by Mike Stewart
It remains the longest distance retrieve we ever made. A blind for a pricked goose that fell out of sight in the mud flats of the Cook Inlet, Alaska, whose waters had receded with the early morning tide. The event, witnessed by two other hunters, was estimated at between 500 and 600 yards across an almost impassable, muddy surface—made even more difficult because the hunter shot from some 30 yards left of our position with the bird continuing to fly with the group. Drake did not see the fall and for that matter, neither did I—too far—actually over the horizon of featureless mud. Someone with better eyesight assured me that the bird did fall, so Drake and I made the attempt. He took a bold line, bounding through the gummy surface and after numerous readjustments, he had pushed back completely out of sight of us all. Time passed before we spotted the Ducks Unlimited mascot returning, carrying a live, mud-caked goose. Upon delivery, Drake was completely covered with a thick, grey mud, only his eyes protruding, which were clearly delighted with his hard-fought achievement. A memorable retrieve for us both and one of difficulty and distance that remains unchallenged for us both personally. A “best!”
It was his flag—a large white banner displaying the Ducks Unlimited Drake’s head logo. It hung in our booth or was draped over the table at so many Great Outdoor Festivals, Ducks Unlimited events and other appearances, which Drake made for a decade. Presented by Ducks Unlimited years ago, this flag was always with us and later with Deke in our travels. The flag even followed the first U. S. Gundog Team in history to compete at an Annual International Retriever Competition in the United Kingdom in 2004 of which Drake was a team member. The U.S. won that event for which we were very proud. The flag always remained in my “show bag” secured in my dog trailer ready for display whenever, wherever—until yesterday.
Now the flag is officially retired. Drake, the 1st Official Ducks Unlimited Mascot died on Sunday, December 15, 2013, at age 13 years and 4.5 months. Fittingly, Drake was wrapped carefully in his flag and laid to rest at the Wildrose Gundog Memorial Cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi. He lies next to other great friends that appeared with him in shows and on hunts including FTCh Angus and FTCh Tommy. Drake, one of the most recognized gundogs of the past decade, is gone.
Born July 30, 2000, Drake was trained at Wildrose by a positive-balanced approach that was not common at that time…. No electric collars. No check cord. No force- fetch. Ducks Unlimited TV, The World of Ducks, followed his progression from a 6-month-old pup through his senior years afield totaling 8.5 years of weekly training tips. Had you recorded each session, you would have an excellent training plan for developing a waterfowl retriever using positive, balanced reinforcement. These tips remain the longest, continuously aired segments on dog training on television. Drake appeared in well over 90 TV appearances during his career.
Drake was the epitome of a Gentleman’s Gundog – a dog of versatility – upland flusher, strike dog for quail, waterfowl retriever, adventure dog—earning the Master Trekker merit. He floated the Agulowak in Alaska, traveled by jeep, ATV, private jet, and Alaska floatplanes during his adventures. We hiked trails where he carried his own pack, retrieved sheds, and once he even ran with a skier on a descent from the summit of Independence Pass, Colorado.
He will be remembered as a gentle dog that would allow scores of people to pet and interact with him at shows and pleased so many Ducks Unlimited Greenwing kids that knew him well. Never once did I concern myself that he would be aggressive toward another person or any dog he encountered.
Whether hunting ducks from Nash Buckingham’s famed blind at Beaver Dam or sitting beside me waiting to make the next retrieve of a downed dove on a hot September afternoon, Drake loved to pick birds and he proved over the years to be a superb gamefinder. The hallmark of a fine retriever is to bring back birds that otherwise would be lost and he did just that. He will be remembered in so many ways… a show dog, a hunter, an adventurer, a friend, and a destination wingshooting companion that complemented the sporting lifestyle until his last day.
Highdonscott Drake of Wildrose, MT
July 30, 2000 to December 15, 2013