Sport: Tolling Ducks

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Before dawn one day last week, a hunting party of five men sloshed through the rain-soaked woods of Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia with their two Little River duck dogs, Dusty and Tootsie. At the rocky shore of Lake Mestock the party divided, settled down to wait in their spruce and fern blinds on opposite sides of the lake. They didn't have to wait long. Just after 8 o'clock a flock of nearly 200 ducks circled over the lake and landed on the water some 1,000 yards off the west shore.

Caught by the Tail. One of the hunters promptly tossed a small stick into the water. Dusty's bright, bushy tail flapped wildly as he raced to retrieve it. But before he could pick it up, the hunters had thrown another. For five minutes they kept the dog racing into the water and out, dashing back & forth along the rocks, "tolling"* the ducks. Soon the inquisitive birds began to swim inshore, attracted by Dusty's gayly waving tail.

Using his plodding dog-paddle, Dusty led the ducks around in a slow turn, brought them back past the hunters, only a few feet from the shoreline. Then one of the men shouted to Dusty. The dog raced ashore. The startled ducks took flight and the hunters blazed away. Dusty splashed back into the lake to retrieve eight birds, while the rest of the flock flapped across the lake toward the blind where Tootsie was waiting with the other hunters.

There the process was repeated. Before they went home the hunters bagged 14 birds—a fair day. "If the sun had been brighter," explained one of the men, "the ducks would have caught a better reflection from the dogs' tails. But with dogs like these you can toll ducks any day of the week, rain or shine."

Bred to Order. Listed today by the Canadian Kennel Club as thoroughbreds, Little River duck dogs like Dusty and Tootsie were a mongrel breed at the turn of the century. They were bred, so the story goes, to emulate the sly fox that hunters had watched flashing his tail to lure ducks ashore for his morning breakfast. The cross-breeding that first took place in the Little River district of Yarmouth County included collies (for their luxuriant tails), Chesapeake Bay retrievers (for their abilities on the hunt) and spitz (for their playful habit of chasing sticks all day). Somewhere along the line an Irish setter got into the act, donating his bright ruddy color.

Even before the official recognition of the Canadian Kennel Club, the Little River dogs had developed into essentially a "pure" breed. They had been mated only with their own type for generations. Now the standard Nova Scotia tolling dogs are about 18 inches high, have thick, high-riding tails, and are the color of a red fox. Beneath their silky coat is an undercoat that makes their fur almost water-repellent. Brought up in most cases among the domesticated ducks of Yarmouth County's farms, they seldom lose control while tolling. They never bark before a shot is fired, never turn on the ducks.

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