Raven and the Luckcuck Duck
Ryan Cook has hunted nearly his entire life, he doesn’t remember when he got started exactly, it was something his father and he did together. Like many local Cottage Grove residents, he’s hunted everything from deer, to elk, to bear, and birds. As a child, the first thing Cook ever shot was a grouse. Cook worked for Bowtech Archery for three years, the first day he ever went Bow hunting he killed the biggest Elk of his life within the first few hours of the hunt.
It’s something that is deep in his roots as a person. Last month while hunting Cook used a 30-06 rifle he won in a bet as a child from his dad. Cook was struggling in school and his dad bet him the rifle that he couldn’t get his grades up. But it’s his hunting dogs that he speaks most fondly of.
“I’ve been a bird dog guy since 1983,” Cook says. “I got a springer spaniel puppy for a Christmas present. I named him Jake, after Big Jake, after the John Wayne movies. He was my hero in 1983 and I was eight years old. Me and that dog loved to hunt.” Cook has almost always had at least one hunting dog, something that is becoming a rarity in the hunting community. At times, several hunters have offered Cook several thousand dollars in exchange for his dogs over the years, but he declined.
Cook has a series of stories written down about one particular dog he is fond of, Raven, a black lab. “I like to call them the ‘when all is lost’ stories. Over the 13 years I had the dog, there was 30 plus things that I remember, where I wouldn’t necessarily call them miracles, but a normal person would walk away and say this can’t be done. Then me and Raven would work together and usually me and the dog would figure out what it took. That was the only dog I ever had where we could do certain things and it wouldn’t be a shock,” Cook recalled. “The dog was just special.”
From 1997 till 2011 Cook and Raven hunted together over 100 days per year. Cook was self-employed as a custom fishing rod builder. He would go hunt with Raven around Cottage Grove Lake, local rivers, and ponds for two-three hours per day. He would then return home to build more fishing rods, then attempt to head back out for more hunting. Cook and Raven could find themselves hunting 2-3 times per day at times.
“An argument could be made that a dog is what you make of it,” Cook wrote in one of his written stories. “In other words, putting the pup in lots of situations so that it can learn its lessons. Also making sure you teach it the basics in obedience so that you will have control to put that dog in those situations, no argument there. There is truth in all those things.”
“So, which of these qualities did Raven have, she was not biddable. Quite the opposite. She did not have great bloodlines. She was not even AKC (American Kennel Club) registered. I am not a great trainer. So how did she manage to turn out to be not a good dog, or a fine dog, but a great dog? I believe you will find out the answer in this book.”
Cook and a few others in the hunting community would go out to Cottage Grove Dam, in the mornings as ducks and geese would fly over. Hunters would hide behind the dam, then peek their heads over, pop up and shoot. Then, the birds would glide down to a roughly 20-30 acre field. If the hunters had a dog, they would go to the field that had briar and brush patches along with tall grass, so hunters needed a dog to retrieve the birds.
“About 25% of the time when they [the birds] hit the ground, they still had use of their legs. So, they would take off running through the grass, so it became routine for me and Raven to go bail the guys without dogs out,” Cook said. “So that dog [Raven] became well known by that hunting community as the one who can sniff them out.”
In November of 2009, Cook spent a lot of time at the Cottage Grove dam with Raven. “One day I noticed a new fellow out on the dam. Countless geese flew by him, and he rarely got any of them. He kept shooting though, and he would figure out the proper leads to hold on the birds with time, his name was Dale Luckcuck.”
“He [Luckcuck] knocks down these ducks, I see two of them glide down and land in the field. One of them still looked like they were going pretty good. The other ones landed down below me. My buddy Steve was there and he had these other dogs that were German short hairs. He was obsessed with that one, he sends his dogs there and they are fast so they get there first. But they weren’t interested in this duck. So, Raven goes down there and picks up this duck and she gives me it. Then, Steve and his dogs went after the second duck and brought it back.
“The last duck, I send my two other dogs and they just keep hunting around and they are like, there is nothing here. I’m like, ‘I saw that duck go down.’ I sent them down further, they would hunt around, they would cast, they would look for a scent. They came back, there was nothing. So, I went down there with them, trying to direct them and they wouldn’t do it.”
“So, I told my old dog Raven, I just pointed in the general direction of where that duck had landed. It’s 20 acres, I just said ‘go’. She disappears, and I’m like ‘where’d she go’? She’s just gone. I’m like ‘she’s out of her mind’. I called back my other two dogs and they are good dogs, so we started hunting around, but we just gave up. We’re like, ‘that crazy old dog [Raven] is out of her mind.’
“I’m looking down and it’s a long way away, I see my dog [Raven] coming. The first thing I was thinking was that the goofy dog went and caught some other animal. It was a good quarter mile away down by some highway. She had tracked that duck across this field, across a highway, and into a field and caught it there in the field. It [the duck] was making its way to the river, which was almost a half mile away. She had done that after the other dogs had tried and tried.”
“The other guys were like, ‘What is that? What does she got’? I was like, I don’t know, she must have got a possum or something,” Cook said. “As she gets closer in the field, I’m like ‘that’s that duck, that duck is still alive.’ She comes and brings it up to me, and I hand it to Dale. I’ll never forget it. Dale says, "That’s a good dog, that’s a good dog, and that’s a good dog,” as he pointed to all the other dogs at the hunting site. He pointed to Raven and said, “that’s a great dog.”
After over a decade spent with Cook, Raven passed away in 2011.
“Do you remember the movie, 'Marley and Me’? My dog was like the hunting version of Marley, totally in trouble. There are stories in there [in his book] of being embarrassed, being in bird dog competitions where I held my head in shame because they told me to leave, but then coming back and winning the whole thing,” Cook said.
“The day that dog died I wrote 36 chapters in one day,” Cook recalled. He has story after story featuring Raven and some of her wildest moments while hunting. He has thought about publishing the stories, but nothing is concrete yet. In the meantime, hunting continues to be a passion for Cook. As the big game season is winding down in the state of Oregon, Cook will be on the hunt in other ways in the coming months.