Running hounds has been a special part of my life for many years. There has been a lot of controversy about chasing bears with hounds recently from people who truly do not understand the thrill of the chase. Pursuing a bear with hounds is steeped in tradition in this great country. Listening to the sounds of the hounds in hot pursuit on a distant ridge or through a deep canyon is an experience all hunters should experience at least once. There is nothing that will quite equal the lonely bawl or fast chop of a Plott or Treeing Walker hound because, that in itself, is what this hunt is all about. It is the chase, not the killing of the bear that really counts. It is an adventure that many times will lead you through some of the nastiest terrain imaginable and leave miles of boot leather behind on the way to the treed bear. Any hunter who believes that hunting with hounds is easy, has never been on a hound hunt in the mountains of the northeast or northwest sections of the country.
I got excited when my friend Mike Mattly, the marketing director for Knight Rifles, called and asked me to set up a black bear hunt with hounds for
him. Mike had never hunted black bear before and this would be an opportunity for us to spend quality time together. Mike runs coyotes with hounds around his home in southern Iowa and that is why he chose this method of hunting for his first bear. I was really psyched about this hunt because it would also give me the opportunity to enjoy the chase with the hounds again, while I was still able to get around the rugged places a bear usually takes the hounds during a race.
I contacted Jeff, the Editor of Bear Hunting Magazine, and his first choice was Travis Reggear from north central Idaho. Jeff hunted with him a few years back and thinks highly of him as a top-notch houndsman. I called Travis and realized he is a “Get‘er done” type of guy and I knew he would do his best to put us into some nice bears. The area that Travis hunts has a large number of bears and habitually produces some of the largest animals in the state. It also has a very good road system which allows access to a vast area of really rugged country. Believe me, you need to be part mountain goat to get around in most of that country. But the road system allows the hunters much more flexibility to get close enough to a treed or bayed bear where the average hunter would be able to hike in without having a stroke.
On the first morning we had what seemed to be a 150 pound cinnamon sow treed by 8:30 a.m. The decision was made to have Mike pass on this bear hoping something else would pop as this was his first morning. So we put leads on the hounds and slowly walked off. We all watched as the bear zipped down the tree like a fireman down a pole. Within seconds the bear had disappeared like a ghost into the thick forest.
Not quite an hour had passed and we had a second chase going. When we arrived at the tree, Travis and I decided to recommend that Mike also pass on this second bear. It was a beautiful, glossy black bear that appeared to be a little larger than the first bear. We also thought by looking at the head shape, width of the front pads, and the overall body length, it was another dry sow. We took a bunch of pictures and then put leads on the hounds again and lead them away from the tree. When we were far enough away we turned around, sat on the ground and watched the bear come down the tree and scramble off. That is one of the great things about hunting bears with hounds; you really get time to evaluate the animals. Most good houndsmen I have known over the years let many more bears down the tree to run again another day than they actually harvest. It is the thrill of the chase that counts and the dogs have won once the bear is treed.
We actually had two bears up a tree by 11:30 a.m. on the first morning. Mike was having a ball watching and listening to the hounds. I have only seen this happen twice in all the years I have been pursuing the black bear. It takes hounds with speed and grit as they must catch the bear and many bears do not like to tree. These are the kind of bears that if you catch consistently, you can catch anything. All the hounds in the pack must be in the race and they all have to be at the tree. It is difficult to breed grit, speed and brains all together in a hound.
Travis and his friend Mike Kemp from Three Bears Kennels have done a fantastic job developing the great strain of hounds they are running. They are the best handling and fastest treeing dogs I have seen in almost 40 years of bear hunting. Striking a bear on a rig in the air from a long way off and knowing exactly where the track is when they hit the ground is something few hounds ever develop. I have seen many dogs over the years strike off the rig and go the wrong way and take several minutes to straighten out the tracks before
|lining out in the right direction. These hounds will
take the track in the correct direction most times.
When they strike you better start cutting other dogs
into them quickly or you will have a race with the
hounds strung out across the countryside.
The dense cover and mountains in this country ensure that if dogs can handle this terrain they will be able to run a bear anywhere across the North America. I really enjoy watching exceptional hound work and these hounds are the cream of the crop. Travis had six young dogs only 14 months-old, all out of the same litter, that are already a great pack of bear hounds. They put the first bear up a tree in a very short period of time and were treeing hard when we arrived.
I told Mike on the way back to the house that he was getting spoiled because if you were able to tree one or two bears on an entire trip it would be considered a very successful hunt. He had heard the chase and seen two bears treed before noon on the first day.
The next morning we were out early, rigging the mountains with ATV’s when suddenly, the hounds struck hard off the rig. We all scrambled to cut the hounds and the race was on. We ran over to the top of the hill and listened to the hound music echo through the canyon as they pushed the bear over the top of the next mountain and out of hearing. The race was going on for almost two hours and we started to realize this was a big bear. He had been baying up on the ground and chasing the hounds. We could tell by listening to the hounds that they would be hot on the trail with their high pitched bawl and chop voices and suddenly stop. When they suddenly stopped it meant the chase was turned around and the bear was chasing them. It was also getting quite warm so we decided to get as close to the chase as possible and really put the coals to this old bear by turning in six or eight more fresh hounds. Hopefully this would push him up a tree.
Another three hours went by and the chase was still on. This bear did not want to tree. He was still baying up, chasing and fighting the hounds. We had to do something fast or some hounds were going to get seriously hurt. It was decided that Mike and Travis would get ahead of the chase and try to head them off and Mike would have to shoot the bear on the ground. We would make our way around to the chase and release the balance of the hounds to put as much pressure on the bear as possible.
After seven hours into the chase, Mike was able to put a hole in the bear with his Knight Vision Muzzleloader as the bear crossed an old logging road. He made a perfect split-second shot and the bear folded up within a few feet. Mike chose the Vision
because it was lightweight and fully camouflaged to protect it from the elements. Knight also has the full plastic jacket which is the only waterproof ignition system in a muzzleloader. Finally, the chase was over and Mike had a beautiful old boar that measured 6 feet 6 inches nose to tail, with a beautiful coal black hide and a skull that would surely make the Longhunter Society Record Book. He also got to experience what it is like when a bear does not want to tree. This old brute would have never treed no matter how many hounds we put on him. He was just a mean old bear. I have never seen a bear that would not tree with that much hound power on his butt; he was extraordinary.
In just a few days of hunting Mike learned what it was like to put a daypack on his back, sling his muzzleloader over his shoulder and trek across the steep mountains and canyons of Idaho. Following behind a pack of hounds, hightailing it after a mean old monster bear, all in the heat of the day. To make it even more demanding, we were pelted with intermittent heavy downpours. We were on the ground for a total of seven hours in hot pursuit of a bear that would not tree. He really earned his trophy. I was happy to have been there to share in this experience with him. We were also able to capture most of the hunt on film for a television show so Mike will be able to relive the thrill of his hunt again and again.
We took the next day off to give the hounds a much needed rest after their long chase the previous day, and we were pretty worn out ourselves. Rex Summerfield from the Explorers Big Game Journal television show gave us a tour of the local sights. The next morning we were all
|refreshed and ready to go again. Now it would be my opportunity for
an Idaho bear behind hounds. I was really excited just to be here in
this beautiful country creating memories with a close friend. If I got
an opportunity at a good bear it would be icing on the cake.
The morning started out a little slow as we rigged the hounds through the rugged country and as we turned a corner the hounds struck hard on a bear. We were all smiling as the hounds ran up the mountain creating loud music to our ears and then advancing further and further out of hearing. We all jumped on our ATV’s and raced up the mountain to listen to the chase and get a handle on which direction they were going. In the distance we could faintly hear them and it sounded as though they had the bear treed already. We moved to a better position to listen and sure enough, the bear was treed and the hounds were really hammering away.
I loaded up my backpack full of cameras and slung my muzzleloader over my shoulder. We all rushed off following the hound music to the tree. The closer we got to the tree, the volume of the music increased dramatically. At the tree it was so loud we had to actually talk into each others ears. The sounds of the hounds’ voices were magnified by the deep canyon we were in and the stillness of the day.
Travis and I smiled at each other after evaluating the bear his hounds had treed. It was a little black-colored bear about 100 pounds, probably a two or three year-old. Everyone rounded up the hounds onto a lead, took a few pictures and walked away so the bear would come down the tree. I just love watching a bear come down a tree quickly and virtually vanish into the forest in a few short seconds. They are there one second and gone the next. If you had not seen it with your own eyes you would not believe it.
It was getting late in the day when we all got back to the rigs, so we decided to call it a day. We planned to get an early start in the morning which would be my last day to hunt.
Travis told me they were going to rig three packs of hounds in hopes of’ getting a good bear chase going early. Mike Kemp’s and Mike Stockton’s hounds would be the other packs rigging the countryside. If they struck a bear they would look for sign to determine the size of the bear and if it looked good they would radio us and we would hurry to the location before releasing the hounds.
We had been rigging about an hour when Mike Stockton called on the radio and let us know that his dogs had struck hard off the rig. He had examined the area for sign and found a large track in the sand on the shoulder of the old logging road. Mike yelled over the radio to get there quick, he felt this was the bear we were after. He also told us he was going to release his three dogs. When we arrived at Mike’s location, the race was on and the hounds were completely out of hearing. We used the telemetry units to get a location on them.
They were over the top of the next mountain heading straight away from us, so we fired up our ATV’s and raced up the road over the mountain. Just as we crested the top we all stopped to listen and it sounded like the bear was already treed. We tried to get as close as possible, loaded up our gear and headed into the tree. When we were within a 100 yards of the tree the bear bailed out. We just did not have enough dog power to keep him up and he must have heard us coming. Rushing back to the rigs we decided to try heading off the race and cutting Mike Kemp’s pack into the other three hounds that were chasing the bear.
Everything went as planned, we now had a total of nine hounds in the race and we all hoped it would be enough to keep the bear treed, if he would go up again. We were not looking forward to another strenuous all-day hunt on the ground chasing the bear through some of the thickest, steepest and roughest country one could imagine.
The race went on for another two hours and we watched and listened from on top for almost half an hour as the hounds pushed the bear through a canyon. We saw the bear twice as he crossed logging roads. It was like sitting in a seat at a concert as the hound music echoed off the canyon walls and the backdrop was the spectacular mountains of Idaho. The concert paused as the race crested over the mountain in front of us. We all ran to our machines and ripped through the canyon and over the mountain so we could get close to the race again. But just as we came over the top of the mountain we could hear the
grand finale to the concert. The hounds had the bear treed about half way down the valley. We all scrambled, getting our gear and rushing down to the tree as quietly as possible to insure the bear would not bail again.
The old bear was way up the top of a thick pine tree. The tree was so thick I had a very hard time seeing the bear. Everyone ran around tying dogs back while I tried to determine where to take my shot from. The best shot was going to be directly from the base of the tree, straight up through all the branches. This would hopefully take out his front shoulders and exit out the neck.
Taking very careful aim and bracing myself against the tree, I slowly squeezed the trigger until my muzzleloader abruptly shattered the sound of the canine orchestra. With shaking hands I dropped three Triple Seven pellets down the pipe, followed by a 290 grain polymer tip boat-tail bullet, then concentrated on dropping a disc into the muzzleloader to finish my reload. Suddenly, I heard a branch snap and at the same time everyone was yelling at me to get out of there, the bear was coming out! I quickly ran away from the tree to avoid the bear landing on me.
He hit the ground and never moved a muscle. What a beautiful animal, measuring 6 feet 5 inches nose to tail. He had an extremely thick black robe and a big pumpkin head. I was totally ecstatic about this hunt. The actual shooting of the bear is nothing too impressive, but rather a closing episode in a journey that that left miles of our footprints across some of the most rugged country imaginable.
I could tell from years of experience that the bear had more than enough bone on his skull to stretch
the tape to over 18 inches for the record book. But always keeping score does not overly strike an interest in me. This bear makes my book and that is what really counts. I measured him for myself, but most likely will not get it officially measured. This hunt was far too special for that to me. Creating memories with quality friends in special places, listening to the concert of the hounds’ music echo through a deep canyon from the top of a mountain is as close to heaven as it gets here on earth.