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home : columns : ron kuecker
November 20, 2019

9/26/2019 12:54:00 PM
The duck retrieving coon dog of Cottonwood County

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

When we think of waterfowl retrieving dogs we think mostly of Golden Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers that come in five colors; black, yellow, red, chocolate and now silver. Boykins, 'Curly's', Water spaniels and tolling dogs are seldom, if ever, seen around here.
Even more rare is a coon dog that retrieves ducks. Nope, that is not a misprint, they just show up on occasion like the one owned by Jeffrey Maras of Windom.
Andy Skarphol, also of Windom and Jeffrey's brother-in-law, texted me a photo of Meeka bringing in not one, but two blue-winged teal this past weekend. Meeka is a 4-year-old, female, crossbred coonhound, ancestry being Black and Tan and Treeing Walker.
She spends most of her time as a house pet, calm, clean and a close watch over and friend to Jeffrey's two sons. She hunts both pheasants and ducks. This past weekend she was busy retrieving blue-winged teal at the Maras hunting spot on Arnolds Lake
I've heard recently of how some of the hound breeds have become great house pets. They don't get separation anxiety and chew up the house when the owners are gone. They adapt to being outside as well and don't bark or howl like rabbit hounds are prone.
But the point is, Meeka can do a great job of retrieving ducks after sitting quietly in the blind. That's something most duck retrievers require a lot of training to control.
I'm guessing that way back in her ancestry coon dog breeders inserted some German Shorthair genetics to improve their sense of smell even further and to develop a more multi-purpose dog. That type of crossbreeding has been going on for a long time as well as being used to develop the many now purebreds.
Somehow Meeka retained some of that retrieving ability and loves bringing ducks back to the blind. Or, maybe, she simply watched the Labradors and wanted to please her master, as most well cared for dogs do.
A retrieving terrier
It was before I was 11 years old and moved to Minnesota, so the statute of limitations has long ago gone into effect. North of our family farm place, half a mile from the Des Moines River (I haven't gone far), west of West Bend, Iowa, is where the childhood crime took place.
I had grabbed my always-with-me BB gun and headed down the gravel road looking for gophers or sparrows to shoot. Then I came to a marsh that bordered our land with the neighbors.
Sitting on a willow branch, just above the water was a beautiful red-winged blackbird. I pulled up, pfft went the air gun and down fell the bird, splashing in the water.
Suddenly, from just behind me, dashed Spotty, the rat terrier that kept our farm free of rats along with her two buddies Sparky and Teddy. She leaped into the water like a field trial Chesapeake Bay Retriever, grabbed that bird and brought it back to me and laid it at my feet.
I now possessed an illegally taken, migratory bird. I then took it home to the cats and they disposed of the evidence.
Guess I can no longer run for public office. Unless, of course, I apologize. Spotty and the cats too?
Duck hunt results
It sounds like, from the several hunters I randomly have talked to, that last weekend's duck hunt was pretty good. In addition, I visited with many of the attendees at the North Heron Lake Game Producers Association Saturday night fundraiser.
No one I talked to used the phrase "I got my limit" which in my opinion is too high for our local duck population. Also it comes across as a little to boastful. Rather, most portrayed their hunt as being moderately successful and they were looking forward too a good meal of wild game.
By far the most common ducks shot were blue-winged teal. Second would be wood ducks, although not as many as we should have. Even further behind were mallards and only an occasional pintail.
A few commented on how the blue-winged teal seemed so big, healthy and dark colored. All of those comments would indicate that we were still, probably, on the front side of their migration. That description indicates mostly male birds.
Drake blue-winged teal migrate ahead of the hens and young of the year. They molt earlier and are fully feathered for the flight south.
Brittany Retrievers
Some Brittanies (they're a spaniel) are good retrievers, some are not. Old duck hunting buddy Mac and I once encountered some hunters on a marsh near Fulda. They had two Brittanies sitting happily on the front of their Jon boat. That pair retrieved all of their ducks that day and happily climbed in and out of the boat.
I was lucky enough that both the Brittanies I hunted with were good retrievers. I used them for pheasants, but one day Jack, while I was gardening nearby, caught and killed a smallish coon in a nearby water-filled ditch. Within a few minutes he was back at the farm, holding tightly in his mouth the young raccoon. He dropped it perfectly at my feet.
Hey Meeka, this retrieving unexpected game works both ways.

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