GPS

There was a storm coming and Ella was gone. Missing. Wind blowing hard out of the east all day, never a good sign. Freezing rain falling on the three or four inches of hard snow still on the ground. Getting dark.

We always hunt the same spot over by the rainbow trail. Never kill any rabbits there, not what it’s about. It’s 8.7 miles by road. Up and around and over the bridge by Wahoo Valley and then down and back east on the trail and then back in off the road a half mile to the spot we always park. 

4.9 miles in a straight line. Only one road to cross that way but also a river and lots of woods and swamp and fields. Lots of snowshoe rabbits in that spot to chase. Miles of pine trees and swamp filled with rabbits.

The river between my house and where we go to run the dogs.

Days that I don’t go there to run these dogs I turn some loose at the house to chase cottontails. Pretty tame stuff compared to the big snowshoe hare that never take cover in a brush pile I built for them. Today was one of those days. I let Brienne (otherwise known as Brainy) and Windy, Ginger and Ella out of the kennel. I should put tracking collars on them. Sometimes I do. Most times I get lazy and skip that part around home.

Part of the reason I let them run here is for them to learn the country and how to find their way home.Most of my dogs were born here and spent their puppyhood running loose around the yard. Their internal compass is set with this place as home. Ella was born in Georgia, she missed out on that part.

I was outside most of the day but never heard those dogs. I blamed the wind. How far could they be? After about five hours I saw Brienne and Windy coming home from the east. Ginger followed about a half hour later.

During the night about seven inches of wet heavy snow fell. Ella never made it home. I pushed the snow off the yard and then drove all over by snowmobile, looking. No dog tracks anywhere. Afternoon I loaded up some dogs in the truck and went hunting. The new, soft snow didn’t keep me from driving back off the road to the parking lot. 

Living and running dogs in wolf country, looking at tracks is as automatic as checking for the occasional log truck before pulling out onto the road. There were fresh dog tracks by the place we always park. I turned dogs out (wearing tracking collars) then took a closer look at those tracks. Looked like beagle tracks. Saw some tracks with the dog still in them.

There’s Ella, coming up the trail to the truck. “It’s about time,” she tells me with a look. A little tired, missing some hair around her muzzle from trailing rabbits, but otherwise just fine.

The day before when I let them out, Windy and Brainy and Ginger waited around until they saw I wasn’t going to give them a ride over to the trail. Then they went on their own, traveling cross country with Ella following and then getting left behind when it was time to come home. Ella knows about hunting and trailing rabbits but she couldn’t find her way from the kennel to the house if you left her a trail of dog food. She may be the only one that can prove she was there, but I’m guessing Brainy or Windy were the navigators. I’ve seen things like this before from the dogs listed on their papers, but not on this scale. Not that I knew about anyway.

Traveler used to be that kind of dog. Once maybe ten years ago, he was gone hunting when I had to leave for work for the week. I asked Lisa to watch for him and bring him in when he came home. It was early spring, the snow was just melting. There was still some venison by the shed from the meat scraps I had been feeding the dogs through the winter. Next day when I called Lisa, she had seen no sign of Traveler. He wasn’t around the following day or the next. Still hadn’t come to the house when I returned Friday morning. There were dog tracks in the yard. I called a few times and Traveler soon came in. Found his tracks going back to the potlatch to hunt, mile and a half from the house. Hard telling where all else he went that week.

Come to think of it, Brainy and Ginger were gone most of one day the week before. I used to think I was mainly the designated driver for these dogs but it seems they don’t really need me even for that. Pete summed it up best when I told him my story. “They have a way better GPS than anything we have. Garmin don’t have nothing on them.”