The Bayou of Louisiana is known as a haven for duck hunters. Over the last few decades it has grown the reputation being a top spot for prospective shooters as it holds upwards of a million birds each season. With great opportunity also comes great risk in this state. Louisiana's ecosystem can be a harsh environment with a labyrinth of swamp land, thick vegetation, and massive alligators that populate that land. What could seem like the perfect area to track down migratory birds could quickly turn into a nightmare for someone not familiar with the terrain.
Here is my nightmare.
We had been hunting for three days already down in South Louisiana. It was late season so the weather was cold, but not unbearable and we were lucky enough to stack a decent amount of Green-heads over the course of the weekend. We sat out to hunt on our last morning, hopeful to have a successful hunt in an area we had scouted the day before. The hole was tucked back far in the swamp; a perfect opening in the timbers where we had heard and seen large groups piling into. It was a tough boat ride, and wading around could be challenging because of the tall grasses that also surrounded the area. We patiently waited for shooting time, all the while hearing wings and shallow quacks just above the trees.
Shooting time came and we took a few right off the jump. The dog retrieved them no problem. Out of nowhere a mallard buzzed the tree tops pitching in behind us. We shot a few times and hit him on the way out, dropping him about 40-50 yards behind us. Sent the dog and prepared for the next volley that was circling. We shot a few more and continued to work a few weary birds.
It wasn't for a few more minutes that the birds had slowed and we went to reload pockets with shells and re-situate when I noticed that the dog had not yet returned from the bird that landed behind us. I called for him, beeped his collar and waited. Heard nothing. I figured the bird may have been winged and traveled a little ways, the water was no easy task to walk through so it may have taken dog longer to find it. I continued to call and beep the collar with no sign anywhere. That is when the panic began to creep in. I began to call louder, tossing a hat in the air just in case he happened to see the movement. He was a well trained dog, so running off was very unlikely. The feeling in my gut started to really tell me something could be wrong.
So many possibilities, but the worst fears running through my head were that he had either got hung up and drowned or taken by a gator. We called off the hunt and the three of us all searched for the dog calling out and circling the swamp.
We continued to search all day, knowing that we were supposed to be leaving the next day and I wasn't going home without my dog. Hope was quickly starting to fade. Before leaving the spot I took off my Drake outer jacket and laid it on a patch of land praying that he would return to the scent. We took back to the boat ramp as the sun set and asked every hunter we saw if they had seen our black lab. Nothing. We posted all over social media in hopes that maybe someone had seen him and grabbed him up.
As heart breaking as it was, I had to accept that something had happened to my dog and it was very unlikely that he would return. We had spent 4 great seasons together.
The day after arriving home I got a strange message on Facebook. A guy had seen my posts all over and actually offered me a ride in his helicopter to scan the swamp for my dog. I couldn't pass up that opportunity, if at least to get some closure.
We scanned for about thirty minutes before returning to the hole we had hunted last. The jacket still laid in the same spot, but from the helicopter there was a black figure laid in a ball on top of it! My dog had returned, God knows when, to that jacket and waited. Six days he was in the swamp waiting on my return. We grabbed him up, he was so low on energy he could barely muster a tail wag at the site of us. After spending some time at the vet to regain his hydration and rest he got to go home with us without a scratch!
Six days that dog waited. What happened between the lines we will never know. What a true blessing it was to be called back into the swamp, and to come across something you would only expect to see in a movie. My dog and I have had two more successful seasons since that day and I will say he has more drive now than ever!
--This story was a story told to me this past season. It is not an actual event that happened to me, but to a friend and fellow hunter. The events are recollected to the best of my knowledge.
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