By Jeff Fryhover

A good morning on the lake turns into a long day at the vet.

“IF YOU AIN’T early, you’re late!” That’s what I always say when it comes to duck hunting. This was just another typical duck day…me at the Quick Stop waiting on my buddy Joe. It seems I’ve spent a lifetime killing time in poorly-lit parking lots. Then again, I’ve been accused of taking duck hunting a little too seriously.

“It’s only a duck!” she said. I can still hear my ex-girlfriend screaming, “You need to get your priorities straight!”

“Well woman, they are straight;” in fact, they named a government agency after my lifestyle: The ATF! They left out my addiction to well-trained bird dogs, but got the alcohol, tobacco and firearms part right. I learned long ago, most people will never “get” a duck hunter. I bet she’s happy now, snuggled up to some yuppy jack wagon under their down comforter and 5,000-thread count sheets, sleeping in all weekend.

We had a hard freeze in the North Country and the green heads were pouring in. Nothing could keep me off the lake.

We tossed Joe’s gun in the back of my truck and put another bag of decoys in the boat. Joe opened his kennel door and out came Dusty, the most useless dog ever born. You remember Dusty the devil dog, a 95-pound Chessie that has ruined more hunts than any dog should be allowed. He has bitten me, crapped in my boat, eaten several limits of ducks, and vomited on the seat of my truck. If his bodily functions weren’t bad enough, I have to retrieve most of the ducks too, because he won’t get in the water if it’s any colder than a jacuzzi. I will say, the last time Joe brought his idiot cousin Emmett, Dusty walked straight over to Emmett and peed all over his leg, endearing the giant Chessie to me if only for a few moments.

But even Dusty wasn’t going to spoil this day in paradise. It was just Joe and I, the way I liked it. We had a solid north wind, so we set up on the back side of the big island. Surprisingly, Dusty had even waited to drop his load ashore, rather than my boat deck.

We could hear wings overhead as the second hand on my watch moved like molasses. “Thanks for stealing my bullets, crap-stain,” Joe barked, clearly irritated. “I had a half a box in the boat. Bring your own next time.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but tossed him three shells. This was a good day, and nothing was going to screw it up.

As if planned, exactly at shooting light, a flock of mallards skirted the edge of our decoys. I yelled “take ’em” and quickly knocked down three drakes. Joe got the double.

While Joe was trying to coax Dusty into retrieving our ducks, I noticed something shiny sticking out of Dusty’s backside. I walked over to get a closer look and I’ll be darned if that stupid dog didn’t have a high brass 12-gauge shotgun shell protruding from his butt. “What in the heck?” I chuckled as Joe went into panic mode. “Pull it out, pull it out!” he screamed.

“Forget you, it’s your dog, you pull it out. I’m not going there!” Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll always help out one of my buddies, and like any other guy I’m not fond of seeing a dog in pain. But I had absolutely no interest in pulling a muddy shell out of the tail end of someone else’s retriever, when I could watch him do it.

A long argument, panicked boat ride, and an hour later, I was certain no less than 10,000 mallards were in our hole, but I’ll never know.

“Boys, I’ve been working on dogs for longer than you two have been alive. And until today, I thought I had seen it all,” said the vet in amazement.

That sorry dog had nine shotgun shells in its belly and we only had one option. The vet sent enough laxatives down Dusty’s throat to clean out a rhino. The next seven hours were some of the worst of my life. Me, Joe, and a dog with a geyser coming out his hind end in a tiny exam room.

Did I say this was a “good day?