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Tom's wife was always a little afraid of Gunner. Not that I blamed her. For one thing, Gunner was bigger than she was. Tom said Gunner was 125 pounds, but he seemed bigger than that to me. Gunner was always larger-than-life.
Gunner was a male Chesapeake retriever and he was just plain intimidating. I always had the feeling that he didn't belong in our era and that he would be happier crushing the neck of a woolly mammoth. I used to call him Jurassic Dog.
Early on, Tom tried to allay his wife's fears by taking Gunner and her to see a professional dog trainer. The trainer studied Gunner for some time and said, "Your wife is absolutely right about this dog. Sometime soon you and Gunner are going to have to fight to see who is going to be the dominant one. Good luck!" And so it came to pass one day in Tom's garage. Tom, with assistance from a handy 2x4, emerged victorious.
From that day on Gunner was a great dog and never hurt a fly, but he could still intimidate people. One time, we were setting out our duck decoys in the pre-dawn darkness and heard some other guys approaching. We shined our flashlights at them to let them know we were already there, but they ignored it and started to set up nearby. Gunner went over to explain to them that this spot was taken. The guys packed up and left. In all the years we hunted with Gunner, we never had anyone crowd us!
Gunner loved me passionately (that's another story) but he couldn't abide bad shooting. I, on the other hand, am one of the worst shots in California. I have my good days of course, but this wasn't one of them.
Tom had long since limited out, but I still needed two more ducks. I had missed the last six ducks and Gunner was getting P.O.'d. We were hunting out of a pair of sunken barrels at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, with Gunner standing between us. A pair of mallards came in and I missed them both. Gunner gave me a dirty look. You have to picture it. I'm sitting in this sunken barrel with only my head above ground and staring up into those yellow prehistoric wolf eyes. Nobody could give a dirty look like Gunner!
I missed another duck and Gunner showed me his teeth. "Yes Gunner, I know about the teeth. I've seen you crush a rock the size of a baseball with those teeth." I missed another pair. Dog saliva began to drip on my shoulder. "It's okay, Gunner, I'll get the next one."
I didn't. Gunner began to growl. A low rumbling like distant artillery fire. "Take it easy, I'll get the next one, I promise."
Six mallards came gliding in. I waited till they had their feet down before I rose up to shoot. I emptied my gun at them. Not a feather. I couldn't believe it. I sat back down, hanging my head in shame. I didn't have the nerve to look at Gunner. Something was hitting my hat. I didn't know what it was until I smelled it. Gunner was peeing on my head!! There wasn't much I could do about it, being a large guy in a small barrel. I certainly wasn't going to turn around! Thank God for Gore-Tex! I've often thought of sending the Gore-Tex people a testimonial, "Not only is your product waterproof, but..."
Anyway, I knew I deserved it and having thus atoned for my sins, I felt better. I killed the next two ducks. I guess I just needed the proper motivation. Gunner was pleased.