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Hunter’s Best Friend

The University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to publish today a paperback edition of A GROUSE HUNTER’S ALMANAC. In this post, author Mark Parman reminisces about his faithful hunting dogs and their importance beyond mere scenting.

I wrote most of the essays in A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac eight to ten years ago.  That’s a long time in dog years, nearly a lifetime. Gunnar and Ox, the dogs at the center of the book, have been gone almost as long. We live with two different English setters now—Fergus and Jenkins—and on occasion I call one or the other Ox or Gunnar.  Recently a friend called, an English setter fanatic, asking about Ox’s lines and his breeder, and after our conversation, I dreamed of Ox several nights running. Although no longer here in the flesh, these dogs are still very much with me, something I realized even more keenly as I paged through A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac, making a few corrections for this new paperback edition.

Ox pointing a woodcock

In the essay “Dogless,” however, Ox and Gunnar are literally absent from the pages. When rereading it, I was surprised that I didn’t mention them by name, referring to them obliquely as “my dogs.” The essay describes what it was like for me to hunt without a dog one early October day in northern Wisconsin. I hadn’t hunted grouse or woodcock without a dog for several years. Walking by myself through the bright woods and falling leaves, it took just a few minutes for me to realize I would rather hunt with a dog than with a shotgun if forced to choose between the two.
I would rather hunt with a dog than with a shotgun if forced to choose between the two. Click To Tweet
I could get into a rational explanation to justify why a dog improves your hunting chances and ability to bag birds, but for me it all comes down to the fact I have no desire to upland hunt without a dog.

Gunnar with a Sawyer County grouse

I drove home after this fruitless hunt and jumped out of my truck as Gunnar and Ox, released from the house, charged out to greet me. They had seen me leave in the morning with a gun case, and they hadn’t forgotten this slight. They sniffed me all over, trying to fathom where I’d been and why they’d been left behind. It was a new experience for them as well, and they appeared to be at least as unhappy with it as I was. After this, I never hunted without one or the other until they both finally passed on.

Matt Parman (the author’s brother) with Ox

Since then, I’ve kept this wordless pact with Fergus and Jenkins.  On occasion, I hunt them together, but mostly they take turns—one goes out, one stays at home.  As I back out of the driveway, I have a hard time not glancing over at the picture window where the dog left behind stands pressing his nose against the glass, looking as sad as a dog can. Some days, it’s enough to make me roll back down the drive, unlock the door and release whoever was marked to stay home that day. The perfect joy, the happy dance in the driveway, their lust for life cuts me to the heart.

How can anyone live without this?

Fergus and Jenkins with an early season grouse

Mark Parman is a member of the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Loyal Order of Dedicated Grouse Hunters. He has written for Sports AfieldPointing Dog Journal, and other outdoor magazines. In the late spring of 2018, the University of Wisconsin Press will publish a new collection of his hunting essays, Among the Aspen. He has retired from teaching English and journalism at the University of Wisconsin–Marathon County and now lives near Hayward, Wisconsin.

For more of Mark’s writing, visit setterboys.com.