Daisy, a small beagle with a big attitude, inhaled a nose full of rabbit, a simple thing that set her tail in motion, a high speed indication of her increasing interest. Daisy is a young hound, hardly ready for a day of hard hunting but most surely just a couple dozen chases from being ready.
The young dog was out for a training session this week, sniffing her way around a Carroll County tree farm, a place known to harbor a healthy number of cottontail rabbits. A rabbit had leaped out from under a soon-to-be Christmas tree, and Daisy was doing her best to determine a direction to head.
After sucking in a few more whiffs, she began announcing her intentions to find whatever that smell would lead to off she went.
It is absolutely amazing to watch a young hound develop, an instinctive migration from a pup’s first transformation from play to work.
Once “started,” a term tagged to a puppy’s first actual chase using its nose to trail and its voice to mark progress, no matter how short in length or distance.
Then it’s only a matter of feeding the dog a steady diet of rabbit tracks leading to a lifetime of enjoyable work. And indeed, a working dog lives to do its job.
Working dogs have always been a fascination to me. My first rabbit dog was a mix of beagle and red bone hound, a long legged mutt that tried its best to find rabbits. Pete could jump them but he struggled to trail them very far.Never the less, he gave a boy not yet a teenager plenty to think about.
Later, I received a well-bred beagle pup as a birthday gift. What a joy Max was and we did indeed terrorize the rabbits. He was like a loan shark after a bad debt when he locked on to a rabbit track and better yet, once shown the dead rabbit, Max was into the brush after his next victim.
The following years and decades have been full of working dogs including beagles, big hounds, bird dogs and more. But it’s the hounds that continue to peak my interest. Al Lash, an Idaho outfitter owned one of the finest big hounds I ever met.
Boomer was a strike dog, a leader of the pack so to speak. His job was to stand on the top of a large dog box in the back of the truck as we four wheeled our way around the high peaks and steep slopes of Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains.
His real job was more than looking rugged. Boomer sported ears that looked more like shredded leather, a sign of his determination to keep a cornered bear at bay.
Boomers ears also proved just how bad his judgment was in keeping out of the reach of angry bears. When Boomer howled he meant business. He could smell the passing of a black bear several hours after the animal had crossed one of the many forest service roads we drove.
Lash would then spend a few minutes with Boomer leashed to determine the size of the bear by its tracks and its direction. If it looked promising Boomer and his gang of rowdy blue ticks would be released and the chase was on.
But mountain bears don’t give up easily and often lead a chase that covers miles, crossing mountain peaks and the deepest of drainages.
More than that a bear chase can and does last into the night and ends only when bear finds a barrier such as a river or shale mountain peak. Boomer held two jobs and his second came with the changing of seasons.
Mountain lions are hunted during the winter months and big hounds like Boomer can change interest just as quickly as a high country storm. The difference between bear hunts and cat hunts are many.
With snow five and six foot deep, we looked for visual signs of lion tracks as we toured the peaks on lightweight snow mobiles with intentions of bringing the hounds to the track via a pulled sled.
Big lion tracks cool quickly so they are hunted early each morning as the big predators travel to a hideout after feeding during the night.
But even in the snow, talented hounds can unravel a twisting cat track and engage the chase with the same determination shown a spring time bear track.
Good working dogs come at a premium. The really good ones leave lasting memories, mental images of great days afield, of long chases and noisy flushes.
The magic is when a spaniel or setter goes from gallop to a statue as it scents a pheasant, when a retriever breaks ice to recover a downed mallard, and when a dog like Daisy, discovers what it is bred to do.