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Posts Tagged ‘cur dog’

Sow Feral Pig walking

The sun rose over those umbrella-shaped pine that grow for miles and miles throughout the Southland. Their proper names are lobollies and short-leafs, replacements of the stately long-leaf pine, which, because it lives in symbiosis with fire. Fire might kill the living trees, but it also kills the loblollies and short-leafs. And the long-leaf’s terminal buds are quite immune to fire. So fire wipes out the competitor pines and makes way for the long-leaf pine forest in all its glory.

The other enemy of the long-leaf pine is the feral hog, which yearly swarms more and more across the pine woods. Unlike a white-tailed deer, which will drop–at most– a pair of fawns once year, the sows drop many little piglets maybe three or four times a year.  A bear might swipe the odd pig as it matures into a full-sized rooter, and a coyote or a bobcat might take a little pig if it somehow decided to dare its very existence against the sows slashing cutters.  But in the main, the hogs live without significant predators, and they tear through the countryside. They eat pine seeds and buds and run riot through bobwhite and wild turkey nests.

And in much of the South, there is still a time-honored tradition of feeding the deer up through the summer so that the bucks’ antlers will grow their largest and most most majestic for the fall hunts. But the hogs raid the deer feeders, knock them over, and then foul the expensive feed. And swine aren’t above lifting little fawns from their hiding places, and though the fawns will bleat and bleat, their mothers will not be able to fight the plug-nosed monsters.

And the hogs tear up cropland. Peanut fields and corn and soy bean acreages get rooted over and over.

With all these problems associated with feral pigs in the pine woods of the South, a deep resentment against their depredations seethes throughout the land. But a rugged bunch don’t have quite have that hatred of them. They are the hog-hunters, the ones who keep big packs of bay and catch dogs in their kennels, who dream of hogs and hog hunts and who might even make a few dollars on the side selling hogs to abattoirs and hunting preserves.

And so the sun rose over the pines. The mist of mid-spring hung in their green needs, and the land looked mystical and looming. The Spanish moss hung hard on the live oaks, and the mockingbirds and blue jays flitting around the pine bows. And the air filled with birdsong, each species lifting high its calls into the air, as the sun cast down through the mist.

A red Dodge pickup came hurling down a sandy road. It was dragging a trailer with a utility vehicle resembling a four-wheel drive golf cart, and in the back of that cart was a dog box full of bay dogs. Three were merle curs that one would have called Catahoulas if one were trying to peg them to a specific breed. They were both bitches and rangey with wall eyes and a grim expression.  The other two curs were One was fawn with a black mask, what are registered as a black-mouth curs these days, and the other was a cross between a cur and an English setter, dappled back and white and smooth-coated but with the soft-eyes and keen air-scenting nose of the setter.

The truck’s dog box contained the rest of the hunting pack. In one box was a solid liver Drahthaar, a cull from a versatile gun dog breeding program, and in the adjacent box was a black roan bitch of the same breed. She was doe-eyed and silly and young, and she pointed and retrieved well. She had a future as a duck and quail dog, but her owner wanted to try her out on hogs.

And the other two boxes were the catch dogs, a pair of pit bulls. They were a dog and a bitch, both deep red with flesh-colored noses and lips and amber eyes. They were of a color type sold as an “old country red nose,”  but in truth were just general hog catch dogs that were common throughout this part of the South.

This was a contingent of hog hunters and their dogs. Four men rode in the extended cab. They were all clean-shaven with closely cropped hair. All were employees of the pulp mill in town, where the loblollies and short-leafs were ground down into that stuff that someday would be called paper.

They were hog hunting fanatics, and just the night before, the call had gone out that the big sounder of hogs had wandered into this farmer’s peanut field. They’d ruined a couple of acres of crop, and he’d made a call to the head hog-dogger, who assembled his crew of dogmen to prepare for a good Saturday in the field.

The trailer was unloaded of its vehicle and dogs, and it began coursing along the sand roads of that cut along the big peanut field. The Dodge followed behind the the utility vehicle, stopping when it stopped, as the three men in the cab chatted about the day and the dogs and what could happen or what might happen. The windows were rolled down, and cigarette plumes floated out of the cab and toward the sky.

But the man in the utility vehicle was all business. His eyes were cast on the road ahead. They were trained hard to spy the slightest sight of hog sign, and so he would stop and look and gauge the sign for its freshness.

Soon, the vehicles were out of the vicinity of the peanut field and were following the sand road as it cut through a vast stand of pine.

At one point the tracking man stopped to examine some hog sign in the road, and he knew fully well that the sign was fresh. A smile graced his face and he trotted back to his compatriots in the Dodge to tell them the good news. Fresh sign upon the ground, and hogs not far off.

The tracking man went back to his truck, and opened up the gait to his little dog box. He grabbed the setter cross cur, and pulled her excited, bouncing form to the sand. She sniff the ground intently, then began her setter cast into the wind.  If there were hogs about, she would soon be on scent as it floated through the air, and if there were no hogs nearby, she would be back in about five minutes.

Five minutes passed, and the tracking man let the other curs loose, and they set about tracking the setter cur.

And the tracking man had his buddies turn loose both Drahthaars, for their noses were dead solid and the grittiness of the old liver was beyond reproach.

And so six dogs now ran the pine woods, slipping around in stands of little sweet gums and palmettos, but not barking as the baying coonhounds do when on the track. Instead, they were tracking down on the hogs.

The little setter cur ran hard on the track. The wind was blowing the scent of a big sounder into her nose, and she was half excited and half timorous about the prospects of running into them alone. But the sound of other dogs running behind her increased her courage, and soon all six dogs were running the woods like wolves. Their GPS tracking collars gave their coordinates to the tracking man’s hand-held receiver.

And the four men stood on the road, smoking cigarettes, and telling stories and listening intently for the first wild barking that would show that the dogs had a hog cornered. The pit bulls rested in their boxes. The excitement was about to come.

About a mile away, the curs and Drahthaars came charging in on the big sounder. Half the hogs were black, a quarter were deep chestnut red, and the remainder were were red with circular black spots that gave them a sort of domesticated veneer.

But they were 20 hogs strong and dog wary and dog smart, and as soon as soon as they heard the dog paws rusting in the pine litter, the whole sounder shot off in all directions.  One young black sow, though, was caught a bit unawares of the approaching predators, and before she could run the dogs were on her. She ran with the pack yapping all around her.  She would try to run, but they would swarm her, and if she stood to fight, the big liver Drahthaar stood ready to pounce on her every time she tried to bust. He would bite her, and she would squeal in terror. But he had good sense to know that his job was not to bite and hold.

And so after three attempts of escape, she was backed up in a thicket of palmettos, with yapping dogs all around her. She popped her jaws at them and tried the odd mock charge, but she was stopped from her escape.

The yapping filled the misty air, and the tracking man checked his GPS receiver. The dogs were bayed up.

The excitement of what was about to come filled the cigarette-smoking men. They had quarry penned down, and now was the time for the dispatch. One man grabbed a heavy steel chain lead and attached it to the male pit bull, and another man did the same with the female pit bull. The big-muscled beasts bounced with excitement. Their amber eyes flashed with wildness, and the men struggled to get get the dogs kitted out in their Kevlar catching vests. The first dogs hunted down the hog and made it stand, but these were the dogs that were going to rush in and hold it with their teeth.

And the whole party ran through the pines.  Bows flew back slapped men in the face. Thorns scratched pit bull hides. But they were so single-mined and urgent in their approach that they could not stop and worry.

Adrenalin filled their forms, and they were now in the form of predators about to come upon their prey.

Soon, they were just 30 yards from the yapping cacophony of bay dogs, which occasionally was joint by the jaw popping and squealing of the sow. And at that moment, each man leading a pit bull turned it loose. Not a word was spoken. They did it in concert, as they were one mind, and the red catches shot out towards the palmetto thicket.

The bay dogs moved aside as they heard the catch dog’s approach. None wanted to get in the way of those holding jaws.

The female pit bull was the first to hit the hog. She grabbed it by the ear. The sow screamed in abject terror, and the female pit bull instantly adjusted her stance so that she was holding the sow’s ear and standing behind the quarry. That way, the hog could not bit her or try to cut her with her tusks.

Not even 15 seconds passed and the male pit bull grabbed the other ear, also adjusting his stance so that he was standing behind the screaming hog while he held her ear fast in his fell jaws.

The squealing of the sow reached that insane octave, where all was shut out that horrible sound, and that din only increased the urgency of the men’s approach.  They were in full on human hunter mode.

Each man grabbed a cur or a Drahthaar and attached a lead to it and tied it to a nearby tree. The hog blood was gushing all over the pit bulls now, and then two men came behind the sow and grabbed her hind legs and complete orchestration they flipped her on her side.  Another man came and knelt upon her exposed shoulder and then pulled out a massive dagger of a knife and drove it down into to the hog just above her armpit.

The blood gushed out of that stabbing hole and the squealing began to cease. The sow was dead. A peanut rooter was off the land, and the whole sounder had been driven from the peanut fields for a while.

The men slapped each other on the back. There was pride in the hunt, a camaraderie of sorts that our species has largely lost when the vast majority of us gave upon hunting.

The dogs were celebrated for their skills. The bragging filled the air along with the smoke from the newly lit cigarettes.

Blood was on the ground. The dogs were hot and panting.

And thus ended a scene that could have been transplanted from the Stone Age where men hunted the wild and fell beasts with their newly tamed dogs. No guns were fired at the hogs.

This kill had come from the skill of dogs and the sharpness of knives. The GPS collars, the gasoline-fueled vehicles, and the specialized breeding of hog dogs are certainly modern advances.

But in the main it was still Stone Age and savage and wondrous, as best could be expected for the twenty-first century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You could be forgiven for thinking that these puppies were yellow Labradors or Labrador crosses.

They are blackmouth curs, just without the classic black mask.

Here an adult maskless blackmouth cur. It very strongly resembles a yellow Labrador:

(Source for image.)

The typical coloration for this type of cur isn’t pure yellow. Normally, it is a sable or clear yellow dog with a black mask.

(Source for image)

However, they also come in brindle with a black mask and solid black. A solid black one would be very hard to distinguish from a Labrador or Labrador mix.

There are several different strains of blackmouth cur, but I am not going into it for the purposes of this piece. They vary greatly in appearance and size, with the smallest individuals weighing about 30 pounds and the largest approaching a hundred pounds.

There are several different strains of cur that are native to the US, all of which are in various stages of standardizing into definite breeds. The blackmouth variety is native to the Gulf Coast states from Florida to Texas.  These are true landrace dogs, which descended from English curs dogs, various shepherds and mastiffs, and perhaps the dogs of the Native Americans.

It is very hard to classify the cur. They can be used as stock dogs,  feral hog dogs, coonhounds, squirrel dogs, and just about anything else one can image. I believe some of these dogs have retrieving instinct and could easily be turned into decent bird dogs.

(Source for image)

Curs are not mongrels, but they weren’t exactly breeds as we know them until recently. Different strains and types interbred, and different families established their own strains. Curs were the dogs of the common people, and these dogs were generally not considered for registration into the large kennel clubs. The term “cur” came to reflect a dog that was owned by the blue-collar set, and it got mixed up with the term mongrel.

These dog are generally very biddable and eager to please, although each dog is an individual and certain strains may have not been selected for trainability. And they are generally good with children.

Curs were the dogs of English settlers to the North America. These dogs were particularly common in the North of England and the West Country, which is also where many English settlers to the South came from.  The West Country is also the place where many Newfoundlanders of English descent settled.

It seems likely that one of the dogs that the English in Newfoundland would have brought would have been working cur dogs. These dogs likely were ubiquitous across the English colonies in North America.

In Newfoundland, the dogs crossed with various other strains that managed to make it in Newfoundland, including water dogs from Iberia. The dogs were put to work setting nets and hauling lines.

If the yellow coloration were endemic to English curs, then this breed is a likely source for the yellow color in retrievers. The yellow or red coloration occasionally popped up in various dogs with origins on Newfoundland.

Because of the addition of other breeds and because working in the water off the coast of Newfoundland requires a different coat from dogs working on farms in the subtropical South, the St. John’s water dog evolved a much thicker undercoat.

The dog below is Nell, a St. John’s water dog who was born in 1856 in Scotland. Her ancestry was solely from Newfoundland.

And she does bear a resemblance to the blackmouth cur dog, just she is predominantly black in color.

Therefore, it may be more instructive to think of the St. John’s water dog as the endemic cur of Newfoundland that unfortunately went extinct. However, this cur breed went on to found all the extant retriever breeds.

Mark Derr was the first person to postulate this classification for the St. John’s water dog. He suggested this classification in Dog’s Best Friend, and even though I read that book years ago, it has taken me years to finally accept the merits of classifying this extinct breed as a cur.

In the end, I resisted this classification because of my own biases. Subconsciously, I was harboring a bias against dogs that were native to my own country but were not being maintained in an actual registry. But once I’ve pruned away these biases, I think this classification works.

So the St. John’s water dog and the ancestral Newfoundland were the curs of their island homeland.

 

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