had a
roofed over section about 40 feet long and the bird
wasn’t about to cooperate. Finally, as the tide was
coming and filling the ditch, I could hear the duck
moving in the shallow water.
    “By following the noise, and Thunder sticking
his head into the marsh when he heard or smelled the
bird, I knew I was working the duck out by keeping
it from doubling back. I even saw it once through one
of the holes look up at me in surprise and run off
with a quack.
    “Finally after about 20 minutes we got the bird out
and and I shot it. What a major retrieve. I have to tell
you I was getting a little upset at that bird myself. I
considered at one point getting an oar from the boat
and digging the darn thing out. We finally got it
though.
    “I guess the only sad part of the whole thing was
later back at the launch when another party that
witnessed it said I was nuts for spending 45 minutes
to find a wounded bird. When I told them I would
have spent another 45 minutes to get it, as I knew
right where it was, they laughed at me and walked
off. That is sad.”
Haight said.