Puppy Power

American Cooner Nov 2011 CoverThe girl was on a long drive home after having made a trip to look at some big game bred hound puppies. As she suspected, she couldn’t get away from the looks of those youngsters, and she’d picked one out for her very own. And now, this puppy was on the seat beside her. He had caught her eye from the onset and as luck would have it, was not one of the puppies that the owner of the litter had earmarked to keep for himself. So, she loaded up the new puppy, Rock, soon thereafter, and she couldn’t be more pleased with him.

It was late when she arrived home, and as soon as she was able to get the new puppy situated, she tended to chores around the place and took care of her other dogs. It would be a long day and week ahead of her and she was anxious to turn in for the night.

The season was getting well into the fall of the year, and it was a good time for hunting. Once every few weeks, the girl managed to slip down to Mr. Timmie’s and learn some of his ways in the swamp. Other than that, she was continually busy with work, had been to a few competition hunts. She’d won her cast a few times but hadn’t been able to make any really great strides in success. There were a few pleasure hunts she had set up to enjoy over the winter. Also, plans were in the works for a mountain lion hunt out West the following year.

And then, she took a trip North, to do some accelerated hunting and get her dogs in shape for the hunts she was going to attend. She liked to road her hounds, and resumed their roading schedules once she got situated at the little hunting camp where she’d be staying. The general course of action was to road in the late afternoon and then hunt.

Along came a night of extremely bad weather. The wind was up and storms were afoot; since the girl was a ways from home, she elected to forego hunting that night and instead just applied a longer version of roading exercise.  And that’s where the trouble began. After putting her female through the paces, she was comfortably riding along with her male dog, when all of a sudden he threw his head up and caught a strong whiff of something — he pulled to the left, slacked up and then pulled again — and suddenly broke free and was gone.

There were two problems with this unplanned dilemma.  First and foremost, her dog wasn’t wearing any tracking collar, since she was simply exercising him. This, she decided ruefully, would be rectified the next time she ran either dog — a tracking collar would be part of the equation.

In addition, she was in a pretty unfamiliar area, and would have to do what she could to keep up with her dog so that he wouldn’t get out of pocket.  With a high wind relentlessly buffeting her, she pushed behind her dog, doing her best to keep up with him. Rain pelted down from time to time but otherwise was a steady pace of water hitting her hat, her neck, and her jacket. The occasional thunderclap also interfered with
her ability to hear her dog as he ran what appeared to be a pretty hot track.

But, it seemed to go on and on. He continued to run, and she was pretty much doing the same thing as best she could, behind him. And then, he pulled up treed. She was thankful for this and as she neared his tree she was already envisioning loading him up in her dog box and calling it a night.

Nope — he didn’t stay hooked, but instead began running again, having left the tree. This puzzled the girl as he was by all accounts a stay-put tree hound. Yet, there was no way to argue the fact that he was back to running full-tilt. She continued to hope that he’d pull up pretty soon, and that she’d be able to stay up with him until that actually happened.

In the next 20 or so minutes, he treed again, and she quickened her pace. With a mental note on time, she planned to get him off the tree and back to the truck in short order. Suddenly, unbelievably, he took off once more.

What was going on? Had her dog taken leave of his senses?  This was not a tree-leaving dog, not even once in a while, and he was off on another merry chase. Could this be a family of coons? She was beyond puzzled, and didn’t seem to have any fair explanation of the situation.

She pushed on, trying to keep the fact that her truck was continually becoming more of a distant memory than a place of refuge — and for that matter, transportation back to the camp — as her dog kept running after whatever he was running. And then, he treed again. This time she broke out into as close a description of a dead run as could be managed through a tangled woods, complete with hardwood, mixed evergreens, and a fair share of blow-down from a recent storm; she wanted to get to this tree, and fast.

When it seemed like there were just a few minutes left and she’d close the gap to that tree, she suddenly pulled up in absolute disbelief. This simply couldn’t be! She listened, unwilling to accept what she was hearing. But — it was true. Her hard, stay-put tree dog was on the ground, in hot pursuit, again. He was running full tilt and apparently enjoying every minute of the chase. He was opening regularly, and pushing hard.

Was this a bear? She began to ponder this fact. Maybe he wasn’t really treeing, but was baying his game, and if it was a bear, he was doing so alone, to make matters worse. Furthermore, if the bear was charging him — and she knew they sometimes did this when bayed or cornered, that would prompt him to break out after the dog, causing her dog to scatter, just like a full pack of hounds might do . . . into the four winds.

Or gale wind, as tonight’s version most likely was. And it seemed that perhaps this was indeed what was going on. It would definitely explain why her dog kept leaving trees.

But, she knew her dog pretty well, and it didn’t sound at all to her like he was bayed . . . he sounded treed each time. Definitely up on the timber and not standing on all fours facing off a big old black bear . . . he was on the wood, she was certain of it. But in that case, what could
this be? She was back to the multiple coon possibility, as she continued to labor behind her hound.

Due to the relentless rain, she was now soaked to the bone, and her jacket and boots clung to her, weighing her down. Still, she had no choice but to try to keep him within hearing. If he kept running and treeing and leaving, and if he should get beyond earshot on top of it. Well, she was already afraid to even consider such circumstances.

She was in an area of huge woods — huge. In  addition, very few roads traversed the area. An occasional two-track criss-crossed here and there, and most of those were all but overgrown. There were also a few dirt bike trails, but she had no idea where they led or how to determine a means to find one in the first place that might assist in her walking.

Finally, she noticed a change in the tempo of her dog’s voice. And just as quickly she realized he was ranging a bit. She thought perhaps he was looking to tree soon.  Maybe she, or he, got lucky and had switched off onto one coon, rather than the multiple ones he was running, or rather than the bear she’d begun to suspect he was after?

She stopped to listen. As the rain sifted through the canopy of leaves overhead, she took deep breaths of the cool night air, and took stock in her surroundings. She was on a hill that was scattered with oak trees, it appeared. There were ferns underfoot and they were still plenty green, so they were often nearly as tall as she was and aggravating to deal with, when wet or otherwise.

It was a dark night, and she gradually lowered herself to a fallen log to take a bit of a rest while her dog figured out the track. In time, her eyes became more adjusted to things around her, and suddenly she was very uncomfortable, in not very afraid. There was a pungent odor hanging in the air, not necessarily unpleasant, but not the normal woodland delights one would expect. The musky scent indicated that wild animals were nearby, and as she picked out shadowy shapes around her in the darkness, she concluded that she had stopped remarkably close to a number of bedded deer.

And then she sucked in her breath another hundred-fold as the cold, hard reality of her immediate discovery hit her.  She was not amidst deer at all. She was surrounded by a small herd of elk. Or so it seemed. This herd could have been one or ninety, but in any case, they were bigger
than she was, and she had little to no experience with them in the wild.

The girl knew that up in Alaska, where she’d been a few times and fervently wished to revisit one day soon, moose were to be highly respected and avoided at all costs. Every year, it seemed, there was at least one tragic story of someone killed by an enraged moose. Were elk the same way? She simply didn’t know, and wasn’t about to take any chances.

Slowly, deliberately, she stood up from her place on the log, and just as slowly, she began to back down the hillhillside.  It seemed prudent to put some distance between her and the elk. Slowly, slowly, slowly — and suddenly, her dog hit a tree with a ringing chop. He sounded quite
proud of himself this time, and she knew she was pretty close to him.

Once more, she began to rush as best she could. Her lungs hurt from the exertion and briars tore and tugged at her jacket and her boots, as she labored to get to that tree before her dog got any additional bold ideas about making another leg of this track.

A hundred yards, fifty, twenty — and then she came upon a trail. It was one of the dirt bike trails and it followed the edge of pines meeting the field she’d just crossed. Her dog was just inside the pines about twenty feet. She shook her head in disgust, imagining that the dirt bike trail would be much easier walking, at the very least, but she knew not how to employ it when the time came to attempt to recover her truck.

In moments, she was at the tree, and leashed her dog.  Then, she backed up and began to shine. She was prepared to see anything and definitely half-expected to see a bear up the tree. However, as prepared as she was, an element of shock still registered as she discovered what her dog had been running the past few hours of his life.

A bobcat looked down from a perch in the branches. A bobcat! Now, this seemed to make perfect sense, once the girl thought more about it. However, local hunters had told her many times over the years that it was nearly impossible to tree a bobcat at this time of year. With snow, yes. But otherwise, bobcat simply didn’t tree long enough for dogs to do their jobs. And she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was looking at a bobcat. Front and center, he coolly looked down at her.

Finally, she collected her dog and headed out. When she got to the dirt bike trail she observed it carefully and was tempted to try either direction to see if she recognized anything that might help. Instead, she gulped some air and set out for her truck as best she could. On this return journey, she wasn’t about to do any more running, and in fact she was going to search for it in a far more leisurely manner than the trip into the tree she’d just made.

An hour later, she found the truck, and in no time her dog was loaded in the box. It had been quite a night, and she was anxious for some shut-eye, as was her dog. She headed for the camp.  The next day, as she drove back around the scene of the crime, curious as to what the country looked like in the daylight, she pushed into that section of woods by taking a two-track. It seemed to go in the proper direction for her purposes, and eventually she recognized the stand of pines she’d walked into the night before to collect her dog.

And then, she realized that the dirt-bike trail intersected the two-track she was on. Whoa. What this meant, in cold hard facts, was that she could have driven within about fifty yards of the tree, once it was all said and done.

However, she shrugged her shoulders. Who knew? She had her dog, he had treed a bobcat, and all was well. It was time to make plans for the upcoming night.

Yesterday was nothing more than a memory.

Continued next month . . .