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Opening Day First Hunt by Norris Marshall, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Chair

River, Norris Marshall’s black Lab, on her first hunt.

My wife and had a great dog, Jazz, for 12 years. A female black Lab, she was an awesome companion and hunting dog. But as things go, we had to put her down a couple years ago. So here we were a year later picking from a litter of puppies whose daddy came from our Jazz.

That was a year ago, and that little bundle of puppy has grown to be a big, rambunctious, slobbering hunting buddy. Her official name is Marshall’s Platte River Jazz, but I just call her River or River Dog. This spring we were lucky to get her some good training from a very good local trainer, where she learned obedience, marking and a little handling.

Considering duck season was getting close I thought I needed to get River out to the blind and “orientate” her. The orientation went well, as she practiced river retrieves while learning about the current and ran around with her nose to the ground. There must be a lot of good smelling stuff out there.

Everything was going good until it was time to get in the dog box – my 55 gallon plastic drum version buried on its side with a hole cut in the top. River just didn’t seem very excited about getting in the box. Not wanting to make this a traumatic experience I let it go, but the next day I tried luring her in the box with some hotdogs. Despite her love for hotdogs, having a couple lying in the bottom of a dark hole wasn’t enough incentive to get her to dive in head first.

The next day I cleaned out the bedding and replaced it with fresh. But with new bedding, and more hotdogs, in place, it was still a no go. So after careful consideration I decided she needed help getting in, and it worked. We did several practices of getting in and out with a treat for each successful drill. The next day would be opening day of the 2013 duck season and we were ready … kind of.

Joined by my good friend and fellow Nebraska Game and Parks commissioner Lynn Berggren, River and I headed to the water. But not before River still needing some encouragement to get in the box.

I was really hoping we’d shoot some ducks, as that would really cement the deal for River. A spring time of training, lots of drills at home, and this damn box, what’s it all for she must have been asking. Hopefully she would see it that day.

Shooting time was 7:27 and we were ready. Man, I hoped there were some ducks. Within 10 minutes my hopes were answered as a single blue winged teal came scooting in wanting to land. One shot and it was down. Time for River to do her thing.

But now we had another problem. She didn’t want to come out of her box. She was enjoying it too much. So with a little more manual help she was out. I lined her up, sent her and she quickly returned with the duck. “Is this all starting to make sense now,” I asked her.

An hour later a flock of green wings came by and we dropped two. One was down for good, while the other was a runner. I pulled River from the box. She saw the duck and took off. Moments later, the bird was in her mouth. While it wasn’t the smoothest hand off, she got the job done and then retrieved the second bird.

River finishing a retrieve on her first hunt.

By 9:00, River had retrieved her first three ducks of the season on her own personal opening day. A good start for sure. Hopefully she will get so she likes going in and out of the box in the near future.

Norris Marshall

About NGPC Commissioner

NGPC Commissioner

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