- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

Now that it’s all over, I recall with fondness how my hopes ran high for a couple of ducks, maybe even a Canada goose and how it was a special treat to be invited to Don and Donald Burroughs’ Antique Acres Farm along the lower Patuxent River.

Certain precautions, however, had to be taken on the day of the hunt, which was run jointly by Jimmy Harris, premier St. Mary’s County taxidermist and waterfowler, and the pride of Charles County, champion waterfowl artist Robby Bealle. You see, Harris’ dog, a 9-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever named Buford, clearly showed that he didn’t like me.

I know he didn’t because when he was cut loose from the back of Harris’ truck in the pre-dawn darkness, he ran past me, slammed on the brakes, turned and growled. Then he looked at me as if to say, “I don’t care for your after-shave lotion or that sissy scent of a poodle that I detect on your clothing.” (How he knew about my little Spanky, I’ll never know.)

I kept an eye on Buford’s liver-colored lips and chocolate coat all through the day because some Chesapeakes want to swim among the decoys — ice and wind be darned — and tirelessly retrieve downed waterfowl, but some also harbor thoughts of taking a chunk out of your hip boots if you’re not paying attention. Buford could handle either task with the greatest of ease.

The thing that bothered me was Buford’s apparent fondness for Bealle, the reigning state waterfowl stamp art champion. What does Bealle have that I don’t, besides tons of talent?

My friend Bob Rice and I watched Harris and Bealle as they quickly scattered several dozen duck decoys to one side of their huge, comfortable shore blind, then repeated the exercise with an equal number of goose fakes on the other before adding a stand-alone “Robo” duck, a battery-operated mallard decoy that rests high up on a stick, wings flapping away.

With Buford making sounds like a popcorn machine, rattling his gums in typical Chesapeake retriever fashion, anxiously awaiting waterfowl that might be fooled by the fine-tuned calls that were blown by Harris and Bealle, Rice and I sat back, shotguns at the ready, sipping hot coffee and just generally being satisfied about being there.

The first light of day had taken hold.

“Two canvasbacks, straight in front, coming directly at us,” suddenly hissed Harris, and Bealle quickly blew an expensive duck call to softly reassure the large ducks with the distinctive, elongated heads. The “cans” swept past the decoys directly over Harris’ end of the blind. One duck’s progress came to an abrupt halt when Harris dropped it with a clean shot from his Remington autoloader.

What transpired next, every waterfowler dreams of. A small gaggle of perhaps 10 geese floated into our decoys from behind the cedar and grass-covered blind. They turned just enough to face the wind,then came into range. Harris suggested we “take ‘em.”

Care had to be taken not to overshoot the mandated one goose per hunter limit. It didn’t happen, but Buford had his work cut out for him all the same. He retrieved each of the huge birds flawlessly.

Later that evening, there would be Canada geese that needed plucking or — forgive the ultimate sacrilege, Chef Paul Prudhomme — skinned.

What a wonderful day it was. Good hunting companions, a Chesapeake Bay retriever who thankfully ignored me, food for the table, Robby Bealle’s buck-on-a-bun sandwiches. (He brought sesame seed rolls filled with sliced roast venison, sweet onions, mayo, even some not-so-hot peppers.)

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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