by Matt Kucharski
My dad used to say, “If I can’t be good, let me be lucky.” Lucy, my once-in-a-lifetime black Lab and first-ever legitimate hunting dog, was both. Her predecessor was a yellow Lab rescue. We loved her despite her flaws, and that experience affirmed what I wanted next: small black Lab, female, lightly started, past the “puppy stupids,” friendly, sound bloodlines. It was April, I wanted her by July, and the budget was limited. Good luck, right?
After three futile months, I find a hobby breeder with a little 11-month female partly trained but on live birds. In his yard I toss a dummy. She runs to it, looks at me, picks it up, retrieves it to hand, leans in for a scratch behind the ears. Dummies and scratches behind the ear were Lucy’s jam. Lucky day number one.
With no clue, I place some game farm pheasants in a field. I grab my gun and let Lucy loose. She runs past spot one. Then spot two. Then spot three. Not a bird, not a scent. We sit down at the edge of the field, me dejected and her wondering why we’re here. A rooster struts out of the grass 10 feet in front of us. I rise. The bird rises. I shoot. It falls. Lucy runs to it, looks at me, picks it up, retrieves it to hand. From then on, pheasants were Lucy’s jam. Lucky day number two.
Fall now. We hit the grouse woods for her very first wild bird hunt. She wanders around in front of me. I’m not sure what I should be doing to encourage her. A grouse flushes and lands in the pine tree above us. Did I shoot it out of the tree? Darn right I did. And it fell to the ground right in front of Lucy. She runs to it, looks at me, picks it up, retrieves it to hand. From then on, grouse were Lucy’s jam. Lucky day number three.
Off to the duck blind. Lucy, thinking we’re looking for upland birds, wanders around like a toddler. I get her to sit tight a minute right as a flock of woodies whistles over our heads. My buddy folds one that drops in the water 15 feet in front of Lucy. She swims to the duck, looks at me, picks it up, retrieves it to hand. From that point on, ducks were Lucy’s jam. Lucky day number four.
Fast forward a few years. I’ve got myself a legit hunting dog and am going to Kansas for my first-ever combo pheasant and quail hunt. Two hours and we haven’t put up a bird. I see a couple hunters on the horizon. Their dog goes on point, a covey rises and they lightly tag a bobwhite that sails our way and lands in a plum bush — right in front of Lucy — where it bounces around like a little feathered tennis ball. She runs to it, looks at me, snatches that quail on a high bounce, and retrieves it to hand. From that point on, quail were Lucy’s jam. Lucky day number five.
Lucy went over the rainbow bridge last spring. I’m ushering in two new dogs that I hope will be half as good — or half as lucky — as Lucy. But I think it was me who was the lucky one.
When he’s not busy with his bird dogs, going on outdoor adventures or leading the public relations and communications firm Padilla, Matt Kucharski serves as chairman of the board of directors for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.