Rick Sauer was disappointed. The Mansfield Center, Conn., chef and outdoors enthusiast had just spent an unsuccessful morning duck hunting on the Connecticut River.
But when he turned his smartphone on and checked his email, his spirits lifted. A message from Bass Pro Shops informed him he had won Bass Pro’s “I Could Never Hunt Without” Sweepstakes, which came with a $500 gift card.
Sauer’s entry: A photo of his dog, Jax, a 100-pound, purebred black American Field Lab he and his wife have had since Jax was a puppy, and Sauer was 26. (Jax turned 5 recently.) Here, we interview Sauer—whose day job is working as a chef—about Jax, how he got into hunting and fishing, and his favorite post-hunt meals to create.
What about Jax makes him so important to your hunting?
I’ve had him since he was a puppy. He blows other dogs out of the water. He likes to hunt pheasants because it’s non-stop. With ducks, he likes the adrenaline. When a duck comes, he’ll just start looking at the sky. The second I put the bullet in that gun, he sits down besides me and listens for that command. I can’t drive down a dirt road anymore without him sticking his head out the window; he cries like a little girl the whole way, trying to look for pheasants. We’ll go to a pond. He knows not to go near the water when I’m fishing.
People rant and rave about my dog all the time. His personality—he’s like a person.
We’re best friends. He cost me $300. It’s the best $300 I ever spent.
Why did you name him Jax?
Because of the size of his ears, my fiancée at the time [now his wife] thought of the name “Jax,” for flapjacks. I also liked the name Jax, who was a character from [the video game] Mortal Kombat.
How did you get involved in hunting and fishing?
Growing up, my uncles did a lot of deer hunting, and turkey hunting on Thanksgiving. But I didn’t really get into it myself until I was older, when I was around 21. Recently, I just joined Ducks Unlimited, in part because of the great migration information they give you. The older I get, the more I want to hunt.
After the hunt, I understand you love to cook what you kill?
I’m all about conservation. I swear about it. I like providing food for my family. Duck is my favorite to cook. I try to utilize as much of the bird as possible. We eat a lot of venison. The day before Thanksgiving, I made roasted duck breast stuffing and put it inside a whole pheasant. It’s kind of like a wild-game turducken. My uncles loved it.