Lost & Found

Illustration by Gordon Allen
By Tom Huggler

The worst thing that can happen to your dog may depend on what you fear the most. Getting accidentally shot, bitten by a rattlesnake or blundering into a coyote snare are possibilities. For me, experiencing a lost dog tops the list of horrors, because if I don’t know where my partner is, I can’t fix the problem. Nothing in my canine first-aid kit will help. Neither will the nearest animal hospital or the world’s best veterinarian. All I can do is worry until the dog finds its way back or someone finds it and calls my phone number on the collar.

One of the longest nights of my life occurred a few years ago when my setter Ragan was only a few months old. It was a snowy December afternoon in northern Michigan when my friend Tom and I decided to hunt grouse along a narrow trail through thick conifers. With the light fading and time running short, I released Ragan along with my older setter, Blake, and Butterscotch, my female yellow Lab.

Because of the cloaking evergreens, we didn’t see the only grouse we flushed.

Turning back, I realized Blake had separated from the group. We waited until nearly dark, and then trudged on through the snow, hoping Blake would follow our tracks to my pickup. As we neared the gravel road where I had parked, Ragan suddenly raced ahead, and I knew why: Earlier we had noticed a deer carcass half-eaten by coyotes, and the young dog was more interested in venison than hunting birds. When I caught up and tried to leash him, Ragan broke free of my grasp, ran into the road and was struck by a car.

In slow-motion agony, I watched a Jeep Grand Cherokee traveling perhaps 10 mph hit my dog. Yelping, with his tail between his legs, Ragan bolted into the dense woods and disappeared.

Now I had two dogs missing and one might be severely injured. Tom agreed to talk to the driver, a panic-stricken older woman, while I plunged into the woods to find Ragan. I half-expected to spot him lying in terrible pain—a broken leg or back—unable to move. But the woods were so dense and dark that I could have walked within 10 feet and not seen him. I called, whistled and pleaded, but Ragan made no sound.

Tom lived nearby, and when he went home to get firewood and a sleeping bag, I kept searching and calling. The snow eventually stopped, and the stars came out—and so did Blake, which solved half of the missing-dog scare. Our hope restored, Tom and I built a roaring fire and waited until nearly midnight for Ragan. After adding the last of the wood to the fire, I laid out my hunting vest and a pan of food and hoped the coyotes wouldn’t find it—or Ragan. Then we went to Tom’s house, where neither of us slept well.

The next morning the fire was out and the food was gone. The snow under my flattened vest had melted. Ragan was alive! But it was Butterscotch, Ragan’s kennelmate, who found him later that morning.

The instant Ragan playfully chased her from the snow-covered woods, I knew my worst fears were over.

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  • Lost dogs are a greater concern with some breeds than others. I have never had any trouble with Brits or my Shorthair or Labs owned aver the years.
    I did hunt for several years with a guy whose mother bought him an English Pointer. He had always been a Lab man, but sent the pointer for training and invested rather heavily in him. But the pointer had his own lifestyle, which included preferring to hunt out of sight and way in front. On one occasion he was found by a neighboring farmer, and was himself ‘retrieved” the next day. But the craziest thing he did was to fall down an abandoned well. Since the well was relatively shallow and dry, we were able to find him and hoist him out by rapelling down on a rope.
    Needless to say, after that episode, I found reasons why I had conflicts for future hunts, and my friend (I think?) breathed a sigh of relief when that dog’s hunting days were over.

  • The third of July 2017 was one of the most terrifying nights I have had in a long time. The neighborhood sounded like a war zone from fireworks and all of our dogs were nervous and anxious when I got home around 9:00. I let them out to go and everyone came back except Callie, the 14 month old Welsh Springer Spaniel. I called, searched, whistled and drove all over the town looking for her until 2:00. I laid a dog bed down outside and slept on the deck until 4:30 when I finally went inside. I was up at 5:30 and headed back out to look some more when she showed up by the door. She was none the worse for the experience but I was. I was so mad at her but couldn’t yell at her, I ended up picking her up and holding her for over an hour.

  • This story is upsetting… Although I applaud the author for being honest and upfront I assume for the purposes of others learning from his mistakes. So many things went wrong here.
    * Don’t take a derby out in the big woods if you don’t have a handle on him yet.
    * Get some obedience on both your dogs. Here means here and whoa means whoa!
    * Run your dogs with a tracking collar if you don’t have the skill to train your dogs


  • My biggest fear taking my young Griffon on our first grouse hunting trip to the U.P. of Michigan was that he might get lost. Wolves up there can be a nightmare. I had my phone number on his tag and even went to the trouble of printing lost dog flyers with his picture and my contact info. on them and keeping them in my Jeep. Turns out he hunted like a seasoned pro and came back to me every time with a voice or whistle command. He hunts fairly close, (within 100 yards), and I no longer worry about this issue any longer. Eight years later we’ve hunted Maine, Minnesota, South Dakota, Kansas and Illinois with no problems. Can’t imagine the grief other hunters go through when their hunting partner gets lost.

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