|Wing shooters appreciate hunting
over a fine gun dog and owners are equally proud of a good day of field work or
long retrieves in a pond or goose field.
Unfortunately, the life span of a
good working dog is between 10 and 12 years and my yellow lab Timber just turned 12 on opening weekend
of waterfowl season. We knew he was to be operated on after that hunt, but
didn't expect cancer to have spread throughout his body. Despite the fact that
he was cared for by the best veterinary specialists in Southern California, at
the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in San Diego, he was laid to rest on Sunday
evening, Dec. 4, 2011.
Many readers of Western Outdoor
News have hunted
along with many members of the sporting goods industry, while others have seen
numerous fine photos of Timber published in WON over the years. Perhaps it is best to pay the utmost
tribute to Timber is
by recalling some
of the hunts and people he encountered through the years.
Mike Raahauge called this hunting
editor to tell me of a 3 month old yellow male lab that was for sale, but my
wife was set on a female. Heading out to the gun club that afternoon that pup
licked my face and thus would become part of the Niemiec family. Perhaps my
wife was right in wanting a female, as Timber was a holy terror during his early
years of training. He started out at Gameland Kennels with Patrick and
Linda, moved up to Starlight
Kennels to work with Paul and finally was finished off by Steve Raney at Raney
One of his first hunts was for
native valley quail behind Irvine Lake where I had invited Mike Lum, then
working for Turner's Outdoorsman, to join the hunt. Upon a covey rise Mike
dusted a quail that rocked down to the bottom of a deep canyon, a lost bird for
sure. Timber had great eyes, an excellent nose and was on that bird in a flash.
To our amazement he came up out of very thick cover with a cock quail in his
mouth and he was just a year old.
A duck hunt in flooded Prado Basin
found this shooter teamed up with Curt Mohl, an ex-professional football player
who weighed a solid 275 pounds. We were in a small John boat that rocked every
time Mohl would shoot. He dropped a double on wigeon and I sent Timber in the frigid water for a retrieve.
He picked up one bird, swam over picked up the second duck and retrieved them
both to hand. Another hunt at Ralphs' Club had this yellow lab retrieve an
honest triple on green-winged teal.
Timber's first goose hunt took place
in a Bermuda grass field behind the North Ranch of the Cibola Sportsman's Club
with guide Rick Francis. Joining us on that Canada goose hunt was Captain Buzz
Brizendine and the Carlos Vega family. It was a good day for hunting geese in
Cibola Valley as the birds were flying well and decoying. This shooter shot a
big honker and it landed about 100 yards behind our layout blinds. Turning
Timber loose for
his first ever fetch of a big Canada goose he was greeted with a bird that
stood up and began pecking at him. The dog tried to come in at all angles but
the goose was determined as well. Finally I had to walk out and dispatch the
bird, which then was grabbed by Timber and he proudly walked back to the blinds at heal.
That was the last time a goose ever gave him any kind of trouble.
It was a lazy Thanksgiving afternoon
when Timber and
I laid out at Irvine Lake waiting for the evening movement of honkers that once
used the lake as a loafing refuge. I had fallen asleep with Timber at my side and was awoken by soft
whimpers. Looking back over my shoulder I could see Timber looking into the sky, an
acknowledgement that there was something flying. Three big geese were locked up
on to the small spread of Feather
Flex decoys at about 25 yards. I only wanted one bird for dinner, that trusty
old Mdl. 870 was on target and Timber made another fine retrieve of a huge goose.
Timber was welcome most everywhere this
editor wanted to hunt and many times he would sleep next to me in the SUV, back
to back, to be ready to hunt in the morning. One of his more memorable hunts
took place at the Union Tract with my hunting buddy Frank Theodoropoulos and
his young son Johnny. Shooting next to us in an adjacent blind would be
sporting goods representative Curt Dills. It was a fine morning of white goose
hunting with both snow and Ross' geese working decoy spreads. I think that
morning that Timber retrieved all of our geese(12) and a couple of sailed birds by Dills'
party. He was one very tired dog!
Timber was a little stubborn at times and
wouldn't always honor a whistle. Even owning two electronic collars, I never
put one on him during a hunt, even though I was encouraged by many hunting
friends and trainers to do so.
On a more recent hunt at Raahauge's
Pheasant Club we were teamed up with Alex Cheely of Big 5 Sporting Goods and
Jason Nash of Bolsa Gunsmithing and a bird flushed out of range. Timber had just accomplished a very long
and successful retrieve on a ringneck shot by Cheely. Timber was not a quitter and he took off
after that low flying bird crossing other fields and flushing planted birds with
this shooter in hot pursuit and whistle blowing. Finally he quit the chase and
came back to heal with tongue out and head down. He had just blown through a
field being guided by dog trainer Paul Cacciatore of Starlight Kennels and boy
did we get an ear full about dog control.
Although Timber was not the best pheasant dog for
released birds he did excel at hunting wild chukar in the high desert, held his
own on native California valley quail was at the top of his work on ducks and
geese. It was in the fall of 2005 when Harold Horner of High Desert Guide
Service invited us on a chukar hunt. Horner had hunted with Timber for quail and dove and knew of his
temperament and suggested that I hunt one canyon alone. That hunt was one of
the most memorable of our lives in the field together, as we combined to
harvest a 6 bird limit with a 20 gauge and then he proudly obediently posed
high in the Ord Mountains with the chukar for a photo shoot.
Timber was not only a good hunter,
but he was equally great with kids and loved his long walks along the surf at
Newport Beach. I would often let him off leash to ride a few small waves on his
own, but the greatest moment of our lives together was that warm summer day
when we went surfing together in front of our beach cottage and caught a nice
wave and rode it all the way into the beach side-by-side.
Yes, Timber has been laid to rest and has gone
up to doggie heaven where all good dogs get to go. Toni and I will never be
able to replace all the good times with him, but we are seriously thinking
about a yellow lab female puppy to start off the new year.
TIMBER'S LAST HUNT — WON hunting editor Jim Niemiec enjoyed
a very successful duck hunt at Wister on opening day while hunting alongside
his yellow lab who was celebrating his 12th birthday. Timber made 14 solid retrieves for his
master and a hunting partner. In the following weeks this fine Labrador
Retriever would succumb to cancer. JIM NIEMIEC FILE PHOTO