Toby loves to take his humans out hunting.
Toby, a 7-year-old, boxed-nosed, black Labrador retriever, has an owner who brings Toby and his hunting partners to some really nice places to hunt for game birds.
His owner, Tom Posella of Fairport, takes Toby "everywhere we can hunt." And the results are always dependent on Toby's nose and his other special instincts.
On the first Saturday of open duck season, Posella and his two friends, Dave Kingsley of Webster and Chuck Volo of Fairport, drew a good blind at the northeast end of Mohawk Pool at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.
They set up their mechanical "Robo," a wing-flapping duck decoy, on shore and placed their decoys in an open channel next to their blind area.
"We had everything set up out there [around the site marker] but we had to stand in shallow water. So I opened a director's chair for Toby," Posella said of their hunt site.
Toby sat a few inches above the water, watching as the birds began flying just before sunrise.
Hunting-breed dogs can go to behavioral extremes. Some become house pets and casually sniff out game and birds while pushing for pets and pats from their humans.
Other dogs get into the hunt so seriously that they are unaware of any person's presence except their handler's.
Toby has a gentle admixture of both personality traits. Posella describes him as "just a good-natured family dog [who grew up] around five kids, and a good hunting dog that also ran field trials."
Toby would stop for a pat, pet and especially a treat after retrieving a fallen duck, but when the hunt resumes he's back on his director's chair as though he were in charge.
For Posella, his two partners and this writer, Toby could be ranked as director of operations on this outing.
While working a pool with partners Bob Hauser of Lancaster and John Barthin of Depew, my side of the pool we drew was across the shallow end of the pool from Posella, his partners, and especially Toby.
A few nice shot opportunities came our way, but it was obvious that Posella, Kingsley and Volo had the best hole for hitting into birds. And they downed birds nicely, without signs of drop-down, distant cripples.
No matter. If the bird fell within sight, Posella would give Toby the command to fetch and, shortly thereafter, Toby would return, high-stepping through shallow waters with a bird held softly in his mouth.
Then, one of my hits glided across the pond to a point about halfway between our sites. A long trek around the small pool into which that bird had dropped produced nothing. After two passes around the pool, Posella brought Toby over.
We introduced ourselves and he put Toby to work on the fallen bird. He worked the pool and then began pushing the cattail edge around the pool on the opposite side.
After just a few seconds in the thicket, Toby emerged with his jaws firmly holding a nice drake and proudly strutting back to Posella and me as we began trading hunt stories. We returned to our blinds after my thanks for this sportsman-like conduct.
After a nice, clean kill on a widgeon, a passing drake gave me a clear, close shot that should have been a quick downer. It wasn't. That bird glided some 50-60 yards before dumping into a pool even closer to the Posella crew.
This one should be a proverbial dead duck, but who can know until you get to the drop site.
This time, Posella was in an even better position to spot where my bird had fallen. On command, Toby headed out across the even smaller pool to positions where Posella directed him to fetch.
But, all the while, he kept looking back with an expression -- "Why here?" Toby kept edging toward us and Posella kept directing him. Finally, Toby just walked up to us, stepped maybe three steps behind Posella and picked up the bird, a monster drake mallard.
We just laughed and Toby got that look: "Stupid humans!" and nosed around for another treat.
Dogs that bark or fidget can be a burden on a waterfowl hunt. Toby, personable to all willing to give him a pat or pet, not only makes a great hunting partner, he accounts for many an extra bird find on waterfowl or upland bird hunts.
After their successful 12-bird harvest that morning, Posella, Kingsley and Volo held up their birds, including a nice shoveler, while Toby looked on with the expression "they couldn't have done it without me."