Slow and steady, Thor continues a tradition
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
I never had dogs. Always liked dogs; never owned one. Hunted ducks and hunted grouse and never owned a hunting dog. Hunted for years, for decades, for near a lifetime; never owned a dog. Walked the October woods for grouse and hunted the November storms for ducks and never used a dog. Never was tempted. I hunted and I loved hunting and I never had a
Then I met Sally who had never not had dogs. Had them and raised them, trained them and showed them in the ring, lived with dogs all her life and made it clear she’d always have dogs. Would have dogs ahead of me which drew a line in the sand when we were dating and things were heating up, relationship-wise. She owned two dogs when we met and there was never any misunderstanding about where I stood in the hierarchy of her affections.
She loved collies, sweet-mannered dogs, tender and mild and loyal to her and her alone. They were good dogs. They were wonderful companions. They were not, in no stretch of anyone’s imagination, hunters.
When her old show dog champion Jake died it was time for another dog. We got Riika and in that pretty much cemented the fact that Sally and I would stay together. Funny how things work out.
We hunted an old logging road. He started out slow and never got any faster. We walked at his pace.
Riika was of a breed little known in America, a Deutscher Wachtelhund. We were introduced to the breed on a summer evening in a crowded bar in a raucous German restaurant in Pelican Lake. What are the odds of that happening? A longer story there but we’ll put it on hold for another time.
Riika. Where does one start with Riika? Hard-wired to hunt; start with that. Wild as an October wind. Sweet and devoted. Independent of spirit, indomitable of will, smart as a whip, crazy and quirky and willful. Riika could drive me to distraction and swell me with pride and do it both on the same hunt. I could write a lot more about Riika. For now, this will do.
Two years later, Thor, of the same parents but of a completely different personality. Handsome and goofy, long legged, born for distance. I’d run the old logging roads with him and he’d keep up, breathe easy as I gasped. Treed a sow and three cubs on one run and the potential for disaster left me in a panic.
The two would be my loyal hunt dogs and in tandem we’d scour the woods for grouse and woodcock and when need be they’d retrieve downed ducks. I’d fill the freezer with the bounty of the harvest and the twosome would lie at my feet, content, at the end of the day.
It rarely worked that way.
Riika was driven to hunt in a manner that suggested addiction. Thor liked to hunt, loved to hunt, but never lived to hunt as Riika did. We managed, the three of us. We hunted. We had good days and the good days added up to good years. We put up birds; I shot some, missed far more. Neither dog cared; they just liked to hunt.
We hunted for 16-plus years, the three of us. Hunted when the dogs were young and fit and we could go for hours and miles and come back for more the next day. We did that in the prime years.
They got old. They slowed down. They lost their hearing, went stone deaf. They’d get lame; they’d get achy. Between the two of them they survived Lymes and porkie quills and cuts. Riika shrugged off a cancerous tumor, ran like a pup after ACL surgery. But they hunted. We had our days and our days became our seasons and became their legacy.
Riika died in June. It gutted us, it really did. She left a hole in our lives and a gap in our days. The house is emptier now, our lives not as full. Funny what a dog can mean to you. Funny what they bring to your lives.
I did not know if I would hunt Thor again. He’s aged. When he lost Riika he lost his bearing. There is a sadness to him now, a somberness. Maybe it’s just age but I think it’s loss. I watched him all summer and into September. The grouse season opened and we did not go out. We did not hunt the first week or the second or the third. I’ve never gone that late into the season without hunting.
Last week I took Thor to the woods. I hoisted him into the truck and we drove the backroads to where the blacktop turned to gravel and the road widened to a parking area big enough for one truck. I let him out. He seemed good.
We hunted an old logging road. He started out slow and never got any faster. We walked at his pace. He’s old now; so am I. It was near peak color and the sky arched in blue overhead and the old roadway wound through the woodlot. We did not see a single bird.
We walked from the highland to low areas along the creek bed. It was cooler there, darker in the shadows to the side, thick with tag alders and balsam. We worked slowly. Thor did well enough, moving off the road to the thick stuff. But we did not see any birds there.
He was slow on the uphill before the parking area, his stride labored and heavy and he looked at me with tired eyes. I waited for him. We walked across the gravel to the truck and I lifted him up and we drove home. He slept in the passenger seat.
We’ll go out again, Thor and I. We’ll hunt as best we can. We’ll go slow. We’ll go steady. We’ll hunt for the day even as the memories rise up, memories of the seasons and wild birds and days now passed and of Riika.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.