A Tribute to a Hunter’s Best Friend

The Casanova

Lee Kjos names all his duck dogs after Louis L’Amour cowboys, and Cap is no exception. When Kjos went to pick out a Lab five years ago, he had his heart set on a reddish male. But the same yellow pup kept tumbling into his lap until Kjos gave in and took him home. Cap is loyal to everyone in the family, including Kjos’ son Luke (above), but his real best friend is any hunter with a shotgun. “He’s the coolest combination of a total powerhouse and a lover,” Kjos says. “Water, land—it doesn’t matter. But as soon as the hunt’s done, it’s like he’s in a coma. He’s the best dog we’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned a lot of them.”

The Class Clown

Frank Vilorio’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, Anchor, might ride shotgun during hunting season, but come spring and summer, he’s a fishing fool. A bass guide on Ele­phant Butte Lake in New Mexico, Vilorio got Anchor when the pup was only 8 weeks old, and after nine years, they are nearly inseparable. “I always ask clients for permission before I bring him on a trip,” Vilorio says. “But he’s a big ham and knows just how to pose for pictures on the dock with my clients’ fish, so the answer 99 percent of the time is yes.”

The Boss Hog

Ricky Jayroe’s dog pigpen has lived a cat’s nine lives, and then some. Rescued from a South Carolina Lowcountry litter, the bluetick and Boston terrier mix rode in Jayroe’s swamp-hog crew for nearly five years. “He’d bay a 4-pound piglet the same way he’d bay a 300-pound hog,” Jayroe says with a laugh. “Bark and bark, but stand back a ways. Soon as you put your hand on the hog, though, he was right in there. Look at what I done, boss! Look at me!” These days, PigPen is living high on the hog, in Arizona, as best bud to Jayroe’s grandson. “He was getting old and slowing down, and I can’t hardly bear to see one of my dogs hurt.” —T.E.N.

The Guiding Spirit

Registered Maine guide Bob Howe hasn’t been without a beagle pack for 48 years. Howe guides snowshoe hare and whitetail deer trips out of his Pine Grove Lodge in Bingham. When one of his beloved beagles dies, he or she is cremated, and the ashes are placed in a specific rabbit cover. This sweet girl, Ginger, recently passed away, and she was laid to rest on the back side of Fletcher Mountain above the lodge. Although she doesn’t always rest. “On a clear day,” Howe says, “I can hear her running up there.”

The Old Friend

Dogs can’t know which hunt will be their last, but their owners often do. In 2019, Dustin Whitehead organized a final outing for his 14-year-old Lab. He scouted spots Jocie could navigate with her failing hips, and his buddies took off work. But the lake bottom was too soft, so Whitehead carried her to deeper water, casting her out and scooping her up each time she returned. Finally, there was just one mallard left. Whitehead sent her after this drake and, as loyal and reliable as ever, Jocie made her final retrieve.

The Power Couple

Richard Graham is a full-time waterfowl guide in Louisiana, and for that, he needs a full-time sidekick. ­Although Graham didn’t bring his chocolate Lab, Dee, home until the pup was already a year old, he still trained Dee to be the accomplished duck dog he is today. The team takes just two days off during the state’s substantial season: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Dee averages 15 ducks and geese each day, which works out to more than 800 birds every season. “Dee has a switch,” he says of his 4-year-old partner. “He will climb on me and lick that morning’s honey-bun crumbs off my face. But as soon as I raise my call, he’s back to work. He’s the best of both worlds.”

The Devoted Deputy

Hunters aren’t the only ones who grieve the loss of their best friend; our dogs also experience heartbreak. In 2018, I photographed former Minnesota Vikings defensive back Keith Nord with Joey, one of his English setters, while they hunted grouse and woodcock in the North Woods. This was just a year before Nord passed away from a rare and aggressive ­cancer. On that outing, no one would have guessed he had a single health issue. Nord was an enthusiastic hunter, but his love of hunting paled in comparison to his love for his setters. In the difficult talks leading up to his death, one of Nord’s greatest concerns was finding good homes for each of his dogs, ­including Joey.

The Ace

After he retired from the Air Force, Patrick Engelhardt received the gift of a Llewellin English setter from a buddy. He named the pup Parker, and the two have been dogging birds together ever since. Parker is a “stone-cold hunter” who plays as hard as he works, like when he was spotted mid­jump while chasing pheasants and quail outside Boise. Engelhardt was hunting with a Benelli M2 when this photo was taken, but owning and shooting a Parker shotgun over Parker has always been on his bucket list. This year he finally purchased a fully restored 20-gauge to complete the dream team.