Yola is gone now. And Tom Graslie is wondering what comes next.
He turns 68 this fall, after all, an age when contemplative people might consider the years ahead and how to spend them.
Who or what to spend them with, too.
So these days Graslie is trying to figure out what autumns will be like without Yola, his 13-year-old pointing griffon. She died in January.
“The last couple of years, she didn’t hunt very hard. Her endurance wasn’t what it had been, of course,” says Graslie, a private-practice lawyer here in Rapid City. “Although she still had a good nose.”
A good nose is essential on an upland bird hunt. Not a good human nose, of course. Human hunters are OK at sniffing out an apple pie in the kitchen. But picking out and following a thin, winding, wavering thread of upland scent drifting along on the wind in a woven fabric of other odors is work for dog. A hunting dog. A good hunting dog.
Graslie wants another one. He needs another one, in fact, if he is to continue following his upland-bird-hunting passions into the wilds of western and central South Dakota in the autumns to come. But he’s hesitant, because of his age and the demands of a owning and managing and satisfying a good, strong, enthusiastic hunting dog.
Oh, and there’s the fire, too. They had one at Graslie’s house in late July, which is why he and his wife are living in an apartment until the repairs can be made. That pretty much rules out starting with a new pup or slightly older “started” dog this fall.
They have other things on their mind right now. But they could be back in their house by spring, which means Graslie could get a pup in March or April and start planning for the fall hunts.
“Well, that’s what I think,” Graslie says, noting that his wife has more reservations about the notion.
And that’s understandable. She doesn’t hunt. And dogs can be a hassle. Particularly hard-charging hunting dogs, particularly during the eight or nine months of the year when they don’t get to do much hunting. So they require a lot of care and exercising during the long off-season.
That’s why another aging South Dakota pheasant hunter, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, won’t be replacing his fine old yellow Labrador, Baby, who’ll turn 14 in December.
Rounds will turn 64 three days into the regular South Dakota pheasant season next month. That’s plenty young to get another pup. But there’s that U.S. Senate schedule to consider.
“Now with my situation, I really can’t have a puppy,” Rounds said.
Can’t have it. Can’t train it. Can take the time to form that magical bond between hunting dog and hunter. At least, not right now.
“They need attention,” Rounds said.
Right now, he can’t give it to a dog. He won’t be senator forever, however.
Graslie doesn’t have to worry about keeping a U.S. Senate schedule. But he understands the challenges and his wife’s reservations. He further understands that there could come a time in the not-all-that-distant future when the years and the realities of age could make buying another pup impractical.
He just can’t imagine when that would be.
After all, Graslie’s in good shape. He takes care of himself and exercises regularly. He just returned from some pretty vigorous hiking in the Big Horns — probably more vigorous than the challenges of keeping up with a pointing griffon.
“I don’t know what else I would do when retired,” he says. “There’s so much about it (bird hunting) I like. You study the land. And with the help of the dog, you get to figure out what’s going on.”
If you’re a pheasant guy, you get to watch your dog figure out crafty old roosters, which is something just the other side of pure joy.
“I especially liked that, when I knew Yola was on the track of a real smart old rooster,” Graslie says. “You’d watch her doubling back and moving back and forth and things. And she could puzzle over that and eventually figure it out.”
If, after all that, you get the flush and make the shot, it’s sublime. But if not, the gift of the dog work remains, and inspires in ways that endure.
That’s a sort of lasting inspiration that Graslie isn’t quite ready to give up, even as some others his age do.
“I’m finding that my peers are sort of dropping away from this sport,” he says. “I don’t find as many willing to go out anymore.”
That’s never a problem with a good hunting dog. And it seems likely that Graslie will have one more.