By Jeremy Stephens, Regional Director
On the Road with Zingo
A fishing trip begins my life with a Lab
November 20, 2012
Everyone has heard the saying, "Man's best friend." It speaks to the relationship between man and dog. That phrase is especially fitting for waterfowlers, who spend countless hours sitting with their pets, eyes to the sky waiting on the next flock. It is a special bond that not everyone understands.
My career as regional director with Delta Waterfowl requires a lot of late nights heading from town to town to meet with the best volunteers in the conservation world. It's a tough job — one I couldn't do without my best friend, Zingo, riding shotgun.
Zingo is my 3-year-old yellow Lab. He came to me as an afterthought, the last unclaimed puppy from a litter of 11 brought to my attention during a crappie-fishing trip on Mozingo Lake (hence the name) in Northern Missouri. I hadn't owned a dog since I was a kid, and I really didn't think I had the time needed to train a retriever to be a competent hunter. But by the end of the day, a deal was struck and I was the owner of my first duck dog.
As a rookie dog trainer, I stuck my nose in any dog-training book I could find. My results were mixed. Luckily, I met John Gianladis, a local amateur dog trainer who felt sorry for Zingo's pathetic trainer and offered to help. Spurred by Gianladis, my life turned into three to five days a week of afterhours dog training. I was hooked, and before I knew it, I had signed Zingo up for his first hunt test. Two years later, Zingo is now recognized as an American Kennel Club Master Hunter (Dealing on Mozingo Lake MH). He's an awesome duck dog — my best friend.
As I said, Zingo generally rides shotgun with me on our way to another great Delta Waterfowl event, but I don't let life on the road slow down our training schedule. I am constantly making detours to places like Carlyle Lake, Pokagon State Park and Whetstone Creek to throw some marks or run water blinds. These little stops sharpen Zingo's skills and break up the monotony that is life on the road.
Traveling with my best friend sometimes can be discouraging, though. I've been known to drive a few extra miles at night in search of a hotel that is pet-friendly, for which Zingo repays me buy hogging the entire bed all night. In the middle of a late night of driving, when my eyelids are getting heavy and I need him the most, he often is in the backseat with his legs straight up in the air, sound asleep. Occasionally, he helps himself to the unattended cheeseburger or slice of gas station pizza while I'm on the phone with a Delta volunteer. Sometimes I wonder why I take him along.
That shadow of doubt is erased when hunting season arrives and Zingo pays me back. I have been very proud of him in the field, beaming with pride as he completed a 300-yard blind retrieve on a Canada goose in Michigan and when he fished out a mallard drake in nasty cover on Missouri public land when two other dogs had been unsuccessful. He is easily the most competent hunting partner I have ever shared a blind with. His performance makes me wonder how I ever got along without him.
I will never forget that crappie-fishing trip to Mozingo Lake, when the biggest catch of the day was my best friend, Zingo.