Regaining Hope: Remembering My Best Hunting Dog

HopeGrape vines had overrun the empty chain-link kennel, deep grass claiming the inside. As I walked past it in my backyard, a metallic twinkle caught my eye. I dug it out, blew the dirt off. A dog tag, with my phone number and one word'¦"Hope." The lump swelled in my throat, the dog tag blurred through wet eyes. I could not believe it. "Gin's New Hope" had died in my arms four years prior.

All hunters get one great dog. It's rough when that dog is your first. Black Stuff. The Microlab. The Pocket Retriever. We had many names for the diminutive little hot shot who was pure adrenaline, flash and style, topped with a supernatural homing-beacon nose. She made me look like a genius as a first-time trainer. The runt. A litter of great breeding, all gone, her still there on the concrete floor, half-starved, lingering, the unwanted weakling leftover. Available half-price — just the right amount on a journalist's pay.


She stayed small, about 60 pounds, and I liked her sprightly size better than my pals' big dumb gorilla Labs that towed back half the decoy spread. So smart, she taught herself to flush grouse toward me, not away. She is buried high on a Utah mountain where she made one of her greatest such hunts. What a dog does is come into your life and define a period of it, a friend said.  Like children, you know you had a great dog when other adults love being around her. Friends far and wide wept at the loss of Hope. My adolescent son had known no world without her.



You try and tell people, "I had a good dog," and what that means. Words fail. I tried, in a newspaper column. If God makes something cuter than little boys and puppies, he's keeping it to himself. We were lucky to have that one 10 years, huh kid?

She once ran away and the old lady who found her responded to my desperate newspaper ad. "How do I know she's yours?" I led her through  a few commands and the lady exploded with glee when Hope did all she said despite, it would turn out, a newly fractured leg.


Her first retrieves were on the surging Columbia. I feared for her, but my pal Pete said, "Skipper, you've got a keeper" as she dove for ducks instinctively and swam hundreds of yards, returning safely. She sat shivering, a lone duck feather curled up on her nose. She had no idea what had happened, only that it was right.  Her nose was so good she became a field proof test when frustrated friends needed to know the truth about their dogs' failures. She often came back with cold birds that had been dead for a while. For me, bird hunting without Hope was cold, and dead for a while.


Sons grow up, move out. I keep that dog tag, "Hope," on my motorcycle key, to keep her angel close. I had a good dog. It's been years now. Black Stuff, it's finally time to try again. Time to find someone who breeds great microlabs, and start over. Until then I have only sweet memories and a poem that seems written just for her:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all,

And Sweetest in the Gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm

I've heard it in the chillest land

And on the strangest sea,

Yet never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me

— Emily Dickinson, Poem 254

Recommended for You

Make summertime barbecues super easy by grilling up one of these duck recipes from Scott Leysath, Recipes

2 Easy Duck Recipes for Summertime Grilling

WILDFOWL Online Staff

Make summertime barbecues super easy by grilling up one of these duck recipes from Scott...

Keep your retriever sharp in the offseason. Retriever

Waterfowl Workouts: 3 Summer Duck Dog Drills

Tony J. Peterson

Keep your retriever sharp in the offseason.

Ready to grill up some delicious, juicy waterfowl burgers? This Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe is made with ground duck breast fillets and a kick of horseradish. Recipes

Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe

Scott Leysath

Ready to grill up some delicious, juicy waterfowl burgers? This Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Wentz Bros Outdoors - Throwback Waterfowl

Wentz Bros Outdoors - Throwback Waterfowl

This video is a classic! Take a front row seat with Carson as he hunted back in college. The clips are all either filmed with a GoPro or cell phone!

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Let's face it, that old mud motor from two years ago isn't cuttin' it any longer.

Of course, it Boats

8 Best Mud Motors for 2016

David Hart - May 26, 2016

Let's face it, that old mud motor from two years ago isn't cuttin' it any longer. Of course,...

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season. Shotguns

Best Waterfowl Shotguns of 2018

John Taylor - September 25, 2018

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season.

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter from How-To

Building a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget

Mike Marsh - May 10, 2016

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter...

See More Stories

More Retriever

Summer dog training, while difficult to get motivated for, can be key in getting ready prepared for the season ahead. Retriever

Don't Sleep on Summer Dog Training

Tom Dokken - April 25, 2018

Summer dog training, while difficult to get motivated for, can be key in getting ready...

The key is off-season work. Retriever

Training Gun Dogs for Double & Triple Retrieves

Tom Dokken

The key is off-season work.

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance. Retriever

Gun Dog Nutrition & Intelligence

Tony J. Peterson

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance.

See More Retriever

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×