Hot Tracks and Cold Trails

Hunter's Horn, Dec 2011Over the past year, I have done something I don’t usually do and that is raise and evaluate a large group of pups in hopes that I can improve my pack and, hopefully, have something to be competitive with as well.

Usually, I will raise two or three litters of pups a year and keep two or three out of each litter for my own use. Once in a while I may sell some of what’s left, or I may give some of them to friends so that they can help me evaluate whether or not the cross has worked or not.

This past year, I raised three litters of pups and also bought some pups out of different bloodlines. I have never considered myself kennel blind and am always wanting to see what other bloodlines are looking like in hopes that I can try some of it for myself. These pups were off of popular stuff and I wanted to see if they might fit in here.

This year I raised and kept 17 pups to look at. Now, I am not as fortunate as some folks in that I don’t have my own place to get pups started off the way that I feel that they should be started. In fact, the closest small puppy pen to me is over an hour and a half away. Because of this and the fact that I am fussy about how I start my pups, I usually pay someone else to get my pups started for me.

In years past, I have tried to get pups started in many ways. I quickly found out that I don’t like my pups started on coyotes because they are usually looking at the game too much and not using their noses enough. I have found that pups that are started with a pack of seasoned hounds often don’t get to smell the game enough unless the older hounds have already run over the track, thus leading to the chance that the pups will be covered track runners.

I have found that it is good to be selective in who you entrust your young hounds with. I have had folks start my hounds for me and some of them come back looking fine, while other look like they haven’t eaten in a month. This is usually because the trainer is feeding the hounds together and not paying enough attention to whether all of them are getting to eat.

I prefer to have my pups stay in training by themselves for at least a month. Some puppy trainers will keep them for a week and turn them loose in a small pen with a fox behind every bush. If the pup sees the game and tongues on it a few times, the pup is considered started. To me this is about the same as a pup barking at a squirrel. He’s barking, but does he really know what he’s barking at and why he’s barking at it.

In my view, if a pup is allowed to stay in training for four or five weeks and be trained with pups of similar age and experience, he’s going to be able to figure out why he is tongueing on a piece of game and be able to understand better that he is supposed to trail the scent until he gets close enough to the game to actually run it. Only when a pup reaches this stage is he considered by me to be started.

When a pup is started and ready to be introduced to a larger pack of hounds is when the rubber meets the road. I certainly don’t expect a pup to fall right in amongst the pack and start making a significant contribution to the race right away. I do expect him to hark to the hounds and I hope that a good roar gets him excited and makes him stay with the hounds as much as possible. If I don’t hear him on the first several trips with the older dogs, that’s okay too. Just as long as he tries and shows the desire to make a contribution, he can continue to be a part of my pack.

Of the current 17 pups that I raised and had the opportunity to get started, two of them showed a lot of promise, but lacked the desire to make a contribution that the other pups did. They seemed to be happy to be around the pack, but made little effort to try and get their share of the running. As a result, they are now the property of other hunters.

When I am evaluating young hounds, I have a three strike rule when it comes to extra mouth. Sometimes a pup will be overly excited and will give false tongue at first. Some of them will clean up when they get to the point that they can get with the pack and keep up with them. Because of this, I must see a young hound bark out of place on three different hunting trips before I look for another home for him. The current group of pups that I started have had three of them that broke the three strike rule.

They now have new homes and I can concentrate on the remainder of my young hounds.  Of the 12 remaining pups that I have, three of them are only nine months old and have only been with the older dogs once. While they did fine for their first trip, they are still open to evaluation. The other nine haven’t shown any faults as of yet and are continuing to improve each and every time I take them. In fact, the oldest three are littermates and have begun to establish themselves as major contributors to my Saturday night hunts. While it is too early to guess whether or not they will have any field trial potential, they will have the chance soon to experience those conditions.