Hunting dog tales

They ask so little. They give us so much, these dogs who let us take them hunting. For a lot of hunters, it wouldn't be a hunt without their devoted canine companions. With the fall hunt upon us, we asked a few hunters to share their favorite dog...

Lucy, a yellow Labrador retriever, hustles back to her master with a rooster pheasant on a North Dakota hunt. (SAM COOK / NEWS TRIBUNE)

They ask so little. They give us so much, these dogs who let us take them hunting.

For a lot of hunters, it wouldn't be a hunt without their devoted canine companions.

With the fall hunt upon us, we asked a few hunters to share their favorite dog stories. We think you'll enjoy them.


Mark Fouts, Superior


Director of Regional Operations, Ruffed Grouse Society

"I remember my first pointing dog," Fouts said. "An English setter. I got her from [Duluth dog trainer] Joe DeLoia. She was about 3. We were hunting pheasants -- you know, ditch parrots -- down in Nebraska."

The dog's name was Bandit, Fouts said.

"She made a cast out in front of me," Fouts said. "I didn't hear her yelp or anything. She came back toward me pawing at her face. I noticed she had a stick sticking out of her eye. My first reaction was to grab the stick and pull it out, which I found out later was the wrong thing to do.

"I took her back to the truck, about a half-mile. She hunted all the way. What a trooper. I got her in to the vet. They told me it was serious. I got some medication, and they told me I'd have to keep her down for a few days. We did lose the eye.

"We had a wooden trailer for the dogs. The rest of that day and the next morning, she'd put up a fit every time we'd stop to let out the dogs. She tried to chew a hole through the wooden door. For 24 hours, she was going hunting. It amazes me, the drive of a dog, what they'll put themselves through to do what they love to do."

Bandit recovered and hunted for six more years, Fouts said.

"After that, we called her the One-Eyed Bandit," he said.


Left, or right?


Al and Margo Penke, Ely

Owners of BWCA Labs dog kennel

"This was probably seven years ago," Al said. "It happened at Wilderness Wings [game farm] near Effie. We were hunting with Birdie, a female black Lab. She was probably a year old. It may have been her first hunt.

"You know how you're sure where the bird is and you're sure where the bird isn't? She got real birdy and started working this cover. We were all sure the bird was off to the left somewhere, but she wanted to go to the right. I thought she was on an old deadfall [a previously killed bird]. She was, in my estimation, being disobedient. I was getting angry.

"Lo and behold, she dives into the brush and comes up with this hen pheasant and delivers it to me."

It wasn't the first time a dog has humbled its owner. Birdie is 8 now and is owned by a hunter in Tower, the Penkes said.



Al Markham, Duluth

Long-time upland and waterfowl hunter

"I don't know what year this was. Probably the late '70s," Markham said one morning at the Harry Allenfall clothing store where he works.

He was talking about Tracy, a black Labrador retriever he once owned.

"Best dog I ever had," Markham said.

She had run some derby events for young dogs in field trials when she was young, he said. But one day after training, when she was about 2, she had run off with another dog, Markham said. The two were found about 2 a.m. along a highway. The other dog was dead. Tracy was "barely alive," Markham said. She had been hit badly in one eye and had broken a leg. She was treated by a veterinarian, and her leg healed but she lost the eye. She was through with field trials but went on to hunt several more years.

One year when she was about 10, Markham was out for the fall season after knee surgery. His neighbor, Jim, asked if he and a friend could take Tracy on a sharp-tailed grouse hunt near Sandstone. Markham readily agreed.


"They had taken two or three birds," Markham said, "and they got into another covey at the edge of some standing corn. They put up the covey and hit three birds.

"Tracy picked up two birds and retrieved them. Then Jim sent her for the third bird."

The bird had fallen in the corn, and Tracy disappeared into the corn to search for it. She had been gone for some time, or at least that's what the hunter thought, Markham said. Jim didn't know what happened to the dog. He was getting concerned.

"After 10 minutes, he looked down, and there she was," Markham said. "She had nudged him on the leg. She had the bird. She had marked all three of those birds and got 'em with her one eye and three legs. She was a hell of a dog."

More than one hunter has wondered where his dog was, only to discover that the dog was at heel with a downed bird.

"We think we're the alpha," Markham said. "But we're not."


Eric Larson, Duluth


Avid pheasant hunter

Larson hunts with two large Munsterlanders, a pointing breed. Like many owners of pointing breeds, Larson marks Oct. 10 on his calendar each year. That usually marks the peak of the woodcock migration.

"I remember a couple of October 10ths in a row," Larson said. "I think Macy was about 8 months old the first year. We were hunting up by Fish Lake. Woodcock were flittering about, and it was as if a light bulb went off. Macy would bump one and point another one."

When a pointer "bumps" a bird, it means she moves in too close and flushes it before the hunter is ready. But that day, Macy learned to point.

"It was just a fantastic bit of dog work from a young dog," Larson said. "It set the tone for her seasons to come. She's been a staunch dog since then.

"Now that my dogs are 9 [Macy] and 12 [Riley], I'm reminiscing about those times. I found myself thinking about them yesterday."

Woodcock are diminutive game birds with chunky bodies, oversize heads and elongated bills used for probing moist soil for earthworms. When they migrate through northern Minnesota in mid-October, they often settle into stands of young aspen, where a hunter and a dog might have 50 or 60 flushes in a day.

"The whole hillside looks like it's on fire with yellow," Larson said. "You have vistas of the lake, and the woodcock are flittering around. There's nothing much cooler to a pointing-dog guy."



Debbie Waters, Duluth

Grouse and pheasant hunter

Waters, 35, owns a 6-year-old Gordon setter named Remmi. Last fall, she shot her first pheasant after several years of pheasant hunting. She had assisted other hunters in shooting pheasants, but she never had shot one on her own.

"It sounds kind of benign, but this is my favorite story," Waters said. "I was out in this native prairie that had been restored. Remmi was quartering like crazy. It was really windy. I was trudging up this field, and when we got up to the top, he locked up on point.

"I was thinking 'hen,' because hens hold better than roosters. I walked up there. I flushed this bird, and gol-darnit, it was a rooster. I shot it. It was perfect. I dropped to my knees and marveled at that bird."

She shot several more pheasants last fall.

Waters began deer hunting at age 15, and she shot her first grouse at age 20. She attributes much of her success with pheasants last fall to her new shotgun.

"I had a 20-gauge, but it didn't fit me right," she said. "I sold the 20 and got a new gun, a Benelli 12-gauge. It's a sweet gun, a beautiful gun. It shoots like it's part of me."


A young boy whose family owned a black Labrador retriever once asked Duluth dog trainer Joe DeLoia if he knew why so many catalogs and magazines featured photos of yellow Labradors. DeLoia was stumped.

"Because the black ones are all out hunting," the boy said.


John Lindgren, Duluth

Brittany spaniel owner and pheasant hunter

"My first dog, Cassie -- a Brittany spaniel, of course -- had a couple of nicknames. One was 'the blazing snowball.' She was mostly white, and she was possessed. She had this insane drive to get from Point A to Point B.

"Her other nickname was 'the ferret.' She weighed about 40 pounds. If there were cattails, she would swim over them or blast under them. Occasionally, she'd disappear for several seconds.

"I didn't have a release command for her. If she was on point, I'd just kick around in front of her. If the birdwasn't where I was, she would break and go farther.

"There was a time in North Dakota with a friend of mine. There was snow on the ground. She went on point. I was kicking around and kicking around, but the birddidn't get up. She would not break from that point. Finally, I looked down and there was the pheasant, sitting about 6 inches from her nose in a spot that was all blown over with snow.

"I grabbed the rooster and picked it up. I have this rooster in my hand, alive. I said to my friend, 'Kent, what should we do?' He didn't know. I said, 'I'm going to throw this pheasant up in the air. If you hit it, we'll get it.'

"I threw it up. He shot twice and missed both times."

Lindgren supplied his own moral for the story.

"A bird in the hand is not necessarily a bird in the bag."

When Cassie was 13, in her final season, Lindgren went out to hunt ruffed grouse near Bagley, Minn., one day. The hunt would have been too much for Cassie, he figured, so he asked his dad to keep Cassie in the cabin until well after Lindgren had left to hunt with his younger dog, Annie.

Lindgren was in the woods, hunting, sometime later when Cassie came running up to him.

"Dad had opened the door, and she ran a mile and a half to find us," Lindgren said. "I almost cried when it happened. I just hugged her."

Cassie died later that fall, he said.

She was one in thousand, one in a million," Lindgren said.

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