Tag Archives: dogs

Taylor-Made Turkeys

cimg1669__KaufmanFollowing the trail in the dark almost by instinct, the hunting group’s muted shuffle of feet on the carpet of newly fallen leaves was all that broke the tranquility of the dead-calm morning. The eastern sky’s somber debut of first light slowly revealed the topographical profiles of the Appalachian’s Endless Mountain Region and the promising hollows bisecting them.

Daylight was approaching quickly, and with any kind of scouting savvy and sixth sense, this starting point would produce a flock of turkeys roosted across the hill above them.  Pausing to catch our breath, the tandem father-daughter teams of Jeff Gettys and 16 year-old Olivia, and 14 year-old Taylor and Craig Kauffman, stopped to scan the broad expanse of the wooded ridge above.

Leading the hike on that November 2010 morning were guides John Plowman, Past President of SCI-Blue Mountain; Scott Basehore, champion call maker, and Scott’s six-month old Appalachian turkey dog, Jenny, a promising new addition to this unique sporting breed that’s specifically bred and trained for locating and scattering flocks of turkeys wherever found.

cimg1651__KaufmanOur hunt adventure actually started four years earlier back in 2006, not out in the woods, but with many meetings with SCI leaders and pro-dog-hunting groups scouting for legislative support at the State Capitol. Backed by turkey dog hunters and Pennsylvania SCI Chapters, Senate Bill 580 was introduced in January 2007 to legalize the use of dogs to locate and break the flocks of turkey during the Pennsylvania fall hunting season.  Working closely with State Senate and House members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, SB 580 breezed through the legislative process in record time, becoming law in time for Pennsylvania hunters to hunt fall turkeys during the 2007 season legally with dogs for the first time in history. The success of that effort was another graphic example documenting the long history of Pennsylvania SCI Chapters working to expand hunting opportunities for sportsmen of the Commonwealth.

Sufficiently rested, the groups divided up. Taylor and I continued our trek uphill toward likely roosting areas while Scott and Jenny went out flanking the side hill.  As we approached the summit, our pace was interrupted as several large turkeys suddenly glided off the hill above us, silently disappearing into the wooded mountainside below. We could not hear the telltale busted-bird bark of Jenny, but were fairly certain that she had located our first flock somewhere above us. Arrival at the top of the ridge found Scott and a happy dog waiting.  The flock break was good, and Scott was confident that success was at hand.  Now the hunt would commence in earnest.

the-hunt-starts__KaufmanQuickly adjusting camouflage head nets and gloves, we scrambled for good set-up locations and began the effort to call the birds back together. In short order, the scattered birds began their calling effort to regroup.  Our side of the bench was relatively quiet, but the yelping assembly call response of the scattered birds indicated that the birds might join up downhill closer to the other hunters’ set-up.

Taylor and I sat quietly as the birds appeared to move directly down in front of Jeff and Olivia.  We anticipated Olivia’s shotgun blast that never came.  The survival skills of the crafty birds somehow detected the ambush and, despite being very close to the hunters, they slipped away unseen, confident that the source of the call was not their dominant hen’s tune.

The sun finally broke above the crest of the adjacent mountains, and the coolness of the morning prompted our guide to suggest an alternative set-up.  We moved farther down the ridge and managed to hear another bird calling across the wooded ravine beyond Madi’s Rock, a prime location on the ridge.  Again, another call-up strategy was established, but our efforts resulted in the same outcome–no birds.  That became the pattern of the morning.  Despite the best efforts of Jenny and the hunting team, we could not bring a turkey into shotgun range for the girls. Close each time, but not quite. Typical turkey tactics!

In analyzing the situation and knowing the girls’ appetites as well as their patience limits, John suggested a break for lunch.  That also would give the high-alert turkeys some time to settle down. With renewed adrenaline and the thought of food at their favorite nearby restaurant, the team exited the mountain with amazing speed.

Rehashing the morning events over lunch suggested that all aspects of our morning efforts could still lead to afternoon success:  willing hunters, a high-energy dog and lots of turkeys.  It just didn’t come together on the first round.  It took some convincing of the girls, but we eventually managed to find ourselves back on the mountaintop for the afternoon round.

into-the-woods__KaufmanTaylor, Scott, Jenny and I decided to head in one direction while John, Jeff and Olivia headed into a distant hollow where John located another group of birds while scouting around earlier that day.  Our pleasant walk out a logging road was short lived.  I paused to show Taylor a fresh turkey track in a muddy spot, when Jenny exploded from the road in the exact direction of the track.  She disappeared over the crest of the closest bench and broke into a series of loud whoops signaling, “BIRDS ARE HERE GANG!”

We quickly eased to that break site to check, but Jenny was passionately running in a wide circle and it was certain that the foraging birds were scattered in an abrupt manner.  Locating a big tree with a good view and multiple shooting lanes, Taylor and I set-up for a safe shot. Scott secured Jenny in her duffle bag and began calling to engage these new candidates. After several tries, we heard one answer from deep in the Hemlock thickets below.  I quietly signaled to Taylor and she acknowledged hearing the call.

As planned, the curious bird began to answer Scott’s calls, moving closer with each response.  Typical of many turkeys, the bird began a wide loop to our left in an effort to locate visually the source of the kee-kee run assembly calls.  I repositioned Taylor to where I thought the turkey would enter the bench, her shotgun wobbling on the readjusted bi-pod.  Our moves were just completed when a large dark bird materialized silently from behind a pine tree 80 yards in front of us.

taylor-&-jenny__KaufmanSilence and stillness marked the standoff.  We were clearly in full view of the bird, but the distance was too far for Taylor to take a shot.  Taylor kept her composure, and after a long pause the bird continued to move in our direction.  Each step closed the gap, and with incredible patience Taylor allowed the bird to close within 40 yards before her shotgun broke the stillness of the afternoon.  The flopping wings as the bird rolled down over the hill confirmed the shot, and a quick retrieval gave Taylor her first turkey to tag…and always remember.  It was a wonderful way to end the day, and a great way to validate SCI’s efforts to expand new hunting opportunities to the next generation. Thank you SCI.– Craig Kauffman

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Big Game With Dogs

A pack of fine-looking dogs starting on a leopard track in central Namibia. Primarily English foxhounds, these dogs were trained to bark rather than bite and bayed numerous leopards with no trips to the vet.

Man’s oldest partnership is under fire…but why?

Big game hunting with dogs is under serious fire today, considered by many to be unsporting and, I suppose, too much of a sure thing. I can understand why the anti-hunters are against it; they’re against everything we do. I can almost understand why non-hunters question the practice; they have no background or experience, and, unfortunately, we hunters often lack the forums to properly explain it. What I really don’t get is why so many of us—we hunters—are against big game hunting with dogs. Here’s the really odd thing: Many of the most outspoken love hunting birds with retrievers and pointing breeds! I guess there is validity to Ernest Hemingway’s line that “birds and fish lie weightless on the conscience.”

Man’s best friend, Canis lupus familiaris, is actually a subspecies of wolf, and thus no matter how cuddly and fluffy, must be considered a predator. After centuries of selective breeding, dogs have the greatest morphological differences of any mammal on Earth, varying dramatically in size, color, coat…even skeletal structure and behavior. That said, man’s first domestication of the wolf was almost certainly to take advantage of the animals’ greater speed, keener senses and perhaps ferocity to aid in hunting. Early by-products were probably defense and early-warning systems for homes and villages and, later, defense of livestock.

Today, the dog remains man’s best friend, divided into hundreds of breeds for dozens of useful purposes ranging from simple companionship to highly specialized and trained service dogs. Among these, hunting remains a primary function for millions of this world’s estimated 400 million dogs. Dogs are used to assist the hunt literally throughout the world, a human trait that has transcended all cultures and ethnic origins.

Even in this arena, hunting dogs are highly specialized, a result of both breeding and training. In Europe single dogs are often used at heel for their keen senses, to literally “point” roebuck and other game. Blood-trailing dogs are in common use around the world and, where used, greatly reduce the incidence of unrecovered game. Hounds, terriers and an amazing array of mixed breeds are used to course, bay and tree a wide assortment of game depending on the area. Perhaps the most specialized dogs I have ever hunted with were Eastern Cape farmer Adrian Ford’s pack of cute little terriers, developed and trained to course only the tiny blue duiker through the dense coastal bush.

Donna Boddington with Tyler Leuenberger’s two redbones, Stewie and Luke, loaded in a sled and ready to go look for tracks.

In much of the world, including North America, the tradition of hunting with dogs stems from Europe where dog hunting remains strong. Local sportsmen often hunt with a single canine companion, but that’s just the beginning. In Scandinavia moose are almost always hunted with dogs, both in organized drives and bringing individual animals to bay. The driven hunt remains a strong European tradition, with humans assisted by keen-nosed and noisier canine friends. In Germany last year, I participated in a large drive conducted by some 50 drivers and more than 70 dogs! Continent-wide wild boars are often hunted with dogs and in Croatia I hunted jackal with dogs.

Canine assistance in hunting wild boars seems almost universal—I’ve done it for bushpigs in South Africa; feral hogs in New Zealand, Argentina and the US; and for the real deal in Europe. It seems like the anti-hound folks have less trouble with that, perhaps because wild hogs aren’t cute and cuddly like bears and cats, and are certainly prolific and destructive.

Coursing deer with hounds was once extremely popular in the United States, especially in the thick southern swamps that, at the end of the 19th Century, held some of our last concentrations of whitetails. Although dog hunting is still practiced in the South, it’s not nearly as popular as it once was. Today’s deer populations have expanded out of the swamps into farm country, and properties are much smaller today, making it more difficult to manage and contain drives with hounds.

Hound hunting has a long tradition in this country, and was the preferred technique for such famous hunters as Daniel Boone, David Crockett…and, more recently, Theodore Roosevelt. During his Presidency, Roosevelt hunted bear and mountain lion with hounds, so he probably wasn’t in the least surprised when, in Africa in 1909, he hunted both lion and leopard with hounds. At that time, hunting the great cats with hounds was the preferred and most accepted technique, and Teddy thought it was “bully.”

PH Corne Kruger, dog trainer Willem Roux, and their team of dog handlers and dogs, ready to go on a leopard track in the early morning light.

By the 1920s the practice almost vanished, only to return in recent years. Here’s my spin on why: Dogs cannot survive in tsetse fly areas. As Kenya’s hospitable plains became settled, the great cats—and their hunting—moved deeper into fly country where neither livestock nor dogs could follow. That remained the status quo until fairly recently when leopard populations rebounded in the tsetse-free ranch country of arid Namibia and southern Zimbabwe. Ranch leopards in southern Africa have been hunted hard for a century, and are notoriously difficult to get on bait in daylight. Hunting with hounds provides a viable alternative to hunting at night, which is legal in some areas but has its own set of challenges.

At this writing, leopard hunting with hounds is no longer legal in Namibia, but remains an option on private and communal lands in Zimbabwe, and is also commonly practiced in Mozambique. Interestingly, it is also not legal in South Africa…but most of the packs that were used in Namibia and are still used in Zimbabwe and Mozambique come out of South Africa where they are trained on lynx and other small predators that are the bane of sheep ranchers. Hunting bushpigs with dogs is also a favorite weekend pastime for many local South African hunters of all races and tribes.

The conclusion of a successful leopard hunt in Namibia. This cat was shot on the ground as he moved ahead of the pack, and the hunt went without incident.

Elsewhere on the continent, the tsetse fly has provided an effective barrier against dog hunting, but there are exceptions. In the fly-free forest zone the pygmies have long hunted with dogs, and they are used today for bongo and other forest game. Likewise in Ethiopia and other parts of the continent, local hunters use dogs that may not look like much to our eyes—but they know how to hunt, and their masters know how to train them.

Come to think of it, Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt also hunted jaguar with dogs on their 1913-1914 Brazilian expedition. Although calling and baiting were also practiced, the majority of jaguar hunting was done with dogs and, in remote areas, remains the preferred method for dealing with cattle-killing tigres. In Argentina, and I suppose elsewhere on the continent, the puma is primarily hunted with hounds just like up here. Feral hogs, as everywhere, are often hunted with dogs, but down there dogs are also used for capybara and peccary. I hunted both with dogs in northern Argentina, and on one little drive for peccary was surprised—and delighted—when a good brocket deer burst out in front of me.

In Australia, the Aboriginals continue to hunt with their dogs, and the European settlers use dogs as did their European ancestors. Unlike North America, there are no native large predators, so in Australia and New Zealand the primary uses for sporting dogs are birds, small game and of course the plentiful feral hogs. I must admit little knowledge and almost no experience with dog hunting in Asia—but it’s certainly present. Bird dogs are commonly employed (including for birds up to capercaille), and in Russia lynx, bear and wild boar are hunted with dogs.


There seem to be two primary arguments against using dogs for big game: First, that it’s somehow not “sporting” or fair chase. Second, that it’s cruel for both the dogs and their prey. I’ll try to answer the first one now, but before I do that, let me raise a third objection. Hunting with hounds is different, and it isn’t for everyone. I am not a houndsman. Raising, training and maintaining an effective pack is more than a hobby; it’s both vocation and avocation, and almost a lifestyle. You and I, as the “hunters,” are not really the hunters at all. The hunt belongs first to the dogs, and second to the people who trained them. In this kind of a hunt we are more observers than active participants.

The track of a good tom cougar. There is no reason to turn the dogs loose on anything other than a large track, making hound hunting one of the most selective of all hunting techniques.

Despite what its opponents say, hound hunting is not universally successful. I haven’t taken a cougar over hounds since 1980 and have no great desire to take another, but I have a great spot for one in our Kansas place, and Donna would like to take one. We’ve tried twice recently, once in Nevada and once in British Columbia, both good cat areas…but so far, no cats. Sometimes scent conditions aren’t right, sometimes a good track can’t be found…and no matter the game, when a fresh track is started there is no guarantee that the animal can’t outwit or evade the dogs. Leopard hunting with dogs is especially under attack, but those are done on dry ground where scent conditions are the most difficult. I’ve had leopard chases that failed, and I’ve been on unsuccessful hunts. Likewise with black bear hunts with dogs.

Boddington and outfitter Marcelo Sodiro with a big Argentinean puma. Though no longer exportable, pumas are plentiful and can still be hunted in several provinces.

There is one other aspect to hound hunting that its opponents tend to overlook: Done properly, legally, and ethically it is one of the most selective of all hunting techniques. Unlike most methods, there are actually two clear chances to walk away: First, when you see the track. “Strike dogs,” typically with the keenest scent, are kept leashed until a track is found and evaluated. There is simply no reason to turn the dogs loose on the track of an animal one doesn’t want to take. Second, when the animal is treed or bayed. It is always possible for a pack to cross tracks, and it’s also possible for a “medium-sized male track” to turn into an oversized female—but it’s also possible to gather the dogs and walk away. That is admittedly more difficult when an animal bays on the ground rather than trees, but with a well-trained pack it can be done (and, no, it won’t ruin the dogs).

On a recent cougar hunt with outfitter Bruce Ambler, we actually walked away from two cougars. The first, on the second day, was actually a big male. But it was getting dark by the time we reached the tree, out of camera light and questionable as to shooting hours. So we gathered the dogs and walked away, hoping to find the track again the next morning. Several inches of fresh snow scotched that notion and at the end of the hunt we had no cougar. But we also did three chases for lynx, only one successful, and two successful chases for big bobcats.

Veteran houndsman Rod Hardie gets his dogs ready for a cougar chase.

What about the notion that it’s cruel both to the dogs and the animals they pursue? As to the first, this is what these dogs do. It’s what they live for. In any pack, dogs that lack the spirit and the desire are removed. In our world they’re found other homes with other jobs, but a pack is a team effort. They work together and support each other. They do get hurt now and then…and they’re taken care of and go right back to it. Wild boars are among the worst on dogs. They’re fast and courageous, and treeing is not an option. This seems to be okay. Using our war dogs in a variety of roles seems to be okay. Using dogs for cats and bears seems to be less okay. In all cases, that is what the dogs have been bred and trained to do…they love it, or they wouldn’t do it. It’s unfortunate they can’t voice their opinions.

As for cruelty to the prey: Nature is cruel. Starvation is cruel. Like it or not, we humans have impacted all ecosystems and all wildlife populations. Out of necessity we have appointed ourselves stewards of the wild; in our man-altered world a true balance of nature is almost impossible; we have to assist with management of both prey species and predator…and certainly with the feral populations that we have created. Though no more automatically successful than any other technique, hound hunting is especially effective for certain species…and, in most cases, more selective. With a fleeting glance at distance it’s very hard to properly judge a bear or cougar. Up close with dogs, there should be no mistakes and there should be no wounded loss. Those strike me as sound tradeoffs.  In today’s world, when a quota or legal season is established, the intent is to harvest a certain number of animals for specific reasons. Hound hunting is thus as effective a management technique as a hunting technique. I am not a houndsman, but I defend it…and I have a real problem understanding hunters who do not.–Craig Boddington

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Double Diamond’s Buster

Thanks for featuring the hunting dogs! This is our best friend – Buster the German Shorthaired Pointer. Like any great hunting dog, Buster is equally at home on the couch or in the field. As outfitters, my husband and I offer big game hunts in Alberta and Buster loves to travel with us on our deer and antelope hunts. At hearing the shot he can’t wait to get out of the truck to congratulate the hunter on his trophy. But at heart he is a bird dog. He is really hoping the hunter will want to get in on some bird hunting in once the big game is down! Oh, and he has nothing against a little fishing now and then.—Tracy B.

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Springset Gordon Setter

Abby is a Springset Gordon Setter and is 8 years old. Love doesn’t begin to describe my feelings for her.  Not only is she a wonderful part of the family, she’s not bad in the woods either!  I proposed to my wife with the ring around her neck when I brought her home as a puppy. Most of our fall is spent in the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  There is no place we would rather be at that time of the year.–Ryan G.

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