Hunting has gone to the dogs

By Roger Wolfe Outdoors Columnist

Coon dogs, rabbit dogs, bird dogs, even bear dogs and squirrel dogs. The dogs are taking over. With the November 7th opening of the rabbit season, the hounds are all out.

There is something about a pack of baying hounds or rabbit beagles as they charge off through the brush and timber. Watching a well trained hunting dog is definitely something to behold.

Ask any houndsman what it is he likes about taking to the field with his canine companion and you are likely to get a whole host of different answers. Boil it all down and it will likely be something unexplainable but centering on the pure magic of the hunting instincts of the dog showing themselves as they track their prey.

Dog hunting is a completely foreign creature to the type of hunting most are accustomed to. Most hunters are taught from day one that the trick is to be as still as possible while being quiet and precise with every step.

Throw that all out the window when you turn out the hounds. For centuries dogs have been taught, bred and trained to help hunters find their prey. Honing those instincts and that keen sense of smell for the sole purpose of finding the trail and leading the hunter to the prize at the end of the trail is what makes a true hunting dog.

The nose is the key to the hunt no matter what the animal is. A rabbit or coon dog is taught to find the nearest scent trail and follow it to the animal and flush or tree it so it’s master can quickly dispatch it, then move on to the next trail.

The same principals apply to the bird dogs, except the dogs are taught to hold for the command to flush the bird. Granted, the birds don’t always get that part of the memo so they flush when they want and don’t wait until the hunter gets into position for a shot. A bird dog on point is a picture etched in the minds of many bird hunters as being as good as it gets.

If you have never tried hunting over dogs, it is an enjoyable way to spend a day, and also, a very humbling one, especially with critters such as rabbits or birds of any feather. If you have never missed a flying grouse or a running rabbit, then I venture to say that you just haven’t hunted one.

Shooting that shotgun for a pattern at paper is one thing, trying to hit a rabbit before it gets into a hole is an entirely different story. The great thing about hunting with dogs, they don’t get discouraged when you miss, and they are eager to get out and find the next trail to let you try again.

Coon hunting is a world apart from rabbit or grouse hunting, but, yet, some things are still the same. It is all in the well trained sniffer of your favorite dog breed. There is a different feel about turning out a pack of hounds in the middle of the darkness and waiting on the first one to strike or hit a fresh scent trail of a masked bandit.

Still coon hunting is revered as many a hunters favorite sport. There is a special presence about hearing that treed coon dog in the darkness saying “here he is, come and get him”.

We haven’t even touched on squirrel dogs and bear dogs, heck there are even a few turkey dogs out there. I have to admit, it would be interesting to hunt a fall turkey with Fido ready to charge in and bust up the flock. Then have him wait patiently by my side as we wait for them to return and regroup for a shot.

One thing is for sure dog hunters are a tight knit group. They have associations and clubs of every persuasion. They even have competitions to see who has the best hunting dog around. These competitions can get pretty intense and the winners often carry a pedigree of champions that have come before them.

If you have never been hunting with a well-trained dog, I suggest you give it a try. I am sure if you ask around, it won’t be too hard to find someone willing to invite you along. One thing I have noticed about most dog hunting enthusiasts, they will almost always give credit to the dog, because if not for a good dog, the hunting wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

By Roger Wolfe Outdoors Columnist Roger Wolfe Outdoors Columnist
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