By Andy Fondrick
The annual spring reorganization of my hunting gear happened later than usual this year. The reason for my delay was something we all eventually face as bird dog owners. When I finally got around to the task at hand, my progress was halted rather quickly. There, dangling on a key rack next to a set of dog whistles and miscellaneous duck calls, was the dog’s collar that carried with it the majority of my life’s bird hunting stories. As a youngster, that collar was on the Labs who taught me how to bird hunt with my dad. When offered for my very own bird dog, I grabbed that collar like a baton of tradition from my father.
Thirteen years later, that beaten old collar had spent every adventure around the neck of that first Lab of my own, Kirby. Whether it be pheasants, grouse or ducks across Minnesota; or Hungarian partridge and snow geese in the fields of Saskatchewan, Kirby and I matured together as hunters. As I began to reflect on the stories the collar could tell, memories of Kirby began rushing back.
My first pheasant on a hot day in early fall with my wife, hunting the same game farm used to bring her to when she was younger. The many audibles pulled during a goose hunt that didn’t go quite as planned, but still provided the big mature blue goose that hangs on the wall after a perfect retrieve. Jumping potholes on the prairie and watching Kirby in his prime track down three gorgeous green heads and a nice mature canvasback. A weekend in the north woods chasing grouse and mentoring our youngster of a black Lab, Kona, around camp and in the woods.
That darned collar hanging in the corner of my hunting room has chronicled not only the tales of my four-legged best friend, but major chunks of my life as well.
Kirby’s collar made its final appearance in the field in 2019 in the hunt of a lifetime, it was time for Kirby to retire as a bird dog, and for his hunting journal’s final chapter. Just before the 2020 hunting season, our three-dog household became two. Now that ragged old collar with the tattered bronze buckles and the mud-stained fabric that looks worthless to most, serves as a priceless reminder of past experiences.
We have a plethora of collars laying around the house but I’ve gotten into the habit of purchasing a new hunting collar for each dog, making that a unique part of their story. It has become a way to look back on years gone by and know that each bird dog will always have their own voice, their own character with each memory created.
In talking to other hunters and bird dog owners it seems like everyone has THAT collar that hangs by the back door or waits in the hunting box for each new season to arrive. The collar becomes part of our dog’s identity, carrying the details of past expeditions.
Some pass that special collar down from dog to dog to let the narrative live on, writing new chapters in an ever-growing series. Others, like myself, choose to start with a fresh canvas and let the next dog embark on their own journey.
No matter how you look at it, this simple piece of hunting gear holds some of the dearest memories shared with our best friends doing what they love most.
Andy Fondrick is the digital marketing coordinator for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. When he's not at work, Andy is likely chasing waterfowl and upland birds behind his Black Lab Kona or enjoying whatever sport is currently in season.