In the dark all black Labs kinda look alike. Kinda.
Dennis Loosier, Bill Campbell and Blake Powell, normally Tyler-area hunters, were in Arkansas last week for the opening of that state’s duck season.
While they have access to private land they decided to hunt the White River National Refuge, an area renowned for its duck hunt.
Loosier and Campbell arrived a couple of days in advance of the opener and spent their days scouting the 160,000-acre refuge in anticipation of Saturday morning. They found the mother lode.
“I have been to Canada and all different parts of this country, and there were more ducks in that hole than I have ever seen in my life. It is the stuff you see in the pictures,” Loosier said. “We could hear them before we could see them. Every step we took you could hear the water lift up.”
Holes on the refuge are first-come, first-served each morning with the gate to the ramp opening at 4 a.m. However, to be the first in line on opening weekend takes a night’s sleep in the parking lot. Talking to local officials, Campbell and Powell were parked at the front of the line at 5:30 the evening before, beating the soon-to-be-irritated regulars who didn’t take kindly to be parked behind a truck with Texas plates.
The plan was for the two hunters to race to the hole, and while Powell put out the decoys Campbell would run back for Loosier and two others hunting with them.
Staying with Campbell and Powell overnight would be Loosier’s Lab, Jake.
“Thirty ducks come in before shooting time and (the dog) breaks. I think, OK, it is preseason and he is excited. But he doesn’t come back to me. He goes and stands by another man,” Loosier said.
Finally Loosier retrieves the dog, and just minutes before shooting light another group of mallards flies into the decoys. He attempts to get the dog to sit, but it breaks again.
Once it was shooting time, everything calmed down. The hunters were shooting the ducks that just kept coming in waves and the dog was doing its job. But Loosier kept noticing odd things that just didn’t seem right. The dog’s tail seemed bushier than he remembered, and anyone who has ever hunted with Jake will recognize his block head. It looked thinner. A right-handed shooter, Loosier had trained his dog to heel on the left. This one kept going to his right.
“I said ‘This ain’t my dog.’ They were laughing at me because they thought I was trying to cover up. I said ‘No, this isn’t my dog.’”
Sure enough, a check of the collar revealed the dog was actually Doc, a black Lab owned by a hunter from the nearby Pine Bluff.
Panicked as a parent whose child had wandered off, Loosier took off back to the ramp.
“You have to be through hunting at noon and off the water by 2, so I wanted to be there when the other hunters came in. I stayed there until 1 checking every boat and hunter,” Loosier said.
They called the veterinarian whose tag was on the dog, and got the owner’s information and continued to call until making contact about 8:30.
“At that time he didn’t realize he didn’t have his dog,” Loosier said.
But in this case he fortunately had Jake. So the two made plans to meet before the next morning’s hunt, finally making the exchange at 2:30 a.m.
No one is exactly certain how the switch happened. Everyone’s guess is that in the early morning activity, the dogs somehow just ended up in the wrong boat. Fortunately for both owners it was a straight-up exchange, if only for one day.
“His dog actually did a great job once the sun came up,” said Loosier, who was still happy to have Jake back in his Tyler kennel.
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