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An old dog's last grouse retrieve

A ruffed grouse surveys its surroundings May 1, 2017, near Norris Camp, headquarters of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota. Spring drumming counts of ruffed grouse were up 57 percent from last year, which bodes well for hunting prospects. Minnesota's grouse season opened Saturday, Sept. 16. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

NORTHWEST OF ISLAND LAKE, Minn. — Phil Johnson was up near his hunting shack northwest of Island Lake one day when he came across an older man sitting in his pickup along the road.

Johnson, of Esko, Minnesota, is an amiable guy. He stopped to say hello. The man in the truck had been hunting, too, he told Johnson.

Johnson noticed an old black Lab lying on the seat beside the man. It had been his son's dog, the man told Johnson, but his son had moved away and — well, the old man had ended up with the dog.

"The guy started crying," Johnson said, recalling the conversation.

The old man in the truck explained that this was the dog's last hunt. He was going to have the dog put to sleep, but he had wanted to bring the dog out for one more day in the woods.

The dog couldn't hunt anymore, though. All he could do was ride alongside the old man on the seat.

Johnson kept listening. The old man kept talking.

"I shot this grouse," the man told Johnson. "So, I came back to the truck and got the dog. I carried him out to where the bird was. I let him pick up the bird. Then I carried him back to the truck."

By this time, the man in the truck wasn't the only one crying, Johnson said.

"Here we were, two old guys who don't even know each other, both crying in the middle of the road," he said.

Some days, it isn't about the birds.

— Sam Cook

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