Mutt: The Reluctant Retriever
By John Ford Sr.

During the 1973 duck hunting season, I witnessed one of the most comical duck hunting adventures of my young career.

As I patrolled along the shores of Sandy Pond in the town of Freedom, I observed a hunter and his faithful dog snugly perched in amongst the bushes. They both were anxiously waiting for a flock of ducks to fly into their decoys.

I recognized this hunter, whom I'll call Red, as a salesman for a meat-packing company located in nearby Augusta.

Red and I often shared lunch together at Ray's Diner, located upon Knox Ridge in the town of Knox, where we swapped a few wildlife stories between us.

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I decided to watch this duo from a short distance away. My plan was to monitor the honesty of Red, in the event that a flock of waterfowl were to venture into his shooting zone. Although I didn't seriously question Red's integrity, I learned long ago that sometimes those you trusted the most would be the first to let you down.

This was a beautiful October day. The warm sun beating down on us made the outing most enjoyable.

I hunkered down a few yards away from where Red and his best friend, "Mutt," were hiding.

I watched as Red and his crony anxiously scanned the skies for any birds that might be flying. The two made a great pair. The golden retriever couldn't get any closer to his master than he already was. It was a picture-perfect example of that old saying, "a good old dog is truly man's best friend!"

With the shotgun draped across his lap in the ready position, Red slowly stroked his dog's head, eagerly waiting for that moment when they both might spring into action.

It was quite obvious these two were not about to be posing a serious threat to the duck population. I felt as though I was simply wasting my time.

I decided to check Red for his hunting license and a little conversation. I intended to do this, more or less, as a public relations effort so Red could see his Game Warden was actually out and about! Afterward, I planned to head off into an area where perhaps my services might be a little more warranted.

Just as I was about to move in on Red and his dog, I observed a small flock of teal flying directly into the decoys scattered along the shoreline.

Not wanting to ruin the possibilities of Red bagging a duck, I remained completely motionless, hidden in the brush.

I watched as Red quickly raised the shotgun, taking a bead on the birds scaling into the decoys.

The serenity of the scene was suddenly shattered by three quick blasts from the old man's shotgun. Skillfully, Red hit two of the ducks and they plummeted down into the pond a short distance away.

Instantaneously and without being told, Mutt bounded out into the water, retrieving one of his quarry. Swimming back to shore with the duck proudly clasped in his jaws, Mutt quickly shook the water off his fur, as he deposited the dead bird directly at the feet of his master.

Red loudly praised the old dog for doing such a good job, "Good boy! Good boy!," he said, while rewarding the dog with a little pat on top of his head.

Red then instructed him to go fetch the other dead bird. Pointing out into the water, he said, "Fetch him, Mutt! Go get him, boy!"

Mutt just sat there, staring at his master while slowly wagging his tail back and forth.

It appeared as if old Mutt had done all he intended to for one day.

Grabbing a stick, Red tossed it out into the water near the other dead duck. "Fetch it Mutt! Go get it, boy!," he said, as he pointed off into the direction Mutt should be heading.

Again Mutt just sat there, wagging his tail and staring intently at the old man.

By now, Red was getting quite agitated. "Damn it, Mutt, go out there and get that G*#-damned- blankety-blank-duck!"

Mutt just wagged his tail a little harder, acting as if he couldn't understand a single word old Red was muttering.

Red started screaming at the old dog. "You worthless G*# damn- flea-bitten son of a b*#!*! Never mind, damn it, I'll go get the blankety-blank thing myself!" All the while, Red was stripping off his hunting gear - his boots, his pants, on down to his underwear - readying himself for the hike out into the pond.

I had all I could do to contain myself, as I witnessed this fiasco between man's best friend and his master! Obviously, Mutt wasn't about to give in, no matter what Red had to say, or no matter what he did.

Loudly cursing, Red slowly waded out into the cold water, toting a long stick with him in order to help retrieve the floating duck a short distance out past his decoys.

Mutt had followed Red down to the water's edge, where he quickly sat down on his rump, watching his master slowly wallowing out into the pond. Intently, the dog monitored Red's every movement, almost as if he was judging for himself the spectacle before him.

Somehow, Red snagged the dead duck with the long pole, bringing it within range of where he could grab onto it. Fortunately for him, he was standing in water that was just a little bit above his knees.

With the dead duck in tow, Red quickly marched back towards shore, still chewing at the old dog for not obeying his commands.

Mutt merely tipped his head, watching his master as he dragged the dead duck along behind him.

Once he was back on land, Red hiked directly over to where Mutt was perched. Holding the dead duck tightly in his grasp, he took an almighty swing at the dog's head. It was obvious Red never intended to hit the old dog. His actions were nothing more than a scare tactic, showing his disgust at the beast for not doing his job. Of course, the verbal barrage continued, with Red making it well known of his total displeasure for Mutt's unforgivable actions.

Gathering up his clothes, Red quickly proceeded to get dressed.

I decided to wait a few more minutes, before making my grand entrance onto the scene. I thought it best to let Red cool down just a little. Besides, I had to regain my own composure and level of professionalism before I staggered into this potential hornet's nest.

After a few minutes, I slowly wandered into the area. I was pleasantly greeted by a surprised, "Why, Hello there, John!," from my friend Red.

His calm demeanor appeared as if nothing unusual had happened!

Mutt frantically wagged his tail as he sauntered over my way for a quick smell and perhaps a little pat on top of the head. One, that he wasn't getting from his master.

I responded, "How you doing Red?" never letting on that I had just watched the entire fiasco between the two of them.

"Oh, doing all right, John, I just got me two nice teal," he said, as he held the dead birds up for me to see.

Before I could respond to his comments, Red rather sheepishly inquired, "Just how long have you been here, John?"

It was almost as if he was pleading and hoping for me to say that I had just arrived. I couldn't possibly tell him a lie, as I responded, "Long enough, Red! Long enough! I saw it all."

I knew I had to have been grinning from ear to ear.

"G*# - damn it, I figured as much," he said. "So now let me ask you something! What do you think of this G*# - damned old flea-bitten son of a b--- that I cart around with me? He's not worth a hell of a lot is he?" Red cussed.

"I still love him though. I don't know why? Be damned if I do, but I still think the world of the old b*#*^#!," he exclaimed.

"Well, Red, look at it this way! At least he got one of them birds for you, and tonight while you're eating a nice roast duck, give Mutt a can of Alpo, and tell him he could've had duck too, if only he had done his his job! Maybe it will smarten him up," I chuckled.

Making a quick check of Red's hunting license, we soon departed company. As I started to leave he hollered out, "Now- uh John! Now, uh, you won't tell anybody about this will ya, JOHN!"

He was almost abjectly pleading for me to maintain my silence.

I didn"t have to worry about it, because on my very next visit to Ray's Diner, Red had already filled them in! He told the gang of regulars, "I'd better tell you this before John does!," and with that he blatted out the entire story.

His story would have been safe with me. Well, maybe it would have, depending on the circumstances.

Red's confession was yet another example of where true confessions were good for the soul! It sure made for yet another memorable moment in this warden's diaries.

John Ford Sr. was a Maine Game Warden in Central Maine for 20 years, retiring in 1990. John can be reached at jonnylaw@fairpoint.net He welcomes any comments or stories you might want to pass along. The author reminds the readers that most sportsmen are law abiding citizens.It was the nature of the author's profession that brought him into contact with those who chose to disobey the laws.


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