LOVE FOR THE WORKING DOG
by Mike Pimentel
The May sun was blazing down on us as we reached the summit and stepped out onto a big rock out cropping. We sat down to take off our snow shoes which have seemed to hinder us more at times in the soft snow than do us any good. Above the slight breeze and swaying of pines we could hear a slight rumble up canyon in a small basin, it was the hounds! As we strained to hear them better we could start picking out certain dogs and their distinct barks and bawls. Then we heard what we had hoped, the defiant bark of two of our 14 month old dogs barking every breath as they told everyone in the basin they were looking at a bear.
We could tell they were still walking/baying this bear and coming towards us, we hustled down the side of the canyon making a little better time because it was the slope that didn’t have much snow. We got to a small point mid slope with a bit of a view just in time to see the bear come around a base of a cliff with a pack of hounds half mooned around him. It was “Big Red” a big red colored black bear that we had a few years of history with. He would stop and tell them what he was thinking in small burst of uncanny agility that would scatter the dogs in every direction. He made his way down through a chute of deep soft snow, troughing out with dogs in tow. We ranged the next clearing in hopes of a clear shot, as he lumbered into the opening, I heard the safety click off.
Looking back at the start of the day we…. scratch that…. looking back a year and half before this moment we had been in search of a good cross of well bred pups to add to our pack. By “we” and “our” I’m referring to Trisha my wife, Colton and Easton our two boys and myself. We picked up a few pups and started the few month process of socializing the puppies, which includes but not limited to walks in various terrain and situations, ground manners, loading/unloading and enhancing their trailing and treeing ability. With a good outcome we did the best thing possible for them, as soon as they wanted to go we started hunting them on various game species behind the veteran hounds. With a seasoned hound and a smart pup a lot can be taught through time in the woods.
It always amazes me the ability in a hound to be able to trail through endless miles of terrain, crossing hundreds of different scents and sticking on that one sole track from trail to jump in hopes of treeing or bringing quarry to bay. I guess this is why they have been used for hunting, harvesting, managing and studying various game and non game animals for hundreds of years.
A few months before our Idaho bear season begins comes the conditioning of the pack which includes but not limited to; morning and evening runs, scent drags and tree work. Its like an athlete preparing for a iron man race, the hounds love it. They anticipate the lights coming on in the house in early morning hours. They rustle in their dog houses and by the time we start the truck they are standing on the end of their chains in eager anticipation. This rolls over into the bear season where their excitement only amplifies. Which brings use back to this beautiful spring morning.
The anticipation just seemed to be a little different this morning, the dogs were wound up when the boys went out to unsnap them and load them up. As we slowly drove up the road the dogs strained at the chain sucking in every bit of the crisp morning air waiting for that hint of bear scent. Almost to the end of the road it happened, dogs blew up and yelled their desire to be turned loose. It was go time, we casted the older start dogs up the hill and when they gave the true tell sign of a started track with their boo hoos we sent in the youngsters. We listened to them cold trail high up the mountain and progressively start barking more and more warming the track up. As they reached a high snowy saddle and just before dropping off into the next canyon we heard them “blow up” with excited barking and this is when we knew they were jumped. We drove around to the bottom of the next drainage where we could ever so slightly hear them in the head of the canyon and moving up.
After we started up the canyon they pulled over the top to the next drainage, so we followed in tow bringing us back to the bare side hill with a walking and baying Red Bear across from us. As he lumbered into the opening he made a quick spin to try and catch the dogs in the soft snow then he broke and headed for the creek bottom and straight down the creek. With ample cover and a sixth sense in this ol boy there was no good opportunity for a shot. But none of us were disappointed because we just got to watch some great dog work on a amazing animal.
With a second burst of energy the bear and hounds made some distance in short time. We started down the ridge towards them as they went out of hearing and when we hit the next knob our Garmin GPS beeped with notifications that the dogs had brought Red to bay or treed! With adrenaline hitting us in anticipation we hurried to them the best we could. Just like still hunting, when we got close we got the wind in our favor and started our sneak in. The bear took his stand in a small group of rocks with a few scattered pines. Watching our step and testing the wind we inched in. The ground cover was moderate and before long I seen a dog dart out and then slowly walk back in with a long drawn out booger bark, we knew then, he was still on the ground. Slowly inching in I started seeing more dogs standing around the base of a big pine, then backed against the tree sat Big Red. Swaying his head in utter irritation and looking at which mongrel he was going to run next. He made a rush and scattered dogs and too my surprise he turned and scratched his way up the big pine and the dogs sucked in behind him and started treeing their hearts out.
They were all proud when we hustled into the tree.
Just a couple limbs up was a big beautiful bucket headed bruin and at the base of the tree there were the old dogs and some eager over-achiever young dogs, proud and excited. We sat and watched, encouraged and praised the hounds.
We tied everything back as my good friend prepared for the shot with his bow (the first choice if it treed), he settled his pin and made a great shot. As with all harvested animals there is always a great respect and saddening for them and this bruin will be cherished forever.
With every hunt whether deer, elk, bear etc. comes great reward and to me watching a nice pack of hounds brings the greatest sense of achievement possible. Hard work, time and perseverance makes a great dog. If you’ve never been on a hound hunt and are on the fence about it find someone and go. I have taken many hunters and non hunters unsure of the use of dogs and every single one of them has walked away with a smile and love for the working dog.