Coda and Callie’s Excellent Adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children, (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs, more specifically, hunting dogs. 

    Anyone you know that keeps hunting dogs has more than one story about their dogs running away, getting lost or just in general being MIA, missing in action. Whether it is a Pointer bird dog, a beagle, Cur Dog, Coon or Fox Hound, most hunting dogs, you see, are not wired like your average pet. They want to hunt! The intense desire to hunt makes a dog desirable to us, the dog owners. The problem comes during the off season, when the dog is left to lay about the pen or yard and hatch evil schemes of escape.

    Don’t tell me that dogs don’t do this, OK? I have kept hunting dogs all my life and I have just about seen it all. I have spent hours, weeks and months driving country roads and byways, looking for a dog. One of the things that has always amazed me is you can look for days for your dog, always fearing the worst. You are waiting, hoping and praying for the call that someone has found him. You come around a bend in the road and your dog is sitting there seemingly waiting for the 12 o’clock bus. He gives you a look that says, “What’s up?” Like you just saw him at MacDonald’s that morning.

    I freely admit that my dogs are the worst (or best) when it comes to escaping. I am sure that I am well known in my town for this. To many I am probably “that guy who is always looking for his dogs.” Dogs care not a whit about this. They have no concept of how they embarrass you.

    I once got a call, and I am not making this up, that my two dogs were in a nearby tavern, a bar. No, not waiting outside the building like polite little doggies. They were in the bar mingling with the patrons, probably bumming quarters for the juke box and buying a round for the house, assuring the bartender that I would take care of it all when I got there.

    I know that I should have a bomb proof pen and fence. I go for long periods and there is no problem, no escapes. Then you go out in the back yard one evening and man! No one is home. I really do think that they have a pair of wire cutters hidden in the back fence. I also think that this latest rash of escapes all started after they saw that World War Two movie with Steve McQueen in the prison camp.

    My latest tale of woe started on a Saturday evening about two weeks ago.  I discovered the dogs were gone and started my routine driving the neighborhood in hopes of snagging them as they crossed a road somewhere. No luck. Saturday night dragged on into Sunday and no sign of them. By Sunday afternoon I was getting that nagging old feeling like, are you going to see them again?

   The clouds parted and many prayers were answered when we got the call Sunday afternoon. We jumped in the truck and rushed off to the house of a very nice man that called us. Here is the kicker, over twenty miles away! Not just any old twenty miles away, this was on the other side of a major river gorge, the New River Gorge to be exact. That is a lot of rocks, river, rhododendron thickets and rattle snakes for two bird dogs to traverse in less than twenty four hours.

    It was twenty miles by road, only heaven knows how far it was by the route the two miscreants took. Coda, the old brown dog was on the front porch almost unable to walk. Callie, the white pointer was actually in the man’s house, enjoying the air conditioning. I walked into the house and she gave me a look that said “Hey, what’s up?”

 

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CODA AND CALLIE

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Why Cur Dogs Should Not Drink

ImageOk everybody, I really agonized about posting this, thought I might get static from some of my hunting buddies, maybe from some of the Cur dog people, maybe even from some wacko animal rights types. In the end I felt the story had to be told, it is for their own good.

Sometimes, not often, late at night, no one else around, the dogs and I will have some deep, philosophical discussions, I mean deep stuff. Well, usually we have a little nip of something from Kentucky or Tennessee, just to lubricate the conversation. Now when they start to get a little loud I don’t mind as I just figure they are trying to emphasize a point about the last ice age or maybe quantum physics.

When the singing starts I don’t mind much even when they do too much Grateful Dead or John Prine. As the volume increases I notice the tail wagging becomes more and more agitated, then the singing becomes mostly howling and just about the time you think they are going to get mean, Boom, they are out, out cold. You don’t hear another peep from them all night, not even much snoring.   

The next day they are not that peppy in the morning, I have tried to give them aspirin, Dotzie won’t take any, Coats will.

Please don’t judge me because my dogs do this once in a while, we only do this at camp, we don’t bother nobody and I never let them drive when they are drinking.

But I do think they should cut back.

Cur Dog

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    “Hey boy, that there is a Cur dog”, Raymond Taylor said when they stepped into his shed. Under the work bench, on a pile of old rags and newspapers lay a canine visitor he had never seen before. It was a little female and she slowly got to her feet and took two steps from under the bench. She looked up at them, but with head down like she had been caught doing something wrong.

    “Don’t look like much to me”, Joey said, hands in his ragged overall pockets and his usual defiant mode. Raymond studied the dog for a moment; she was dirty and half-starved no doubt, but this dog was not just any mongrel. This dog had to be from Mountain Cur stock, maybe even papered. Where could she have come from? He didn’t know anyone within forty miles of here that had dogs like this.

    Raymond eased forward and offered his hand to the brindle and white dog to smell. She cowered a little more but very carefully raised her head and gave his fingers a cautious sniff. “We’ll get her a bite to eat and see how she acts then”, Raymond said, half to himself. Joey had already lost interest in the dog, and as usual was digging through some junk in the corner of the shed. “You gonna keep her?” Joey said suspiciously, he had two old knife blades in his hands that Raymond had never finished.

    Now Raymond paused and inspected the young man before him. Twelve and a half years old, towed headed and almost handsome if you could see past the dirt and grime that usually obscured his face. He was the son of the Wilson girl that lived a half mile down the road. Raymond had never asked about the boy’s father.

     He thought of the night that the state trooper knocked on his door, two o’clock in the morning. “Got this Wilson boy here,” the trooper said under the porch light, “He was with some older boys that got in a little bind, I don’t think he did much, but it was probably close.” “I can’t find his Mom and her daddy said he don’t want him.”

    The trooper’s words hung in the night air, half question, half declaration. Raymond glanced at the boy on the porch, he saw the kid sometimes walking the road, always dirty, always that piercing look. Raymond gave the trooper a look that said “So why’d you bring him here?” the young policeman glanced down for a moment and said “You’re the closest neighbor”.

    So Joey stayed here with him when his mother didn’t seem to be around, Raymond had heard all the talk about Joey’s mother and the pills that he thought of as a plague that was rotting this county from the inside out. He fed the sometimes ravenous kid, bought him a few clothes, got him to take a bath occasionally, and tried to teach him some manners, it was strained at times. He and his wife of forty years never had any kids of their own.

    A week later he was walking from the shed and the Cur dog followed him two steps back. Joey confronted them at the big white oak in the yard, hands on his hips and that hawk like stare. “Old man Johnson down at the store told me you used to have the best dogs in the county, maybe the state”. Joey let that one hang for a minute then said, “How come you don’t keep dogs no more?”

    Taken back, he stammered for a second then said, “Well boy, I just didn’t care about that no more after Eva died.” He felt the stab just to say her name, “I sold off the young dogs and when my old Poacher dog died I just didn’t want no more”. He felt the boy had made him fess up to a thing long hidden, a thing he did not want to unearth. Joey considered his answer for a moment then stalked away, giving no hint of his judgment.

    Several days later he was in the shop and he heard a sound that startled him and brought him running into the yard. It was a sound that he never thought he would hear again. It was a child’s laugh; he walked around the barn to see if it could be true. The boy was throwing an old half deflated basketball he had found somewhere. The Cur dog would race over, grab the ball, and fly back towards the boy. When she got to the kid she would juke to the side and race away, this brought squeals of delight from the boy. Raymond was enthralled, but he backed away unnoticed so as not to break the spell. He glanced one more time at the dog and boy, then at the clouds above the white oak, could it be?

    One morning at daylight he was dreaming about a dog treeing. The dog was barking good, but he couldn’t seem to reach the tree. As the sleep left him, he realized the barking was in his yard. He walked out on the porch and saw the Cur dog, feet on the white oak, telling the world like Poacher used to do. Joey stood behind the dog, eyes scanning the branches. When he saw Raymond he yelled, “She’s got a big fox squirrel treed, bring us a gun!” Raymond looked upon the two youngsters for a moment and thought he might take Joey and show up at church this Sunday.

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Old Dogs

Image                                     “Blessed is the person that has earned the love of an old dog”.–  Sydney Jeanne Seward

 

The brown pointer trembled as I reached down to release her from the leash. The wind was coming up pretty good and her ears tousled back as she leaned forward and tested the air with that reddish nose. In a leap she was the young dog that I had often looked on in wonder as she plowed through the autumn woods. Once again a brawny, muscular, bulldozer of a dog that hunted with abandon and didn’t worry about obstacles since she could smash through anything. As vividly as the morning sun I saw the hunting light come into her eyes, she was two years old again and a being with a single purpose as she swept the woods.

Then just as quickly as she raced away the years seemed to fall upon her, the years and all the infirmities and pains that follow. She slowed at the top of a little rise, stopped and tested the wind again. The brown dog turned as if slightly embarrassed, but shot me a look that said as plain as day, “Once upon a time I could really tear it up, couldn’t I ol’ buddy?”

Somehow I have an old dog again, I have no idea how this happened, having vowed when I buried the last one that I would never do it again. Where did the years go? Most of us go through a momentary loss of our sanity when we acquire a puppy. We endure all that goes with it and we never once pause to consider what is coming down the road.

Old dogs love to be taken for a hunt, included in the day, thought of as part of the crew. Please remember it was not so long ago that they were the crew! They hate to sit at home and watch you load up the young dogs and drive away. They know exactly where you are going.

As hunters and outdoorsman we all know another kind of old dog. There are Dads, uncles, cousins, neighbors, or just a brother in camo that we know who would love to just get in the truck and go. They may sit there and never say a word as you load up with other young dogs and drive off. Stop and take a close look sometime, you will see the hunting light come up in their eyes.

They were the great hunters one time, they were the ones that told you stories about walking across Cheat Mountain and champion hunting dogs long gone. They were the ones that finally relented to your pleas to be included in the hunt, even when they feared you were not old enough. They saw the hunting light in your eyes and they took you into the fold.

The old dogs may not be able to follow you on every step of the hunt. They don’t care. They just want to go with you. They just want to be included. They may sit in the truck and wait for your stories when you return, or maybe just go to camp with you and be part of the crew. They just want to go!

One day you may remember this as you stop to pick up an old dog and take him to the mountains. You may look over and he will shoot you a look that says as plain as day, “Once upon a time I could really tear it up, couldn’t I ol’ buddy?”

The King of the LBL

 

Sometimes in life we as hunters and fisherman are blessed to meet someone on the trail that is a real gem, someone you know from the start is going to be a friend, one of your crew, a brother in camo. I had the great good fortune to meet such a person recently and I know that there are shining times ahead of us when we hit the woods.

I had been telling myself all winter that I was going to take a little trip somewhere out of state on a squirrel hunt. In the past year I tested the bounds of matrimonial bliss to the limit and acquired another dog. A little Mountain Cur to use as a squirrel dog. I have been mentored locally on this by some very able squirrel dog gurus, more on this at a later date. One of these is Mr. Richard Gentry of Wyoming County, a squirrel dog legend in his own right (ask him how many states he squirrel hunts in every winter). Through Mr. Gentry, I met the squirrel dog aficionado that I had the pleasure of hunting with last month, Kevin Murphy.

Mr. Murphy lives in western Kentucky, near Paducah, in the middle of a sportsman’s wonderland. There are lakes, rivers, marshes and thousands upon thousands of acres of public hunting ground. The Cumberland River runs parallel to the Tennessee River here, and somewhere in the 1940’s the Tennessee River was dammed and Kentucky Lake was formed, Lake Barkley was created when the Cumberland River was dammed in the 1960’s. The lakes themselves are massive and offer sportsman boatloads of opportunities in the hunting and fishing realm. What I want to talk to you about is what lies between these two lakes.

In days of yore, if local hunters were going to this area they would say they were going to hunt “the land between the rivers”. With the formation of the two lakes it became “The Land Between the Lakes”. The Land Between the Lakes consists of 177,000 acres, it is a National Recreation Area controlled and administered by the National Forest Service. The largest and northern portion of this area is in Kentucky and the southern portion is in the state of Tennessee. Sportsman can hunt deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrel, and waterfowl. This is where our buddy comes in, the “King of the LBL”, Kevin Murphy.

Mr. Murphy has hunted, trapped, fished and roamed this area since he was eight years old. He has an intimate knowledge of most of the nooks and crannies of this wonderful area. If he wasn’t chasing bobcats with hounds, rabbit hunting with beagles, or spearing suckers in one the creeks in the spring, he was probably pursuing his great love, squirrel hunting with a canny little fiest dog, or maybe a cur.

I spent three days following Mr. Murphy and some of his canine cohorts around, it was the end of the season, the weather was not the best, the squirrels were not overly active, but we still had a great time. Thanks in no small part to his knowledge of the area (he knew right where to go), and his general demeanor of friendliness and “hey, let’s just go enjoy the day”. He was a pure delight to be in the woods with. I learned much from him, and I know my Cur dog, Dottie, was a better dog after spending a few days in the woods under his tutelage.

I have to share a couple things with you about hunting with Kevin Murphy, he carries a hunting horn with him on every hunt, you know, the kind hunters used to blow on to call their hounds. At the start of each hunt, before you step into the woods, he blows a long note on the horn and he says the same thing every time. “The hunt has begun! They have been given fair warning! If they get kilt, it’s their own fault!” It’s classic. He also seems to have a special talent for naming dogs, and I don’t mean run of the mill dog names. We hunted with “Bobby J”, “Butchie Bad Toe”, and “Skipper Doddle” just to name a few.

In the woods you had better step lively to keep up with him, as me and one of my Georgia turkey hunting buddies, John Akin, found out. When the dogs would tree, I never found one squirrel before he did, he would always, and I mean always, spot them before anyone else. At the end of the day when it was time to skin squirrels, all you had to do was get out of his way. I have seen a few people that were good and fast at skinning the little rodents, but not in the class of Mr. Murphy! The last morning he made a hunters breakfast for us at his house, eggs, fried squirrel, gravy, made from scratch “cat-head” biscuits, and all the perked coffee you wanted. One more thing, he has without a doubt, in his basement the most incredible example of a man cave to be seen in this hemisphere. Remnants and treasures from over forty years of tramping the woods, pictures, deer skulls, steel traps, Indian artifacts, other stuff too numerous to mention, you really had to see it to believe it.

A world class host, good dogs, beautiful country, great food, friendly people at the local diner, good hunting, what’s not to like? I’m gonna get me a hunting horn and go back….

 

If you want to go to the LBL check the website www.lbl.org, or call 1-800-LBL-7077Image