Dog Marsh Dog
By: Bill Fontaine
What is Dog Marsh Dog? “There is a part of the Louisiana marsh that is so deep, so muddy, so full of ‘gators, and so full snakes that you send the dog to retrieve the birds and we call it a Dog marsh. A dog that retrieves in that hell hole is a Dog Marsh Dog.” This explanation preceded my invitation to go duck hunting in a Louisiana Dog Marsh with a Dog Marsh Dog. “We don’t use the boat to retrieve; it messes up the huntin’ “, my friend added.
We met our Cajun friend and guide, Emile Comeaux, near Holly Beach, Louisiana, and he took us to a dock in the Dog marsh.
Four men, two dogs, shot guns and gear were loaded into a mud boat. Mud boats were common in the marsh, but this one was home-made and it was huge. With high and wide shoulders, a turned up nose and a wide flat bottom, this camouflaged splasher had a six cylinder Chevrolet engine mounted in the center of the boat. The Chevy was connected directly to a propeller which was under the boat, leaving a hump in the floor. This direct drive meant that as soon as the engine started, the boat started to move.
Emile gave us instructions for hanging on and abruptly we were off through the marsh. With no exhaust muffler, we roared, slashed, and smashed our way through the darkness using a navigation system that was known only to Emile Comeaux.
Just as suddenly as the engine started, the engine suddenly stopped and we coasted up to a marsh “duck blind”. I expected an elevated wooden platform covered in brush, but not this one. It was two very large metal barrels sunk in the marsh mud near the only solid piece of ground around. Our first action was to pump out some of the water in the barrels while Emile tossed out a couple of brown marsh snakes that liked my barrel. Keeping water in the barrels helped stop them from floating up. We had on our waders, so some water inside the barrels didn’t matter..
Stepping down into the barrel blind, I noticed the amenities which offset the smell, almost. It contained a shelf for shotgun shells and a seat that allowed me to hunker down and rest at the same time. The shelf and seat doubled as steps for getting into the barrel. Great ideas, Emile.
Emile left his dog with me while he delivered the others to their barrels. The Labrador, whose name I did not know, lay down on the cold, wet grass and sniffed around. In this spot she was at my shoulder level, so we were eyeball to eyeball as we scanned the marsh.
The legal time to start shooting had arrived and Emile was not near us with his noisy mud boat. I was going to start shooting, with or without Emile.
Some teal came into view so I started honking at them with my duck call and they turned toward us. As the ducks closed on the decoys, I shifted to a feeding call and they bought it, cupping their wings as they approached.
After a high speed pass the teal turned into the wind, weaving and bobbing as they headed toward splashdown. All six of the wobbling, swaying targets passed in front of me as I fired….. BANG, BANG…. BANG and there was one dead bird and one cripple…. I missed the third bird. It was poor shooting, but there were two birds in the water.
The dog was trembling because she wanted to retrieve the birds so badly. She was waiting for the command to go and I didn’t know the command word. I tried “Go, Fetch, Get, Git, Bird, &%#$!” and a few other words but she stood there whining and trembling as she watched the birds float by. Finally, I pointed at the water and shouted “OISEAU!!”. She exploded off the grass and landed in front of me in full retrieve mode, swimming and lunging through the water. The “fetch” command word was BIRD! But in French, OISEAU!, dummy me.
Then came the shocker, she swam past the dead bird. The cripple had gone into some grass and the big Lab took off after that flapping cripple and let the dead bird float. I had never seen a dog pass by a dead bird before. I expected the cripple to be lost but after a bit of searching she started back with that cripple in her mouth.
Arriving at the barrel, she gave up the cripple and waited for the signal to go. Once again I shouted “OISEAU” and off she went.
As she searched, I whistled and held my right arm out to the side and she started that way. She went too far, so another whistle and a left arm brought her into scent range of the dead bird and she got it. And her work was done for a stranger.
The big Labrador reluctantly dropped the dead bird and rested with her tongue hanging out and breathing heavy dog breath all over me. And that was fine with me.
Emile arrived and I related how his dog had worked for me. He smiled and patted his dog named Cointreau whose name was taken from Emile’s favorite liqueur.
Emile’s shooting skills brought us the legal limit of birds and we headed to his house for food. Lunch began with Cointreau, the aperitif, and then came red beans & rice followed by shrimp gumbo. My suggestion that Cointreau, the dog, get a sirloin steak plus a couple of gold chains was met with cheers and applause as Emile Comeaux’s kitchen rang with “COINTREAU, LA SOMPTUEUX CHIENNE MARAIS CHIENNE!” (Cointreau,The Splendid Dog Marsh Dog).
Author note: Attached is a true article about duck hunting in Louisiana from several decades ago. It was a hunt that I personally experienced along with some friends. Of all the characters, including the dog, I’m the only one living.