By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
I was raised in a small town on the Elk River where most conversations at the barber shop and the grocery store were based on two primary and overriding topics — hunting and fishing.
The Elk was well-known for smallmouth bass, walleyes and big muskies and the people I looked up to as a child fished for them. I knew each of them by the stories I had been told or by overhearing the grown-ups discussing how someone might be inclined to tell big fish tales. No matter how far the truth was stretched, it didn’t matter to a boy who simply wanted to go be a part of the world of hunting and fishing.
Perhaps an example will lend a hand in telling the story of the Elk River of my youth and the people who still fill my memories today.
A little farther up the river from my hometown, there was a group of houses that sat in a flat bottom along the river. In those houses lived an extended family of an old man who was the patriarch of the clan. They were known as good people and were a well-respected family in our community. They were also known to have houses next to perhaps the best wintertime musky waters around and most years proved that by snapping a photo or two of large fish caught from the waters. But most importantly to a young boy, I was told they kept squirrel hunting dogs. That was enough of a mystery to me to make my head spin with wonderment.
I was introduced to the old man through a schoolmate who was his grandson. The invitation to hunt with him came by asking my parents if they minded me tagging along with my friend on a family hunting outing. I had been on several squirrel hunts prior to the meeting, but none with dogs. Until then, my hunting experience was limited to my father letting me walk with him in the woods while he carried his Ithaca 16-gauge shotgun — he referred to it as his bird gun — while he hunted the ridge tops for squirrels.
Some 30-odd years later, I can recall vividly the hunt with the old man and his hunting dogs. He loaded the kids and the dogs into the back of his old, blue Ford truck. Our job was to hold on tight to the dogs’ collars as we bounced up the washed-out road that led to the top of the mountain overlooking the river. Once we reached the ridge line, he stopped the truck and instructed us to turn the dogs loose.
Shortly thereafter, we heard barking and the old man told us that the dogs had treed. We hurried toward the barking to find the dogs looking up a tree eagerly awaiting our arrival. The dogs had found a squirrel for us and at that precise moment, at the base of a beech tree on a ridge overlooking the Elk River, I fell in love with the hunt and the people who cherish being part of it.
I am now a lifelong hunter because someone decided to let a curious kid tag along on a squirrel hunt. I am forever grateful.