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Archive for the ‘working dogs’ Category

black and tan pair

Gus Morrison was a bow hunter. Every Sunday morning in October and early November, he worshiped at the Holy Altar of the Great Fred Bear. Every year, he bagged a monster buck from his tree strand, and every year, he filled his antlerless tags, which put even more nice meat for the freezer.

Sure, he’d go out when the rifle when that season rolled around during Thanksgiving week. He’d hang out with gunners at their cabins, sip back a few cold ones, and tell a few stories about the big ones he’d seen.

But the rifle hunt wasn’t for him. He would usually use the opportunity to fill an antlerless tag than to go out after a big buck. The big ones knew where to when the guns started cracking anyway, and they had already had the peak of their rutting madness sated. So this was his time to meat hunt, be cold, and realize that he had mastered a more primal way of hunting than most of the people around him.

So that great October weekend rolled around, and Gus rose before the sun crested in the eastern sky. He showered down in de-scenting soap, and then moseyed out with only a towel around his waist to the shed where his carbon camouflage suit was stored in an airtight bag full of oak leaves. He slipped on the clothes that would mask his scent, and then he painted on the camouflage face paint that would hide his visage from any deer that bothered to look up into the treetops.

He sprayed down his boots with de-scenting spray and did the same with his old compound bow, as well as the quiver and all the arrows. He would not rid his entire being of his stinky monkey human scent, but he would come as close to it as he could.

He dug out the de-scented blanket from the bottom of the airtight bag. He sprayed down  the driver’s seat of his truck and placed the blanket over it. Then, he turned the ignition and set out into the early morning darkness for his lease.

He cut off the little two-lane country road that meandered through the hills onto the gravel road meandered over more rolling hills and deep woods. Then he turned left onto the mud track logging road that cut up a steep hill which rose and rose until he came to the top, which was a flattened out Allegheny Plateau “bench,” which was an ancient pasture for sheep. It was now kept open with tractors and mowing machines that came by twice a year.

He parked the truck at the gate, rose from his seat, and carefully closed the truck door . He sprayed himself down with more de-scenting spray, then tested the wind with a bottle of talcum powder.  He direction of the wind would tell him in which way he’d approach his tree stand.

He put it up a few days before. It was nothing more than a ladder welded onto a steel platform that was propped up against a big red oak and the festooned tightly against the tree with several strands of thick cable wire. He attached a safety harness to the back of the platform, which had a bench on which he could sit and watch the deer move along the game trails.

With flashlight in hand, he softly maneuvered his way to the tree stand in the oak woods beyond the meadow. He made sure the wind was in his face. He then sprayed de-scenting spray all around the ladder and on his boots once again. Then he climbed up the ladder, put on his safety harness, and then sprayed all around the platform with that spray.  He pulled out his bow. Sun began to filter its way in from the east.

The orange and crimson leaves were soon exposed in the coming light. They were not quite at peak, but they were beautiful nonetheless.

And now the shooting time had arrived. Gus sat there as still as an oyster.  Gray squirrels fitted among the hickories and white oaks.  Chipmunks made little popping sounds through the undergrowth. Blue jays screeched through the trees, and a pair of pileated woodpeckers squawked about and drummed on a fallen log.

A trio of deer suddenly materialized from the woods to Gus’s left. It was a doe with her two fawns, both of which had just recently lost their spots. One was a little button buck, and the other a little doe. The former weighed 45 pounds. The latter about 40.

The approached with the wind in their faces. Their bedding area was just a little bit deeper in the woods, and they had no real reason to worry about the wind as the stopped to munch a bit of acorns before lying down for sunnier parts of the day.

Gus sat so still, but his blue eyes focused hard on the doe and her two fawns. Let them be at peace, and maybe a buck or two will follow them. He’d always followed that formula. It’s how he’d nailed that big twelve-pointer on the opening day two years ago, and he believed the odds were in his favor once again.

As doe and her fawns wandered around the oaks smacking their lips on acorns, Gus heard another noise fill the autumn woods. At first he didn’t recognize it, but as the minutes progressed it grew louder and louder.

It was the sound of hounds on the track. Every few seconds, one of the hounds would let loose a baying cry,  and as soon as Gus knew the sound, he began to worry. The hounds were not far off, and they sounded like they were coming down the same trail that the doe and fawns had used to enter the oak lot.

He hoped the hounds were not on the deer trail, for if they were, they were sure to ruin the whole hunt.

The deer stopped their munching of acorns. The big doe stood erect and sharp on her legs. Her big ears were up, and she looked down the game trail with wild eyes. Then she stomped her black left hoof, blew out a warning wheeze, and the whole band bounded down the game trail, white tails flashing wildly toward the sky as they disappeared from view.

Not a minute later, the baying hounds appeared upon the scene. Two black-and-tan coonhounds.  They were fat hounds with shiny black coats and deep rust red markings.

And they were not broken off deer at all. They were hot on the trail of the doe and her two fawns, and their wild baying surely scared off all the deer that day.

Gus let loose a few expletives, and the hounds looked up at man in the tree stand. They wagged their stupid hound dog tails and grinned up at the man in the tree stand with faces all goofy.

Gus thought he should collect those hounds and take them home, but he decided against it.  Just them run the deer, and let their master sort it all out.

But for now, the hunt was over. He climbed down the ladder of his tree stand and walked back.  He went home and went to sleep and repeated the whole ritual on Sunday morning.

This time, no deer came wandering down the trail, but both hounds came with their trail singing cries. And Gus cursed them and crawled down from tree stand.

He decided to try again that evening, but this time nothing came. Only the squirrels and chipmunks beat out any cadence of life. The hounds had run all the deer off.

He hoped that this had been just a one-weekend deal. Some half-baked coonhunter had turned his dogs loose in the woods in hopes of breaking them on deer, and he figured that if he went out on the next Thursday evening, things would have a chance to quiet down.

Twenty minutes after he was seated in his tree stand, the hound baying began to sound, and he watched with horror as a big buck– at least a ten pointer– came racing down the game trail with both hounds in hot pursuit.

And so Gus was now angry.  He decided to take a personal day at work and slide by Eustace Sims barber shop. Eustace knew all the comings and goings in the county, and Gus needed a haircut– and a few answers.

When Gus arrived at Eustace’s place, all the regulars were hoping for the tale of a the big buck Gus just bagged, but when he told of his hound predicament, Eustace knew the full story.

“Well, sorry about your luck, Gus, my man, but I meant to tell you a few weeks ago when I saw you at the diner that Travis Baker, Old Maxwell’s son, has moved back to the family homestead. They say he’s got many head of hogs loose on that rocky land, and I heard he bought him some coonhounds from a hot shot breeder in Kentucky.  I don’t think they were well-trained yet, and I figured they’d give you some trouble.”

“Well, I think I’m gonna have to make a visit to Travis Baker this evening,” said Gus as he slid down into the barber chair for one of Eustace’s  infamous hatchet jobs.

By that evening, Gus had a bad haircut and a bad attitude. He drove his pickup out along the road that took him to his hunting lease, but this time he turned down a little creek road that emptied down into a hollow.  As the truck sped along into the hollow, he came into a land of boulders and closely cropped grass, and then he came to a gait with thick woven wire fence all around. He opened the gate, drove through, and shut it. And as he drove, the came into the presence of so many swine of all shapes, sizes, colors.

These were the hogs that Eustace had told him about. And then he came to the farm house, a chipped paint old ranch house that Maxwell Baker had made for himself in the big woods.  Maxwell had since moved away, but Travis had returned to make a go of it as a big farmer.

The house was on the other side of a fence, and when Gus got out of his car to open the gate, he had to kick away a few smart pigs who thought that a gate opening was the perfect chance for a jail break.

As he walked up to the farmhouse door. He spotted the two hounds tied in the backyard to steel drums filled with straw.

They weren’t loose all the time, Gus thought to himself, and that explains why they were so fat.

He marched up the front porch and knocked on the front door. Travis Baker opened the door, and the two men exchanged their pleasantries. Gus thought he’d be angry and shouting by now, but something told him to hold back.

“Well, my name is Gus Morrison. I am bowhunter who has access to the old Russell McDonald place, and well, every time I go up there…. I…I…see your dogs.”

“My dogs?”

“Yeah, the two black-and-tans. They run a lot of deer, and well, I pay a lot of money to lease that place….and the hunting, well, sucks.”

“I guess I wouldn’t like hounds running off my deer either, but the thing is I don’t know how to train them not to. Dad used to beat his beagles if they ran deer, but I don’t want to beat these dogs. They’re too good to be beaten like that.”

“Well, I don’t think a coonhound would be much use if you never ran ’em, but if you could try to run yours at night and point ’em away from the McDonalds’ place, I bet you could stay out of my hair.’

“I reckon I could.”

“It might work. Also, I know a guy who runs Walkers by the name of Steve Wells.”

“I heard of him. I thought of calling him up to help me train my dogs.”

“I know him really well. He’s got some good dogs, and his don’t run deer. Maybe I should tell him to give you call.”

“That would be awesome!”

“I’ll give him call tonight. What’s your number?”

And so Gus drove back out of the hollow. He called Steve Wells up and gave him Travis’s number.

He waited until the next Sunday evening to go bowhunting again, and as he drove down that logging road he met another truck coming out.

It was Steve Wells, and Gus recognized him instantly, The two men pulled their trucks to the side to make for easier passage, but because they knew each other, both men rolled down their windows and began a good conversation.

“Well, look what the dogs drug in!” Wells shouted out the window.

“Not as much manure as you’re haulin’.  Lemme guess, you’ve been up to Bakers breaking them hellhounds.”

“Yessir, and they are pretty well broke off of deer now. Thanks to my little secret.”

“What’s that?”

“Shock collars.”

“Isn’t that what they all do now?”

“Pretty much.”

“How is that a secret?”

“Well, ten years ago it was!”

“You sure do beat all.”

“Well, I don’t beat ’em all, but I do try.”

“So you’ve had his dogs out?”

“Yes, I’ve been running them with Belle and Ol’ Sam, and they know their trade pretty well now. I don’t think they’ll be running any deer, because they both got nice neck e-mails every time they launched on a deer track last night.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, that Travis is a good man. He’s raisin’ hogs and working at the lumber mill down the road. He’s gonna be a great houndsman.  This winter, I’m gonna have a new huntin’ buddy. I’m pretty sure.”

“Well, that’s good news. I’m gonna get set up and see if I can get me a buck before the sun sets. It’s was nice talking to you.”

That night Gus set up in the tree stand. He thought he had done wonders by being nice and respectful and not being a raging fool with the young man and his hounds.

He had been surprised at how nicely it worked, and as he thought about what had happened, a ten-point buck wandered out into the oak woods. Gus drew and drilled his arrow into the deer’s heart. He waited twenty minutes, and then he began his blood track.

He came upon the deer in a thicket of autumn olive. He dressed out the nice buck and began the process of dragging it toward the logging road.

As he began that long process, he could hear hounds baying the distance. Travis was turning out the dogs for a good coonhunt.

This time, though, the baying of hounds went down the hollow and away from the oak woods. The dogs were working the creek, where the raccoons lurked about.

As the darkness fell upon that October night, Gus felt lighter and more alive than he had in a long time.  Simple human decency had prevailed, and the old rites of Appalachian sportsmen were recognized once again. Each hunter recognized the other’s methods and quarry and did not do the foolish thing and alienate another.

One day, he hoped that Travis would find the ways of the bowhunter every bit as appealing as the baying of hounds. After all, it was his long childhood days of running beagles in the briers that had made Gus love hunting so much now.

But he’d outgrown hounds, or so he thought.

And now the weird thought crossed his mind that maybe he should get a brace of coonhounds to go running on cold winter nights.

But right now, he was lost in the reverie of succeeding in the hunt and succeeding at human relations.

Who could want anything more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve long admired Joseph Carter’s work training mink as hunting animals. He’s now getting a Dutch shepherd or Belgian Malinois as a versatile hunting dog and mink tracker.

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great pyrenees

She was one quarter Maremma and three quarters Great Pyrenees. She was as white a snowdrift by genetics, but life among the sheep and the thick mud meant she always was stained a little grayish brown.

Her abdomen was distended now, and her nipples were now hairless and hanging pink with milk.  She was in the final days of her nine-week pregnancy, and she had spent much of the last month locked up in the shed behind the master’s house. She pined for her charges, the nice flock of Katahdin sheep that grazed the hill pastures that spanned out across the big acreage. All day, she and her companions patrolled the pastures, scenting the air and barking at any sort of danger that might be coming their way.

Her name was Grace, and she worked with two other dogs. The massive Badger, who was full Great Pyrenees and the father of the young in her womb, and her own half-Maremma mother, Isobel, who had since been spayed and left to full-time guard duty,  ambled along the fence edges. And when the heat of the day took its toll on the big hairy dogs, they would lie about in the shade and position themselves so that wind blew toward their nostrils and that the could see any forest edges where the blasted coyotes lurked.

Life had been good with the sheep. The meals were readily coming. The work pace was avuncular and steady, and the dogs lived out fine lives among the sheep. The winter snows and driving rains didn’t faze such ruggedly constructed canines. Only the summer heat and mugginess got them down.

These dogs grow close to their charges. They come to see the sheep as part of their pack, and although a sheep is far less sagacious than a dog, a dog can come to see sheep as something that must be protected from the horrors of the world. Those horrors come mostly in the way of sheep-killing coyotes and wayward dogs that become so stimulated with the lupine predatory behavior when they set themselves among the flocks that they often surplus kill.

Dogs and coyotes, though, respect other dogs, especially those that are much larger than average and bark with deep growling bellows across the farmland. So they usually avoid slinking among pastures where these big guard dogs are residence. It’s easier to kill chickens out of a clueless homesteader’s yard or lift little fawns from the multiflora rose coverts than to risk a fight with a guard dog.

And so the wiser farmers have set about getting these Old World guardian breeds. To the uninitiated, their doe-eyes and heavy coats give them the appearance of being nothing more than a larger version of an English golden retriever or a very pale-colored St. Bernard.  But behind those docile eyes is the instinct of a true guardian, a dog that will stand up and fight if it feels its charges are threatened.

But the droopy ears and shorter muzzle and that sweet, soft expression of the dog just isn’t threatening to the sheep. And that is the point. The goal is to have a dog that the sheep trust, so they will graze out in the pastures with the dogs milling about and patrolling and will not rush about in terror just because a dog is there.

On the dogs’ side, too, they have such a heavy threshold to stimulate predatory behavior. So much so, that if you were throw a ball for one these dogs, it would look at, pant, and then turn its head as it looked for a place to lie down. Such dogs are calm with the sheep and the best of them are never even remotely stimulated to chase or spook their charges.

These dogs work well, and farmers want them, especially those farmers who want to sell “predator friendly” meat to the public or who feel some deep ethical obligation to avoid killing coyotes.

And so this farmer, a simple hobbyist whose main profession was as an attorney in the little shire town down there road, decided to breed a litter of Great Pyrenees every couple of years.  He knew the pups would sell pretty well, and he knew that most of the farmers around him simply could not afford to buy purebred stock of that breed.

So he bred from crosses that worked well and generally scoffed at the hobbyists who told him he was ruining breeds by doing such things.

Grace was now heavily pregnant, and the lawyer knew that his bitch in whelp could not be risked in the pastures. So he moved her to that shed behind his house, and Grace howled like a lonely wolf all the night long. She did so for the first week, but regular leash walking after work gave Grace her exercise and eased her worry enough that she no longer howled from the shed.

In the back of the shed, the lawyer set up an enclosure at the back of the shed, where the big white dog could whelp on clean straw.

And so the lawyer checked on her one last time on that cooling August night. Her heavy panting told the story. Puppies would be coming soon, probably in the collied darkness of the night.

The lights in the house went dark. The air grew soft and still. In the distance, Badger and Isobel barked a few half-hearted warnings at any coyotes that might be lurking about. A sheep or two bleated The katydids filled the air with their hot stridulations, beating out the tensity of a cadence that come from some ethereal maraccas

Grace pushed out the first squealing pup and licked him clean of his afterbirth. She ate the placenta and bit off the umbilical cord, and the first pup of the litter squeaked and mewed and scutter-crawled his way to his mother’s milk. He was badger marked on the head just like his father.

Another pup came 15 minutes. He was solid white like his mother. Another came 20 minutes after that one. It was also badger marked but female.

And the pups came all through the blackness of night, squealing and mewing as they writhed away from that state of fetus to the state of puppy and situated themselves on their mother’s warm milk bar.

The last two pups were born as the soft red light of dawn filtered down upon the countryside. There were 13 in all. 6 were male. 7 were female. And all were ether latched onto the their mother’s dugs, sucking in the gallons of that acrid colostrum, or wriggling about wildly to make sure they got a good helping.

The lawyer heard their squeals from the open bathroom window, when he rose to take his morning urination. He ran out of the house in his wife-beater and boxer shorts and flicked the light to illuminate the shed.

Thirteen puppies born. That would mean lots of work monitoring the puppies and making sure they didn’t starve or become too cold.

But Grace would do most of the work for the first month or so. He would just have to be her assistant.

And so on the early morning glow of an August morning, a new set of guardians entered the world. They were helpless and blind and deaf, and one good cold snap would wipe them off the face of the earth. But they were writhing and wriggling little larval forms of the canine, and soon the miracle of time would knit them into proper puppies, cute little things that most people would want to buy for their children.

But not these dogs. Cute though they would be, they would have that guardian’s savagery deep within their psyches. They would grow to be white and lackadaisical dogs on the surface. But their eyes and ears and noses would always be casting for coming danger.

And if it arrived, they rise as growling, roaring bears of dogs, fellest of fell beasts, and meet the sheep killers on the green battleground.

But for now, they would nurse as the helpless beings of newborn canines. Their mother’s watchful eye and warm milk would be their main sustainers, but so would the lawyer’s constant monitoring of their lives and weights and condition.

One day, though, the majority of them would be among the pastured sheep or goats in the field, casting their noses and eyes for danger and booming out the barks of true guard dogs.

It would just take time for them to grow into their forms and into their nature.

That is the way of all puppies, after all. Even these very special ones that stand to as guards for the bleating hoofed stock mus be puppies before they become dogs.

And for right now, they were just barely puppies, and all they could do is nurse and squeal and mew and stay warm and survive. And begin that solemn process of growth and learning that would turn them into true useful dogs.

The journey had only just begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harzer Fuchs tricks

I’d love to have one of these dogs someday. I don’t know if anyone is breeding them in the US, but I’d love to be able to have some over here. They are so much of what I like in the standard working GSD. The expressions are so much of what I love about Anka.

These dogs are so sporty that I’m actually surprised there isn’t a larger international following of them. They are sort of a GSD meets border collie.

 

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This film appears to be a big-time rip off of Earnest Thompson Seton, and it’s obvious to me that he is a German shepherd and not a wolf. But this dog has all the same mannerisms as my dog, including the little playful “alligator snaps.”

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Anka holding down the fort:

anka in repose

Or she is making sure the fish don’t escape from the tank.

 

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dead groundhog zoom

The lawn is mowed and manicured. The only grass that rises from the soil is that lush green kind that the herbivores crave.

For over twenty years, the lawn has been mowed and the soil has brought forth this bounty. And the highways churn away on both sides of the land, and the only predators that stalk its grounds are the black feral cats that slink around property’s edge.

It is a paradise for the Monax. They are a grass-eating people who find such grounds beyond perfection. All day, they rise from the old huts in the back and undulate their fat forms on the lawn. Their rodent teeth crop at the grass. The sun shines upon their forms, and in winter, when the time of hibernation comes, they sleep soundly through the snow squalls and hard freezes, and in spring, they trundle out with their little ones.

And for these two decades, they have raise their young in this verdant land of plenty.

But one day, a change came wafting in on the late spring breezes. A good, hard rain had fallen, and the evening sun was casting its glow upon the green grass.

Any of the Monax worth their salt as grass croppers decided to wander out. This was the time to graze and grow some fat on that thick, green grass.

A soft breeze was in the air. Wind chimes some yards distant were clanging about.  The cars on the highway were motoring on and on.

But in the air came the softest jingle, and the Monax didn’t know what to think of the sound. It was eerily soft, and then it would fall still. Then the sound would rise again, and the tempo would increase.

Then came the sound of running feet on the grassy ground, which matched the cadence of the jingle sound almost perfectly.

And then it came upon them, that running, whirring whiteness. It was a beast of prey, but one they had not seen before. And the Monax raced away on their stumpy legs and sowbellies.

They dived for their holes among the wood huts and along the edge of the woodland. They had never before experienced such terror before. After all, the Monax came to this land because there were no coyotes or foxes to molest them here, but now, their land had been taken over by the Great Running White Fox, who nearly hourly cast running sorties across the grounds.

But the message was not well-received among the Monax. Impetuous youth caused the young males to wander out onto the lawn in midday, testing their luck against the jingling and running whirs of death.

For nearly a week, this coterie of the young came to out into the mid-lawn, and several times, a day the Great Running White Fox was descend upon them, running hard and casting his fell jaws at at their fatty hides.

One day, a young male got the fright of his life when the beast of death ran him down, but the predator had never before killed such a creature and so was left filling the air with some wild barks while the Monax youth rose on its hindlegs and showed its teeth.

And that display was enough to make the Great Running White Fox back down.

But that would not stop the sorties, but it would not stop the bravado of youth either. It was as if both sides were unaware of what the other could do, and they were now testing the waters to see how far it all could go.

And not two days passed, when a young Monax heard the jingle, jingle and the running of feet, and decided not to run until the beast was upon him.

This time, the Great Running White Fox grabbed the young Monax and shook it violently in its jaws. On this foray, a yellow dog had come along for the sortie, but all she did was bark wildly at the Monax youth that stood to watch in horror as their comrade was shaken to death.

And so the first Monax in two decades had died at the jaws of a predator. In this case, it was a running dog, a cream and white whippet, a beast brought over from England and supremely adapted to the runs against the rabbit and the hare. The short legs of the Monax were no match for long legs of the dog.

From then on, the Monax knew to live in fear. They crept about the lawn only with great caution, for now they knew the real world of predation. They were prey, and the predator could come at any moment.

This is the way the Monax live where there are only forests and fields. The coyotes and the foxes and the farm dogs all take their toll upon the Monax. The .17 rifles take out the Monax as well.

It is only in these odd anomalies that we call “development” that predator-free paradises can exist, but they are anomalies that barely register in the history of life on this planet. Where there is vegetation, there are grazers and browsers, and where there are grazers and browsers, there are fanged beasts of prey to hunt them.

The introduction of the whippet to this artificial grassland made it oddly more wild  With a domesticated killer to run the domesticated landscape, there was a sort ecological balance provided to the waves of grass.

But it an ersatz ecology to an ersatz landscape. It is only made slightly more complete with the whippet’s running feet.

 

 

 

 

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