A Gift From Santa

After the celebration of Christmas settled down, the visions of, not sugar plums, but bobcats were dancing in my head. The snow had been falling all throughout the day, suddenly stopping right at dark, just when bobcats do their hunting. Instead of playing with the latest technology and electronic gizmo, my heart longed for something else, something as old as the dawn of time…the hunt.

The sound of the hounds bark was a delight, just what I wanted Santa to bring for me and Kruger. Dane, Rooster and Fletcher, some of the best bobcat hunting dogs around are just the company that I want my hound to keep, they are the dogs that I want Kruger and myself both to learn from. Watching the dogs, how their tail twirls on track, the change in their bark when they strike scent, the way they yearn to run the mountain. I learn more from these dogs than I ever thought possible; determination, the will to continue beyond tired, hungry or cold, the will to live in the moment as is if it might be your last, giving 100% of your heart to the pursuit.

During the first year of Kruger’s puppyhood, in the excitement of his arrival, I may have spoiled him a bit. Okay, he is a very spoiled dog. Now that he is over a year old, it is time for him to learn for himself the positive work ethic that I see in Dane, Rooster and Fletcher. It is important to me that my hound has a well-rounded disposition and character. That takes time, that takes the mountain, that takes some hard hunts…here we go.

No sleep, no worries, just hunt

My head bounced around like a sleeping kid on a car ride, only I am 34 years old. My eyes were heavy and I was passing in and out of sleep, trying to stay awake and pay attention to the snow covered road and the tracks that crossed it. I tortured my hunting partner Ty by singing, it was the only thing that seemed to break the desire to sleep.

Rabbit, squirrel, deer, repeat. Is it a coyote or is it a bobcat? The two can be easily confused in certain snow conditions. Nice round track, no toenails, definitely a bobcat. We had found what we were looking for. Granted the track was aged and would be difficult to follow, it was worth a try. No guts, no glory.

The cold mountain air bit through my lungs as we climbed up, high towards the sound of the hounds. Rooster and Fletcher had went to the right, Dane to the left. Which dog(s) do we follow? Which is on the correct track? The mountain is black making seeing the track very difficult. Dane won out as he was heading towards the rock cliffs, a place where bobcats love to go.

The rocks were slick, covered in a dusting of snow, one slip would be a disaster. Dane was not barking treed, but was frantically running circles around the rocks. We followed in his and the bobcats foot-steps, catching up shortly after 2:00am. The bobcat was perched high on a rock face, watching Dane run circles trying to figure out where he had gone.

We were fortunate that the bobcat had not taken cover. Dane had done his job and brought us to our quarry. The bobcat had eluded my hunting partner for some years, a known runner, we had been blessed with success.

Fletcher and Rooster were still on the hunt and could not be caught. The hunt was over and the dogs didn’t know it. Dane had done the job. Two hours passed, it was after 4:00am before we were able to catch the strong hunting hounds.

With the pickup at an idol keeping us warm, the front seat was going to be my bed for the short night. The thrill of the hunt, our determination, our success, it was all worth it. A Merry Christmas to us. Blessed be the world.

 

Years In The Making

The truck door shut hard with the ice having crusted over the hinges. Ten O’clock at night heading into the frozen mountains of Central Oregon. The skiff of snow was minimal but we were hoping that it would be just enough to locate the fresh tracks of a bobcat. It was going to be an all-nighter but it was my only opportunity to take advantage of the snow before heading to Las Vegas for RMEF’s Hunter Christmas and the National Finals Rodeo for ten days. I needed to be on the mountain one more time before disappearing into the concrete jungle of the city.

The hounds were eager as usual, Kruger jumping in the box, ready for the ride. Mile after long mile it seemed that all we encountered were coyote tracks which can be very easy to confuse with a bobcat. Drive, stop, look at tracks, drive on…our search went on for hours until my eyes could no longer stay open.

This was my first time sleeping in the front seat of a pickup truck, too stubborn to call it quits and go home. My tiny dog Zoie was hogging the seat but somehow, I managed a couple of hours of sleep, just enough to refresh my vigor for the pursuit of finding a track.

Everything looks different in the dark and that is double true at night. The warm welcoming mountains become cold and dark. Roads that you gladly travel during warmer months become treterous with the snow threatening to hold you tight to the ground. Tires spinning, I squeeze the oh S#*T handle more than I care to admit.

The morning light was bitter sweet, my time was running short, but just when I thought we wouldn’t find a track, there it was and it was a big track that was smoking red hot. The hounds know when they are about to go to work, stirring anxiously in the box, whining with anticipation. Rooster, Dane and Fletcher were called forward by name, collared and turned out along with my pup Kruger.

Tracking bobcat is nothing like I have seen before. In order for the hounds to smell the track, they literally have to place their nose into the track getting little dimples of snow on the tip of their nose. Many hounds will easily track a bear or lion but due to the difficulty and minimal scent, the bobcat is an extremely difficult animal for the dogs to track. The pace for the bobcat race is much slower than that of a bear or lion race but the dogs still travel much more swiftly than I can walk, especially in the adverse, steep mountain conditions.

Hunting the most difficult cat to track in North America and this being his first ever hunt, I knew that Kruger would struggle, my hope for him was that he show excitement and the desire to “seek” the track ahead of him. That desire is one that you cannot train. A dog will either want to track and hunt or simply not. Giving his commands, Kruger eagerly began searching for the track, over and over, I place him on the track, “Here it is…Here it is…” “Seek”…”Hunt it Up…” 

He was unsure of the process and soon, the hounds were far ahead of us. Some hounds, honor other dogs meaning, if they bark, they will follow the bark to reach the quarry faster. This can be a good or bad thing, good if the hounds are on the right track, bad if they are not. Kruger does not honor other dogs, he honors me, which can be a good or a bad thing, it all depends on the situation.

The GPS monitor beeped that the hounds were treed so we quickly followed the sound of the baying. The bobcat was so high in the giant tree that he was not easily seen. Kruger excitedly trotted around the tree base, Dane and Rooster had actually climbed into the massive tree trying for an opportunity at the cat. The frenzy of excitement had both me and the dogs filled with anticipation and excitement.

Kruger does not bark when treed, but the thundering sound of the other hounds echoed off the nearby cliff walls; it was a sound that I had waited my entire life to hear. This was the moment that I had planned for and dreamed about since long before Kruger’s birth or arrival into the USA from Africa.

My African Lion Hound, was here, on American soil doing the exact job that he had been bred to do. Hunt cats. All be it, he has everything to learn about hunting bobcat, this was our first glimpse at what hunts might be in store for our future.

Making several loops around the tree base, there was only but a small window of opportunity for a shot.  The sound of success rang out and Kruger was looking up towards the cat, anxiously awaiting his decent from the tree.  The all night pursuit had paid off, I was going to make the trip to Las Vegas tired but it was all worth it.

 

 

 

North American Hunter- A Friend Like No Other

There’s no greater joy than a successful hunt with your friends and family by your side—or so I thought until I started hunting with dogs. A dog is man’s best friend, and that's just the beginning.

Click HERE to read the story from North American Hunter online.