Saga of a Bobcat Hunter

FULL CRY – Greetings, houndsmen and women. To those who have taken the time to write to Full Cry, thank you. I decided that I should contribute at times for the comic relief of others.  A timeline for my history hunting hounds started about 11 years ago. I bought a Redtick coonhound pup and started coon hunting with him and a white German Shepard that was my go along dog. I ended up with two go-along dogs that would catch and tree a coon occasionally. There were times that the Redtick performed small miracles (like striking, trailing and treeing a coon), but usually he just boo-hooed enough to make me think he was worth his dog food. Heck, my German Shepherd was smart enough to know when to head to the pickup when Duke was just piddling around. I usually followed the idiot around a couple more hours on the cold windy prairie of Northwest Kansas only to come up empty handed. If that dog struck a coon for real, that was running, the German Shepard was trailing with him and half the time passed him, caught the coon on the ground or was guarding the tree waiting for Duke to figure out the program.

Two years later I bought a Bluetick pup from Buzz Anderson, Duncan, OK and started to get more serious. I run a custom harvesting operation and fencing company so I’m gone in the summer.  I had this Bluetick that was a year old and I needed him to get some time hunting while I was gone. I hired a trainer in Western Colorado to run him for three months. All went well and the trainer put a good base and 12 to 15 bears on him with other good hounds. It was money well spent when you don’t have any other dogs or anybody within 100 miles who uses hounds. At this same point in time, I was also starting a hog dog pack with Airedales and having tremendous success with several others which were hog hunters. This will tie in with my hound story later.

At this point, a little good fortune showed itself. The trainer and I had been talking about me getting my dog to him and he said he had two dogs that a guy was coming to pick up who also lived in Kansas. He gave me Milton Boyles’ phone number who lived in Eastern Kansas saying Milton may be willing to bring my dog to him. Great. I needed to work any way and didn’t need the 1,200 mile round trip.

I called Milton and asked him what I could do for him. He said buy some fuel and it’s a deal. What a deal it turned out to be.  Milton was a retired farmer who had owned hounds his whole life. He had one outstanding Plott, a good Bluetick and a fair Walker. I must tell you all I don’t really have too many biases with hound breeds and a good hound is a good hound. After 11 years and a lot of traveling and hunting, I hunted with good hounds in many different breeds.

Milton was in his mid 60’s and told me when I met him that he needed some young legs and somebody to hunt with. I was all of this and a friendship was born. Milton picked up my dog sometime in May and we scheduled a late July bear hunt at Rib Lake, WI the first day we met. When the hunt date came around, my Bluetick was still in Colorado, my Redtick had gotten killed, and the only dog I had was a two year old male Airedale which had never seen a bear nor had I.

We loaded up and headed to Wisconsin, 1,000 miles one way on my first big hunt. I’ll shorten this part up, but we caught a bear every day for five days and it was tough on the dogs. The bears were dog broke because it was the end of the running season and I caught a lot of grief the first night we came to camp and I had a Brillo pad Airedale.

After two days of hunting with Milton’s three hounds, my Airedale and the guides 8 or 10 dogs, the Kansas pack was carrying the mail. We saw the bears cross the road half a dozen times with dogs strung out over a mile and a half and our four dogs were half a mile ahead of the rest. Milton and I made it to the tree the first two days — five minutes before the guides’ dogs made it. Did I mention Milton wasn’t too swift on foot and the woods there were challenging?

These dogs had no handle, no “come here,” and had to be tracked one at a time and carried across the swamp with a leash.  On the second day at one o’clock with our four dogs in the box,  I received a signal on one of the guides’ dogs. It was a pretty strong beep. I felt like a Coast Guard rescue swimmer and I was going in after my fifth or sixth dog. I thought the dog was only in a mile or so. With GPS and compass in hand, Milton guarding the potato chips, summer sausage, cheese and crackers, I struck out to retrieve the dog. The GPS wasn’t a dog unit; it was a map pocket model; at the time we were using the Wildlife Materials blue box.

According to the GPS map, the dog was in about 1 1/2 miles just standing there. I had to walk all the way to him . . . even the last 50 feet. I looked at the pickup position and decided it couldn’t be any tougher to go straight to the pickup — wrong! I ended up crawling the last 3/8 of a mile through a swamp and tarmacs dragging a dog that wasn’t leading. It took six hours. Milton checked out okay and he had saved me a bottle of water.

The last three days Milton and I hunted on our own, partly because the guide thought we were getting along well and partly because my patience was wearing thin on retrieving dogs that couldn’t come to a road or even come when you called them. I thought by telling you all about some of our successes, it would be prudent so you could appreciate the beginning of the cat saga.

The next three or four years, I continued to bear hunt mainly in New Mexico, usually twice in the fall and was hog hunting six or eight trips to Texas in the winter. I had acquired a Plott pup from a friend in New Mexico and she was turning out to be a good hound. As my hunting acquaintances grew, I met a cat hunter from South Central Oklahoma who hunted bobcats only. He offered to take me hunting and let me bring my Bluetick and my little Plott. Man, could my dogs run a cat with Kenneth’s six broke running hounds. Ha, ha. It took me three years, 5,000 gallons of gasoline and the hours of time (I still can’t count) to catch my first bobcat with my dogs only. I’m not kidding either. I devoted myself and my dogs to bobcats only from that hunt on.

I even phased out my hog hunting. I decided if having a pack of dry ground cat hounds was going to be achieved, I was going to hunt these hounds only with this one purpose. Milton was “all in” for the purpose also, so he took Jake, his young Plott, to Oklahoma with some friends and started getting him tuned up on cats. I did the same with my Plott female and we bought a pair of dogs from South Texas that were four years old and broke. My Bluetick was firing on them but it was coming slower to him. If it sounds like we were getting it all figured out, we weren’t. We were running a few cats and catching fewer.

I raised a litter of pups from Jake and Spirit, my female. They were the wildest bunch of Plotts you ever saw. The three females I kept were so aggressive on track that when they were yearlings they caught approximately 40 coon in the daytime. Heck, my “broke” cat dogs were treeing coon. It was so bad that by midway through those yearling pups’ season, I could call all seven off a coon tree, no shocking, no yelling, no leashes, and all seven would follow me in a single file line back to my pickup. Now I’m not saying they hadn’t been shocked, yelled at or tuned up in a hound hunting fashion but all of that drama wasn’t necessary by the halfway point of the season. We all knew we weren’t looking for coon.

The three littermates were so convincing that when they would strike, it would convince my older dogs they were missing the action over and over and over. At least ten times, those Plott females would trick me, strike in the bottom of a treeless canyon at 11 AM, work and grub out a track that would take an hour to move a mile the whole time I was sitting in my pickup watching proudly as my dogs trail a cat. I had to move the pickup because they must have him jumped, then bayed under a ledge with mister coon. They were striking coon tracks made the night before and catching the coon in their dens under the rock ledges the next day. The irony was these pups were teaching me what a coonhound could be and now that I hadn’t hunted coon at all for several years, I was catching more coon accidently than I ever did when I was trying to run them.

The whole time all of this is going on Kenneth kept telling me,  “Lee, those are good hounds but they are not cat dogs.” This is my ninth year of bobcat hunting and I love it. I still have way more failed hunts than successes but I’m still learning.

Last year I caught 12 cats, three or four treed and the remainder of the cats the dogs ran into the weeds or cattails until they caught them on the ground. I ran another 20 cats that I got to see but we didn’t catch. I call this cat voodoo.  I still have two outstanding Plott females, but my pack has changed to mostly running hounds. I bought an American Foxhound pup three years ago that has become a blessing to own. She is four now and even though I’ve only caught five cats so far, she has matured so much this season. In those early years when Kenneth told me my dogs weren’t cat dogs (he wasn’t ever rude or impolite), he was trying to help me with his 50 years of experience. He let me come to Oklahoma and run cats with his pack to help my dogs. I will always be indebted to him for letting me hunt my hounds with his pack. I did start catching some cats with them at home but I had to learn that we were not moving the track fast enough. I also had to learn that we were not picking up the losses fast enough. Eight out ten times here in Northwest Kansas, the cat is not in the tree and he is getting away.

I’ll always keep a treeing dog or two but the tracking speed has yielded me more cats in the last few years. Snow really evens the playing field and late last season I caught six cats in seven days.

Unfortunately, the dogs caught three on the ground and I would have preferred to have left them all for another race. My cat numbers here are not outstanding.

I will try to write more often from here on. I do have some outstanding hunting stories and the most interesting are generally my cat voo doo series. I don’t know how many bobcat hunters are out there but I seem to have a knack for having the craziest things mess up a race. I also lost my cat hunting friend Milton Boyles last fall. I’ll miss calling him once a week to give him my report. Milton always laughed at my reports because I told about the accident coon and coyote races as the occasional bobcat success.

Milton was very similar to so many other good houndsmen I read about in Full Cry, and I’m sure some of you knew him. I was fairly ornery with him over our ten year friendship, whereas Milton was extremely tight with money and continually needed nourishment on our hunting trips. These traits along with some others that he had will continue to make me laugh when I think of him. Happy hunting.

By Lee Hillery, PO box 201, Winona, Kansas