Old dogs and old men can surprise you. Don’t mistake snow on the roof, Grey Hair, because if there is a fire burning in the fireplace or in the heart, that old man and old dog could leave you speechless. That’s what happened on our last trip to North Dakota.  Nala is the old dog in this scenario, Jon McCorkle is the old man.

Named after the character in the movie, Lion King, Nala was my daughter Erin’s dog. Nala got off to good start on ducks, retrieved Erin’s first duck and more. But things changed. Erin was going for an education, moved away and all of sudden Nala needed a new home. That is where the old man came on the scene. Jon “The Fish Whisperer” McCorckle was dog-less and needed a dog but didn’t know it until we made him a deal he couldn’t refuse. Jon always had dogs, loved to hunt ducks and grouse and Nala did both. 

I trained Nala and hunted her before she was Jon’s dog. Nala always played second fiddle to her siblings at the hunting game so she spent a lot of time on the bench. Nala was part of our second Fearsome Foursome. No, I’m not referring to Deacon Jones, Merlin Olson, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy, an imposing front four for the great old LA Rams of the 1960s. I’m referring to four great dogs from a litter out of Magic, my Springador that were born 12 years ago.

Drake was the tough one I rented out to a guide who took him to Alberta, Canada, where he retrieved 50 big geese and ducks a day on land and water. The only goose he failed to retrieve landed next to a bull moose in the bush. Cubby owned by son Josh is famous and loved. Probably known by many people who frequented the former Gander Mountain in Woodbury where Josh was the gun manager. Teal, my dog, received the most applause by doing retrieving and obedience dog training seminars with me.

Trading Nala to a new team meant she was now the starting quarterback for Jon’s team. To say Jon spoiled Nala would be an understatement. He refused long shots because he didn’t want to overwork Nala. She had her own bed, hunting vest, and toys and ate like a queen. Fast forward to our recent trip to North Dakota. The old man, Jon, is battling Parkinson’s and Nala hasn’t retrieved more than a couple ducks the last few years. The good news is that Jon’s medication was working great and he got to the wetland with very little help.

The ducks rolled into our decoys and Jon, sitting on a campstool, was flawless in his shooting, dropping not one double but two. Suddenly Nala had to retrieve four ducks in high water with a strong river current. She was up to the task. I dropped two ducks in one shot. Nala retrieved like a motorboat swimming through current and marsh grass.  Most were teal; she had to swim a few down and brought them all but one back, 11 total. Jon was amazed and proud. “This is her best day ever and she’s 12 years old, 84 in dog years,” was about all Jon could say.

To say Nala slept well that night was an understatement. To say she didn’t eat for 36 hours would be factual. But on the last day when ducks hit the water she just walked to the water’s edge and stopped to watch my younger dog Windy do all the work. Jon had no problems with that. Yesterday Nala had the best day of her life retrieving ducks and that made it Jon’s best day too.

 Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at jamesbennett24@gmail.com

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