‘A beautiful mystery’ to unravel during hunting season
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
I am not a dog man. Let’s get that straight. Never have been; never will be. Dog men, they get a dog and they work with that dog and they live and breathe for that dog and their dogs are wonderful at whatever it is that they are trained for.
Mostly hunting; dog men and hunting dogs go together in a wonderful synchronicity and a good dog man will bring out the best in their dogs.
The best I can do with dogs is to buy pups of impeccable pedigree, born and bred of long lines of hunt dogs, dogs that, in the hands of a good dog man will shine bright as the north star. In my hands the dogs’ luster is somewhat dimmer. Good stock and lineage will carry only so far when exposed to lackluster training and haphazard discipline.
A dog man’s dogs go willingly to kennel, respond unwaveringly to hand and voice commands, will point grouse, retrieve ducks, and bond with the trainer as if they are clairvoyant in ascertaining the wishes of the human. My dogs will not be demeaned by kenneling, sit in the front seat of the truck, sleep on the bed, take commands as suggestions to be considered but by no means obeyed. They run with some abandon in the field, returning most often to see why I’m taking so long.
After the hunt they’d be inclined to kick back with a cigar and a tumbler of whisky if they could.
At least that’s the way it’s been, mostly notably with the tandem of Riika and Thor, two years apart in age, farther apart in temperament, but united in the belief that dogs’ wishes reign supreme and the hunter is a mere accessory to their needs, useful mostly for motoring them to and from the hunt and in providing a hearty meal and warm bed after.
Riika was driven to hunt in a manner that at times was alarming; she would not stop and one had to pull her from the field lest she run herself to harm. Thor was talented but lackadaisical about hunting. He liked it, perhaps loved it but Riika; Riika lived to hunt.
Riika had a personality trait unlike most dogs in that she did not care if you liked her. If you would take her to the woods she was your friend, fiercely devoted. If you did not provide that service she did not much care about you. Not everyone liked Riika. Thor loved everyone and showed it and everyone he met loved him.
Bella, now at 15 months, is somewhere in between. She loves the woods and the waters, likes most people, and hunts with some enthusiasm. Or at least she did last year as a young pup. This season, now mere days away, remains uncharted territory and the times ahead an unknown, or perhaps as Aaron Rodgers said in this offseason about his future with the Packers: “My future is a beautiful mystery.” So it is with Bella: A beautiful mystery about to be unveiled in the months ahead.
Her course might be better charted should she be in the capable hands of dog man but her lot in life is to be stuck with me.
And I, decidedly, am not a dog man.
Bella, to her credit, has learned what I have taught her. She usually comes when called unlike the wide-ranging Riika and Thor who would run to the next zip code for the sheer fun of it, ignoring any entreaties to “come;” oblivious to the banshee-like shrieks of the whistle, giving new meaning to the phrase “free range” as they barreled into the next county.
Bella will, with surprising regularity, honor the “Whoa” command which informs a dog to stop and stand still. She has whoa-ed when deer and a coyote have jumped close by and fairly consistently when grouse have flushed and flown into deep cover. She has retrieved training bumpers thrown far into the lake (even as she ignores them on the ground), sits when I tell her to and seems to take a genuine interest with what I have to say.
She has also torn up dog toys, scratched deep furrows in the backdoor when she wants in (rather than simply barking) and destroyed any number of dog dishes and supposedly indestructible dog chews. She refuses to enter a kennel, fighting violently should we attempt to force her in. She will have nothing to do with my duck boat, a small skiff that would seem to hold no threat. She reacts to it as if it were a bed of red-hot coals to be avoided at all cost. My vision of her and I in the boat paddling out to the duck blind is at grave risk.
Then there is the matter of the backyard. Bella you must understand, likes to dig, though digging seems to come up short as a description; she is more an excavator than a digger. There is a series of gaping holes where part of our backyard used to be, grass scattered like confetti, topsoil tossed aside and thin, golden sand exposed. And these are not small holes but large enough to constitute hazard to all who come near, big enough and deep enough for the Boston Terriers for disappear into. Our yard, never a thing of beauty, lies barren.
Perhaps a dog man would have had better luck. Perhaps.
But now September. Now shifting times, the backyard forgotten.
Now, the season at hand. Soon, the test of the hunt. We stand, Bella and I, Quixote-like, on the threshold of a new season, grouse to be hunted, woodcock and ducks to be stalked, summer-like afternoons in early season giving up to early days of winter. We’ll see the season change, see leaves turn and fall, see lakes go to chill and freeze. We’ll sort things out.
We’ll unravel the two of us, the beautiful mystery of it all.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.
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