A scary situation turns into a victorious tale of a persevering chocolate Lab from Steve Osborn, a waterfowl hunter out of Terre Haute, Ind.
It was mid-December, and my long-time hunting partner, Larry, and I were duck and goose hunting in southwestern Indiana. Soon after our arrival, Larry knocked down a goose. It landed on an iced-over lake, and I sent my 5-year-old, chocolate lab, Ryder, after the bird.
While Ryder was on another retrieve, Larry shot a drake mallard, which looked as if it would fall a few yards off shore, but landed on the ice. Ryder saw it fall, and before I could call her off, she was running full speed ahead. She retrieved the bird and advanced about 10 feet before falling through the ice.
We immediately began shouting for her to leave the bird and come back, but she stubbornly kept that duck in her mouth. Since we had no poles or flotation devices with us, I decided to return to my truck. I drove to a spot closest to the water and removed a canvas bag of decoys for floatation assistance, an extension pole and proceeded to ease my way across the ice. I made it about 15 or 20 yards before falling through myself.
After about 20 minutes, for whatever reason, divine intervention, luck, and a very strong, determined dog, Ryder finally made it out of that icy hole. She wasn't worn out by a long shot. I was walking toward her; she still had the bird. A few steps later Ryder fell in the hole where I had fallen earlier. I was able to reach her with the decoys, and remove the bird from her mouth.
After a big shake, she went to the truck with me. I removed her Avery vest, which I believe helped keep Ryder afloat and conserve energy, and placed her in the warm truck. Needless to say, we now have a strict rule: no birds will be shot unless we are very sure they will fall on land or in open water.