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Gator the Duck Dog

The littlest big dog is 23-pounds of bird retrieving fury.

Gator the Duck Dog

Friends, meet Gator the Duck Dog: A Jack Russell Terrier that hasn’t quite figured out he’s not a Lab—and likely never will. (Photo By: Lee Kjos)

From the drake mallard phenomenon in late-season Saskatchewan to the Ryman Theater afterparty at a Whitey Morgan concert, I’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed some of the damndest things in my travels. A 23-pound hot sausage on top of four-inch legs dragging cranes and white geese through mud may very well top that list.

Gator is owned by my dear friend Alex Brittenham, though sometimes I wonder if it’s the other way around—a hard head on both of those two. I met Alex, or “One Shot Lu” as she’s known to friends, a few years back. When my daughter, Gerty, finally showed interest in waterfowling at the ripe old age of 30, I knew Lu would be the ideal mentor. Lu is not only a crackerjack shot with a 28-gauge, she is also all-class and a real treat to be around.

gator the jack russell terrier duck hunting dog
The hardest-charging little hunter. (Photo By: Lee Kjos)

We traveled to hook up with Lu around Lawton, Oklahoma for the initial hunt: An early-morning mallard shoot at her family’s place. When Lu hopped out of the truck, literally carrying Gator like a suitcase, and announced that little sausage was going to be our retriever for the day, both Gerty and I were floored. We’d known Lu’s reputation as a lights-out dog trainer with more than a few great Labs in her kennel,  but we didn’t expect 23-pounds of stub-legged fury.

Over the course of that day, we’d learn Gator came to Lu by ways of love. Mostly because she’d grown up with Moose, another Jack Russell Terrier, since the age of 15. Moose was a house dog and fairly untrained, but he would pick up a bird now and again. Lu took note of that and by the time Moose passed at 12 years old, Lu was well on her way to becoming the dog handler she is today. She decided her next pup wouldn’t be another Lab, but a Jack Russell. She also set out to find out if she could formally train that Jack Russell—the Gator of lore—as a proper duck dog.

gator the jack russell terrier duck hunting dog
Not a bad water entry for a little guy. (Photo By: Lee Kjos)

The Little Big Bond  

So began the give and take between trainer and dog. I said earlier they’re both headstrong, but that relationship truly is next level. Lu talks to Gator like he’s a person. Gator just growls, thrashes, and then goes bonkers with the zoomies. He’s steady as any great dog when training, but get him in the duck blind and he’ll break every time. I think it’s just to spite Lu, and when Lu ties Gator down to keep him close, that’s clearly Lu throwing spite right back. It’s absolutely legendary watching these two battle it out.

gator the jack russell terrier duck hunting dog
Eyes to skies and searching for a prize. (Photo By: Lee Kjos)

Lu said teaching him the basics was cake; no problem force fetching or handling. The popping was a whole different story. Gator gets excited—like, amped. No amount of Lu correcting him can stop that little guy from whining and breaking. She’s given up on that, mostly because he’s such a great field dog. She also tried to teach him to track once, knowing Jack Russell's are typically fearless. That’s not happening in Gator’s world because he’s pretty much freaked out by anything, including deer. What he is not scared of is other dogs, evident in the way he runs Lu’s clients’ dogs at One Shot Retrievers. Lu’s gotta lock him up when she’s airing out other dogs and alleges he’s a complete jerk to male dogs in particular. That’s just Gator: Fiercely independent, all-heart, and won’t cuddle no matter how tasty your treats.

gator the jack russell terrier duck hunting dog
Only small in size, Gator carries his weight for this dynamic duo. (Photo By: Lee Kjos)

So, why is anyone lucky enough to hunt behind Gator so enamored? Prey drive, his meatdog nature, and flat-out seeing how much Lu just loves that little fella’s quirks. That dude tears up anything except a retrieved bird and has no idea he’s little. Whistle sits and blind retrieves are no issue. He’s a 100 percent finished retriever. Often when Lu’s on the road for field tests, the judges ask to use Gator as the test dog. Gator goes at that test like he’s ready to win it. He’s that good.

All Heart, No Vertical  

The day Gerty, Lu, and I first hunted greenheads was as perfect as Lu had promised. We had our birds by early morning, a new waterfowler was born, infectious laughter between new friends was had, and a long, muddy walk out was savored. Gerty and I, unbeknownst to us, were out front on that walk when we heard Gator’s telltale growling. Turning to find Lu again carrying Gator like a canine suitcase of thrashing emotion, we stood there half-perplexed and half laughing. Damndest thing I’d ever seen and Lu shouts, “What? Have you seen how short his legs are? If I don’t carry him, we’ll never get out of here!”

gator the jack russell terrier duck hunting dog
This little dude is the perfect side piece, sidekick. (Photo By: Lee Kjos)

That, there, is a Gator hunt in a nutshell. All heart and no vertical, but as we trudged toward the truck it struck me: Gator’s just another example of success in this great country. He punches well above his weight, doesn’t take shit from anyone, and he’s proof that with hard work, we can truly be whatever we want to be.  

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