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For the Love of Labs

Bobby Cole | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine. To subscribe, click here.

I didn’t grow up duck hunting. I grew up in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt where we deer hunted with a passion and turkey hunted with equal or even more enthusiasm. I read stories about great flights of greenheads, green-wings and canvasbacks, but I rarely saw any of these in my wetlands. Wood ducks were common, but they didn’t hold the appeal of decoying mallards. Something about ducks has always intrigued me. When I moved to West Point, Mississippi, home of Mossy Oak, over twenty years ago, I was introduced to serious duck hunting and I immediately liked it. I liked everything about it, the decoys, the swampy settings, wing shooting and time in the blind with friends. However, I always especially enjoyed watching the dogs. 

Bill Gibson
Here, Kennel Master, Bill Gibson, of Mossy Oak’s new Gamekeeper Kennels, works with a puppy.

I have always been around various bird dogs, mostly pointers and I have had friends that had labs, but they didn’t hunt them. But when you witness a good lab work, I mean do what they were born to do, with the focus of a surgeon and the heart of an Olympic athlete, it’s a worthy sight and it’s one of “the joys of waterfowling.” Sure there are many gun dogs that hunt with equal enthusiasm and this isn’t an article to debate what breed is the best, but rather share our belief in the lab. From hunting to companionship, they are just hard to beat. 

Toxey Haas and his son Neill had a dog I remember well named Jake. He really stood out. Not by his appearance, but by his actions. He was a black lab with a pedigree of field trial champions behind him. Jake was so much fun to watch. They rarely had to give him a command. He knew when to load and unload from the Can-Am. He knew where to sit in the blind and what was expected of him the entire hunt...or maybe he knew what he expected of his hunters. Jake was truly an amazing dog. It was common for him to pick up five and six man limits and not lose a bird.

Three short years ago, Bill Suggs’ black female, Holly Bell and Neill’s Jake produced a litter. I think there were five black dogs and two yellow pups. I had a chance to get one and little did I know what impact this dog would have on my life. My daughter picked a chunky reddish/yellow dog and named him “Copper.” Soon after, she left for college, leaving her Mom and myself “empty nesters” along with a gangly-legged dog that was learning his way in life.

Knowing the dog had good bloodlines and would benefit from a real trainer, I enlisted the help of Bill Gibson. I had no idea what a good job he would do. Many afternoons I would see him sitting in a field talking to my puppy and then they would work. No electric collars or harsh discipline just a man connecting with the dog …somehow. 

lab puppy
How do you say no to that face? Here’s the author’s lab Copper at two months old. 

A few months later he was ready to hunt and I had a hunting partner that was more fun to spend time with than I ever imagined. How did I not find this until now? I don’t know, but I am sure glad I finally did. Sporting dogs can bring so much positive energy into our lives from hunts to daily interactions. I’m not breaking a news story here. Many others have known this for a long time, generations to be exact. Sporting dogs have a storied history in sportsmen’s lives and have come a long way. They used to sleep under the front porch and then graduated to all manners of kennels, but today it’s not unusual for a dog to live in the house. This scenario creates the closest bond.

Dogs have always been a big part of the daily lives of the folks at Mossy Oak, but now more than ever labs are a major part of our lives. Interestingly many trace their bloodlines back to Jake. Toxey now has a dog named Gus, Lannie Wallace has a dog named Goose, Neill Haas now has an unbelievable dog named Timbo, Chris Paradise has Bean, Riley Payne has Fancy, Vandy Stubbs has Cotton, Bill Sugg has BB, Todd Amenrud has Annabell and Daniel Haas has a new pup named Fitz. There are many more that I have missed, but the point is we love labs and more specifically British labs. 

copper lab
Copper, the author’s yellow lab, has a nap in his office.

This love of labs has lead to Toxey’s newest vision being built. The Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels are specializing in British Labrador hunting and companion dogs. Kennel master Bill Gibson knows dogs and how to train them. He personally designed a state of the art building with kennels that’s going to allow more people to enjoy the outdoors even more. This vision is not about selling dogs and making money. It’s much simpler and purer than that. It’s about giving people an opportunity to have a “canine soul mate” that’s got the genetic potential and training to do all an owner could ask of the dog. 

Recently I witnessed Toxey lying on the “bonding” couch with a six-week-old puppy in each arm. Each was sound asleep and Toxey was beaming with pride. I’ll never forget what he said, “Can you imagine how much happiness we are going to be able to help people have with these dogs?”

Looking at my own dog, I think about the dove shoots and duck hunts. I think about how he is so excited to see me every morning and how he enjoys coming to work with me and laying on the couch every day. Yes, I can imagine the love that all the tiny yellow and black dogs are going to give. These puppies are special and if this interests you at all, you owe it to yourself to learn more and talk to Bill Gibson. I promise it will be worth it. 

Check out the website and contact Bill Gibson at the Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels at 662-617-4769 or his email is  

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