This story was submitted by Kalyn Diede. His best friend Tyler lost his dog Lilly on a hunt this month. Please allow his story of tragedy to cause you to be more mindful of your surroundings while hunting.
January 1, 2016 was one of the best ways I could imagine starting the New Year.
It was four degrees below zero on a snow covered field in Colorado with my best friend Tyler, his two year old black lab Lilly, and our friend Clayton. We were there to goose hunt. The morning was a slow start due to the cold and the nearly cloudless sky. The freezing air set into our fingers and toes as we waited for geese to fly.
Lilly was trotting around, being sure to sniff everything and kept visiting each of us one at a time. At one point as I stood in my pit, I grabbed her in my arms and just held her to keep her still in case a flock snuck up on us. She was so soft and warm. Much to my surprise that hyper dog calmed down and just hung out in my arms, until I let her go again.
Finally the sky began to fill up with geese. Tyler and Clayton killed two out of the same flock. Lilly was right there retrieving them whether they were dead or alive. As more geese came in, Tyler and Clayton dropped a couple more. I shot a lesser, and Lilly immediately was out there to retrieve it. Not long after, I killed my first big northerner, the largest goose I have ever shot. Once again Lilly was out there. This goose much bigger and also still alive gave her challenge but she still managed to pin him down. With a little help from Clayton and I, Lilly came out the winner.
Lilly’s happiness in that field with Tyler, doing what she loved, could be felt all around us. When it was time to pick up decoys, Tyler hooked the sled to Lilly and she would follow him around as he would put decoys in it. It was a perfect hunt and a perfect day.
The following day started very similar to the day before. Except it was now our friend JD hunting with us and we were off to hunt ducks on a river that ran through a washed out lake that was destroyed in the 2013 floods. Just as Tyler and Lilly had finished tossing decoys in the river, the temperature was up to five degrees and ducks were flying at 6:30AM.
JD killed one and Lilly was immediately on it. Soon after, I took a shot at one and missed. Lilly must have thought it went down in a “pond” off to our left that was 90% ice. She jumped off the bank at full speed. As she landed in the water, her weight and momentum carried her under the ice. Tyler was in his waders and immediately jumped in the water.
As he screamed Lilly’s name I was brushing back snow on the ice trying to catch a glimpse of her bright lime green collar. JD monitored over the river and pond. I don’t know how much time passed. After what seemed like an eternity, with Tyler still in the water trying to break the five inch thick ice with his bare hands, calling her name, crying his heart out and shaking uncontrollably, we decided we need to get him out.
Tyler still wouldn’t give up. On the ice he was jumping as high as he could and landing on his knees. After several jumps he managed to break a chunk of ice comparable to a full size truck bed. I thought to myself “this is our chance”. We moved the massive slab as fast as we could, hoping Lilly would pop right up to us and be ok. When Lilly didn’t surface, the truth hit us hard. Lilly was gone.
After that, I walked the ice a couple more times while JD tried to comfort Tyler. On my last pass while looking into the dark water, I noticed Tyler’s gloves at the edge of the ice. I bent down to get them and as I stood up the ice broke under me. I sank up to my chest while wearing only boots, jeans, Carhartt bibs, and heavy coat. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to be scared. I knew since I hit bottom and my head was above water, I was ok. It could have turned out much worse.
Tyler’s hands wouldn’t open due to the cold, and from him pounding through the ice. His hands were also bleeding and it was determined that he would need medical attention. JD loaded him in the truck and took him back home to tell his wife Miranda what had happened and to take him to the hospital. I stayed behind waiting for a miracle and kept checking for any signs under the ice. I was only cold for a short time until my soaked bibs and coat froze solid like a turtle shell. Once again I knew I was ok at that point to keep searching.
Within a half hour, JD returned with Tyler’s mom Sue as well as some gear to continue the search. I finally changed into waders, warmed up a little, and used a sledge hammer to begin breaking the ice. JD and I started at opposite ends of the ice working towards each other and eventually broke an open path that now divided the large slab of ice in half.
As Sue pushed the broken slabs out of the pond and into the river, the black water began to brighten up a little. After an hour of wading in the water and breaking the ice, I saw a couple bubbles off to my right. I took that as a sign and began breaking ice there.
Within a minute I felt a stick that didn’t feel like the others. I was in nearly chest deep water so I used my feet to feel around. I pulled up with my leg under what turned out to be her rear legs and saw the unmistakable black fur shining in the sunlight a foot below the surface. I quickly yelled that I found her and reached under her chest to bring her to the surface.
All my excitement vanished away when I came back to the realization it was just her body. The Lilly that we knew and loved is gone.
I held her in place at the surface for a few moments while I cried inside and tried to catch my breath. How could this be? I was just holding her like this in the pit blind 24 hours ago. I took a big breath and out of the water we headed straight for the truck.
I don’t really remember the ride back to the house. I just remember getting out of the truck still wearing a life jacket. Tyler and Miranda pulled in a few minutes later. Tyler had gone to the ER and had a brace put on his injured hand.
What happened on the river that morning is something I will never forget. Listening to my best friend crying out for his drowning dog while feeling so helpless is the worst thing I have personally experienced. Finding her body was a blessing only because we have closure that she is truly gone. I consider myself and Tyler very lucky that nothing happened to us in the water. We made several frantic mistakes while trying to save Lilly. Many people have died from hypothermia and falling through ice, so in hindsight we consider ourselves lucky.
There are so many things we should have done differently that day and in the future we will. This is an experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy. Accidents happen. All we can do is learn from them and pass the knowledge on to others. That is why I wrote “Lilly’s Story”. I hope this story will allow you to be more mindful and aware of your setting, to look for dangers to yourself, your hunting partners, and your four legged companions.
One week after Lilly’s passing, we decided to go back to the same exact place and hunt in her memory. Looking into that water gave us all a very weird feeling. It was not easy to be there, but Lilly was definitely with us in spirit as we limited out on 24 ducks and some geese. I couldn’t have asked for a better hunt. At 9:05am last week I texted Tyler to let him know that we had found Lilly’s body. At exactly 9:05 on this morning a flock of wigeon ducks came straight into the same pond Lilly lost her life in. We annihilated them.
Lilly you are missed.