Sam Cook column: One more time to the grasslands, with dogs

With good dogs and old friends, we come again to the land where pheasants live.

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Sam Cook

MADISON, Minn. — The two of us stand in the predawn darkness of an October morning. Somewhere beyond us, unseen, two Labrador retrievers nose about in the frosty grass of the farmyard. One Lab is young and black. One is a bit older and yellow.

This is how every morning starts at this western Minnesota farm, owned in part by my companion. Now a third human form, silhouetted against the farmhouse light, makes his way toward us. His rangy German wirehaired pointer arrives first, and all three dogs perform a frisky meet-and-greet. They know each other well from many hunts.

Yes, the hunting. Of course. Pheasant hunting. That is what has brought us here, one more time, the way it has since the early to mid-1980s. That’s beginning to seem like quite a long while ago. We couldn’t gather this way last year, when COVID raged. A couple of us came, slept in separate buildings, one of us cooking outside in the crisp October air. It was, as my farm friend said, weird.

We are all glad to be together again in the old red farmhouse, sharing meals, telling stories, catching up on family matters. It goes unspoken how much these friendships mean to us. But we all know.

When it is time to hunt, the hunting still matters, too. We want to be successful. But, yes, it’s harder to keep up with the Labs on a rooster chase than it once was. We have to whistle them to sit a bit more often. But we’re still in the game.


Our partner with the pointer may be smarter than us Lab guys. When our Labs detect pheasant scent, they speed up in hopes of flushing the bird. When our friend’s pointer comes across scent, she begins to work more deliberately, eventually pointing the bird and holding the point until our friend walks up to flush the pheasant.

Then, too, the hunting itself has changed through our years here. With crop prices high, many farmers have opted out of government conservation programs that provided more nesting cover and fall habitat for pheasants. We can see now that the banner years of the mid-1990s were likely the best we’ll ever know. We try not to compare to those years, and we are thankful for the opportunity to still be going afield.

Listen, now — from somewhere high overhead comes the high-pitched yelping of white-fronted geese migrating. Where have they come from — Manitoba, Saskatchewan? Where are they going? So many mysteries in the sky.

Standing there in the deep darkness, gazing up at Orion, the Big Dipper, the swoosh of the Milky Way and all that black beyond, we can more easily keep our lives in perspective. We are tiny creatures, here but for the short span of a lifetime, lucky to have known deep friendship and a few good dogs.

We turn toward the light of the farm house. Time to feed dogs.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at .

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Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at
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