In the dark, on a frozen lake, you really don't want to be following four-wheeler tracks from shore to see where they lead, searching for a winter fisherman. But that's what DNR conservation officer Daniel Baumbarger was doing early Monday, walking on ice. The time: about 12:30 a.m. The place: Mud Lake, in Traverse County, near the South Dakota border.

Baumbarger, a North Carolinian turned Minnesotan, was part of a phalanx of officers, local, county and state, called to search for Charles (Chuck) Krauth, 50, a husband, father, grandfather, lover of old trucks and lover particularly of all things outdoors, especially hunting and fishing -- and no less so the dogs that accompanied him afield.

Krauth had left his nearby Wheaton home in early afternoon Sunday, and when he hadn't returned by 10:30 that night, and couldn't be reached by cellphone, his wife called the authorities.

"We found his pickup at the Mud Lake landing,'' Baumbarger said. "Another officer and I followed his tracks onto the lake until we came to his four-wheeler. Near it was a hole in the ice.''

An ominous sight, this, a hole in the ice, and one that already this winter has foretold fatal outcomes on Lake Charlotte in Wright County, where two snowmobilers died, and on Rice Lake in Stearns County, which claimed an ATV rider.

The scene Baumbarger happened upon was different: On the seat of the ATV near the hole in the ice -- as if standing sentry -- was a chocolate Labrador, a dog barely a year old, but one nonetheless that seemed not short on patience, hope, or both.

"The dog was just sitting there on the seat,'' Baumbarger said. "Waiting.''

It seemed Krauth had not yet begun fishing when he disappeared. On his ATV were his ice auger, his fishing rods and tackle, a pail of minnows and the patient dog.

Perhaps better than most, hunters know that a dog's eyes reflect its owner's love.

The pheasant chaser who runs his retriever into the ground, keeping him afield too long on hot afternoons while forgetting water at the truck, and who declines to reward long retrieves even with a rudimentary pat on the head or a kind word, never will know the far reaches of his dog's heart.

Similarly, the tough guy waterfowler whose tall tales about his Lab or Chessie breaking ice from sunrise to sunset to bring back late-season divers: No shrink is needed to highlight the insecurities played out here, in plain sight for all to see, save for those who won't, or can't.

Charles Morgan, the famed retriever trainer now passed, mused once that his happiest clients were those whose dog could pick a duck out of a simple pond, while his unhappiest were "those who hadn't won the Nationals.''

Such owners shouldn't be surprised when their dogs mete out loyalty in bits and pieces. Whereas truly loved dogs, no matter the rigors of their work or training, will unfailingly throw themselves under a bus for their bosses.

Proving the point last summer was the funeral in Rockford, Iowa, of Navy Seal Jon Tumilson. As 1,500 people gathered in a high school gym on a hot summer day to remember a fallen hero, Tumilson's Labrador, Hawkeye, lay alongside his master's casket, presenting a eulogy of love as telling as any.

Early Monday morning, Krauth's dog -- her name was Sadie -- seemed similarly to be repaying her master when Baumbarger found her perched on the ATV.

What occurred next would pop up soon enough on computer screens of law enforcement offices statewide. A rescue team was called, a search conducted and a victim found in 7 feet of water, over which, in that particular spot on Mud Lake, in Traverse County near the South Dakota border, was ice 1-inch thick.

Unmentioned in the reports would be the anxious waiting on shore of Krauth's wife, Kelly, and other family members, and the sad telephone calls that rang for hours throughout Wheaton, population 1,400.

One of seven children, Krauth was the second among his siblings to drown. When he was 11, a brother, Jay, then 6, died after slipping into a river while the two boys fished.

Chuck Krauth's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wheaton. In addition to his wife, he's survived by three daughters, two granddaughters, a grandson.

And his dog.

Dennis Anderson