A tribute to them
Them being the two black labs that make up a huge piece of my heart and most of my pictures. The two that make every hunt, one to remember. The two who, after all said and done, it’s really about. Meet Miss Belle and Maddie girl.
Belle was born January 27th, 2010. Her full name is Florida’s Little Belle. As in southern belle that is and as her name, she is nothing short of perfection. That is the only word to describe her. Chris started training her himself from the time she was eight weeks old and by the time she was 10 months old she was already picking up green-head limits in the Arkansas timber. Her drive to find a winged woodie on a river bank or a soaring mallard 600 yards away in a field, is something that is not taught. It is something she was born with. Driven is truly an understatement. Those who have hunted over Belle say that she has her own slogan…”No Ducks Left Behind“. If there is one, and only one, you could count on to find any missing bird, its Miss Belle.
“Retrieving the Unretrievable” – On January 23rd, 2017, 4 days before Belle’s 7th birthday, she took retrieving to a whole new level. We were hunting on the edge of a public lake in North Kansas. We had shot a mixed bag with the boys that morning. We didn’t end up bringing Belle since the guys already had three other pups there. As the hunt came to an end, there was one mallard that fell farther than any of the other dogs wanted to fetch. The drake sat on some ice, silent and still, just waiting to be retrieved. With a few different attempts from others, assuming the bird wouldn’t be picked up, Chris quietly came over to me and said, ” Go get Belle.” With a short ride back to the lodge and a little direction telling her to load up in the truck, I knew that the Queen already knew, it was time. Time to hunt. Time to work. Time to please. Back lakeside and Belle suited up, I opened the truck door and off she went. She wasn’t looking for the duck just yet, she was looking for him. Looking for the one person she belongs to. The old timers say a dog truly only has one owner, well out here in her element I believe that full heartedly. Miss Belle only wants to hunt for one person, Chris Kirby. The bond they share is one some go a lifetime and never find. A chemistry that takes time and unbreakable trust to reach. They both know their place and know it well. Once Belle found him, it was time. Chris walked Belle down to the edge of the lake and made her mark the frozen duck just beyond the cold water on the ice. With her eyes locked on it, he sends her. “BACK!” and just like that everything else around her is pushed out. We all watched in silence. Belle had to walk out on the ice to the water, swim 30 yards and then climb up on another sheet of ice to retrieve the unretrievable. 7 minutes later, silence turns into relief and cheers. She got it. Once back to the bank and climbing up on the last sheet of ice, he’s there to meet her. With the drake mallard placed in Chris’ hand from Belle’s mouth, mission complete. The look on Chris’ face as they both walked side by side back up the bank was priceless. The epitome of what it means to be proud. Chris normally will take the duck and put it on his lanyard and put it away, showing Belle the job is complete. This particular duck, he gave back to her. He let her carry it around for the next 10 minutes showing off her prize. This one was for her. A moment I will never forget. This is why we hunt. After all said and done, it is for them.
“That Dog Won’t Find It” – November 27th, 2016 I woke up some where in a field in North Dakota. This would be our last hunt of our two week stay up here. The sun hadn’t come up yet and all four of us were getting things ready. Chris, Chris and Zane worked on the spread while I brushed in the blinds. Once ready, the trucks were driven to the other side of the field for concealment. I stayed behind to finish the blinds. Just over the hill I could the make out the silhouette of them coming back as daylight started to peak through. There they were. Belle and Chris walking step by step in sink as they have done hundreds of times before. Just the four of us and Miss Belle this morning, set up in a cut corn field. The birds worked a little later this morning but it was worth the wait. Groups of 6-10 started working perfectly. One particular shot made by Zane on a green-head, nicked him enough to where we watched him soar and go down by the edge of a pond about quarter of a mile away. After our limit we started packing things up and I honestly forgot about the soaring drake. Chris and Belle started off toward the pond. Zane shouted out, “Where you going?” and Chris assured him he was going to get that duck. Zane said, “That dog won’t find it. That thing is gone.” Without another word said, Chris kept marching toward the pond, Belle right their at his side. Zane decided to tag along and see this for his self. With what seemed like a rather long time later and trucks packed up, here came the three of them back through the field. Once they got closer, I could see that Chris was carrying a feathered friend in his hand. Belle had a proud wag in her tail. There was never a doubt that she would find that bird. Zane kept saying how badass she was and that he has never seen anything like that. She chased the wounded duck through the thickest cattails you have ever seen, treading through water and completely relying on her own sense. Chris sent her in on a mission and she wasn’t going to let him down. Once again, Mission Complete.
Miss Belle’s policy “No Duck Left Behind” is something she stands for 150%. She will never quit. She will never give up. Her nose and her endurance to cover ground or water in search of a lost duck will give you something to look forward to hunt after hunt. Watching her work is why I hunt. God broke the mold when he made her. I believe she loves to duck hunt more than any other soul on this Earth. There is only one, Miss Belle and I am blessed to be apart of her legacy.
Chris and I decided to breed Belle when she was 5 years old in order to keep her blood close to home. On May 28th, 2017 Belle gave birth to 9 pups. The littlest black female is the one I became drawn to the most. Meet Maddie. I never had a puppy of my own growing up and had no idea how much I would love her. Maddie’s full name is Miss Belle’s Mini Madeline May. From the beginning Maddie was a pleaser and wanted to be where ever I was 24/7. Maddie watched Belle run drills and pick up dummies from very early on. Monkey see, monkey do. Maddie started to retrieve and bring back dummies at just seven weeks. She was introduced to water retrieves at 12 weeks. Watching her, watch Belle and learn, is something few get to witness with their own pups. With just a little fine tuning, Maddie has become an incredible bird dog.
“Maddie’s first retrieve” – November 4th, 2015 Miss Belle and I watched as Chris sent Maddie on her first bird. A pair of Gadwalls came straight in the spread moments prior and I managed to knock down one. “Maddie Back”. With the command casted, off she goes. Of course I have the video tape rolling.
With a bunch of splashes Maddie is making her way back with the duck. When she gets back to Chris she holds it until he takes it. Proud moment. A moment in the cattails, I’ll never forget. This happened to be the first Gadwall I had ever shot. Maddie’s first and mine.
“Mississippi Queen” – Took Maddie girl to Mississippi for a road trip and ended up getting her some birds. It’s September and eighty degrees here in the Delta. Set up in the middle of a rice field, Maddie and I wait for a dove with some of the best girls in the Delta. Surprise Bachelorette party for the one and only Jane Alden. What better way to celebrate than an all ladies dove hunt?! Maddie waits patiently watching the sky like a hawk watches a field. I catch myself multiple times getting faked out by dragonflies while Maddie doesn’t seem to be phased. Finally we get two to come in. Bang Bang Bang. Two dead doves. “Back Maddie”. Shortly after she gets those back to me, another group of 5 or 6 comes right over us. Two more knocked down. I send Maddie on the far one, in the middle of the soy beans. A little while later she comes back with it. Bird after bird Maddie picks up each and every one. Responding to commands perfectly and stealing the show. Even the ladies made comments about Maddie and how mesmerizing she was to watch. I couldn’t agree more. I was very proud of my girl. 30 doves later, it was time to pack up and watch the sunset. God is Good y’all.
There isn’t anything I love more than hunting. Waterfowl hunting wouldn’t mean as much to me mean without Belle and Maddie. Watching Belle in her element is almost paralyzing sometimes. Seeing Maddie bloom into her own and fill her Mama’s shoes is as bittersweet as it gets. I cannot wait to see them hunt this year. Belle 7 and Maddie 2, this will be their year; Their Prime. I’m thankful for them and blessed to be able to witness their story unfold. Here is to you Miss Belle and Maddie girl, Thank You!