If you’re a duck hunter or an upland bird hunter, chances are at some point in your sporting life you’re going to own a Labrador Retriever. And why wouldn’t you? The hardy Labrador beats out every other pup when it comes to the best overall waterfowl retriever. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers? Great dogs for hunting in the cold but nothing I would want my two-year-old son playing Legos around. Goldens? Too much hair, not the brightest of dogs.
For me the best and only hunting dog is the versatile and friendly Labrador Retriever. But just which kind should you get? I’ve had them all and here’s what I know:
The Black Labrador Retriever
The Black Lab is your pal. He’s your best friend. He’s there for you in thick or thin. In limits and no shots fired. Always ready and focused, the Black Lab suffers only in his over-desire to please you. Oftentimes this is the high bred American Lab you see who is all business in the field and maybe a little hyperactive in the yard playing ball with the kids. He whines sometimes in the blind as the birds circle overhead. He’s usually the most available hunting dog on the market and therefore priced to buy. Easy to train, easy to love. The Black Lab is your friend for life. His name is Prince. Or Diesel. Or maybe Tank. The one whose photo you have hanging on your trophy wall next to the mounted Pintail. You’ll never forget him and he went to the grave with one and only one desire: to fetch that dead bird for you.
The Yellow Labrador Retriever
This is your sister’s dog who your brother-in-law half-trained and brings with him once a year on dove hunts. She’s a good dog. Sits around a lot. The one you see after the hunt always walking around slowly wagging her tail investigating any half-closed trash bags. Some people like to breed this color Lab so that they are all-white and with huge blockheads that look like rugby balls. These are usually the English line of Labradors. I’ve seen some great ones who could run and hunt and point quail all morning and then fetch dove all day and never get tired. Yellow Labs have names like Holly or Sugar and they are loved by everyone in the family. In the winter they mostly stretch out in front of the fire and look at you with one eye as you walk by just in case you drop something.
The Chocolate Labrador Retriever
In most quarters it is known, these are the best Labs to hunt over. They can mark a falling bird-like nobody’s business. With names like Mocha and Stout, they are the friendliest, the smartest and have the best personalities. Your kids love you almost as much as your Chocolate Lab does. Chocolate Labs speak to you with small growls and groans and they understand your deepest emotions. They will eat a whole bag of dog food if you leave it out and they spend as much time as they can in the cool waters of your pond or creek or pool. These are the duck hunting dogs of lore. Owners of Chocolate Labs speak a secret language to each other in passing. They know…they know. Only someone who has been out in the marsh sitting in frigid water up to their knees for 6 hours in the middle of a January snow squall just to watch their Chocolate Lab make a perfect retrieve on a pair of downed Mallards can understand their beauty. These are the hunting dogs that were promised to us. God’s own waterfowl retrievers.
The Red Fox Labrador Retriever
This dog is for the hunter who does everything his own special way and wants to be different from the rest of the crowd. Technically a Yellow Lab.
The Silver Labrador Retriever
Not even going there.