Lola’s Achilles Heal

Lola  with the expanse of open water behind her.

Lola with the expanse of open water behind her.

Lola doesn’t let too many ducks get away. Over the past four years, she’s averaged one or two lost birds per year. I don’t count birds that sail out of sight.

But she does have a weakness that I’m going to work on next summer, but its to late to fix it for this year.

Her Achilles heal haunted her last Wednesday, on a grasslands hunt. The club I hunted has a vast expanse of open water with limited escape cover. Intuitively you might think that a lack of cover would help Lola, but that is not the case.

With six ducks in the bag, it was about 10:30 in the morning and I wasn’t in a rush to shoot my last bird. I passed on a couple shot opportunities and hoped to end the day on a pintail drake.

Sure enough, one came along and passed in reasonable range to my left. The bird came down on the first shot, but I shot again because I could see that it was still quite lively. Unfortunately, my second shot missed and the bird hit the water swimming. I hollered, “Lo,” and Lola was off and running. As she approached it bird, it attempted to fly but couldn’t quite lift off. Lola was in hot pursuit and nearly had the bird in her grasp when it dove.

Lola stood, frustrated, waiting for the bird to surface. Surface it did, but not until it was about ten yards away as Lola continued her pursuit.

Concerned that we might lose the bird, I climbed out of the blind and traveled as fast as I could in hopes of getting a shot when the bird resurfaced. Unfortunately that never happened. We looked for that bird for a solid 30 minutes. Somehow it had evaded us – in open water.

Our first lost bird of the season. It wasn’t long before a teal passed by on almost the exact path that the pintail had taken. I fired and broke the bird’s wing. The chase was on again and the story of the pursuit it was almost identical to the first one.

Again the duck dove and again it disappeared. Again I climbed from the blind and “sped” to Lola’s aid. It too was lost. We searched all around. Two lost birds in a row.

It wasn’t over yet. I was now determined to finish off the limit. A widgeon passed by and I whistled at it. It circled and passed overhead. I pulled up and fired. A miss. The second shot was at a the bird’s rear.

I broke its wing and down it came – very much alive, in fact, this bird was even more lively that the first two. It was a full 200 yards from the blind by the time Lola caught up with it. And, then it dove. I climbed from the blind in pursuit.

Lola lost track of the bird for a moment. Then, without seeing the bird, Lola took off towards a clump of tules about 30 yards to the north. She circled the tules and then found the widgeon, but it alluded her. She circled the tules again and then trapped the fleeing bird up against the tule stalks. Finally we had bird number seven.

I mentioned this issue with my host and he suggested that I work with Lola in the water by placing a tennis ball or some other object between my knees under water and train her to snorkel. I’ll work on it next summer.

I’ve experienced this type of escape by teal and sprig in the past, but I’ve never lost two in the same day. Snorkeling birds are most difficult when there’s a slight chop on the water. When the water is calm, it’s much easier to see the wake of the bird’s bill as they attempt to swim away.

Sometimes it seems like the birds vanish into thin air, but actually it’s thin water.

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