By Travis Reggear
Bear Hunting Magazine
January/February 2012 Issue
Fall bear season had wound down; all of our hunters had filled their tags and had gone home with respectable bears. I then received a phone call from a friend who wanted to go hunting. I told him that if he would give me and my dogs a few days off to rest up and regroup, it would be greatly appreciated.
I met up with my buddy at the entrance to a canyon known for having plenty of bears, some being very rank. The morning hunt started off as usual and not long after putting the dogs up to rig, we struck a bear. A few seconds later the sounds of the dogs were well up the canyon. Most of our hunting is done on ATVs so access to the dogs is fast. After a short ride, we were right on top of them. They had run the bear down and literally pumped the wind out of it. The bear didn't have another burst of speed left, and the dogs knew it. From that point on the bear would be bayed if he did not climb a tree. The bear started his descent back down the canyon with the dogs basically riding him as he went. Knowing that there were a few good viewpoints in the canyon we decided to head for the one that would put us directly across from the race. When we arrived at the viewpoint, we had a front row seat.
Watching the dogs bay this bear allowed us to see some fine dog work. I got to see how the dogs and the bear reacted to each other. The bear was on the defensive. It would start to posture; working up to charge as the dog did the same to prepare for it. Then the bear would charge, trying to run one of them down. The dogs that were directly in harm’s way would scatter; the dogs that were not would swing around and flank. This would save the dogs that were being charged and make the bear swing back around to face the dogs that were after him. We watched this scenario play out over and over again.
As time went on, the bear moved down the canyon into some steep, rocky terrain. As the geography changed, so did the way the dogs and the bear reacted to each other. When the bear got into a place where he felt secure due to the landscape, his confidence would start to build and so would his battle plan. The steep hill allowed him to be extra fast when charging downhill. After one of his downhill charges he tried to work his way over toward a tree. When he started to put a foot up on the tree and climb, the dogs would pull him off and the ballet would start over again. The bear would move to a spot that he felt secure due to rocks, brush or the steepness of the hill. He always seemed to look for a spot that gave him the advantage, then he would work himself into position and always charge downhill. One time he crawled up on a windfall that was just out of reach of the dogs. As the terrain changed, so did the bear’s and dogs’ tactics.
There are many things that change the outcome of a race, giving either the bear or the hounds the advantage.
After hunting in many different states I have realized that no matter what species it is that you are hunting, the geography has a lot to do with how dogs behave as they hunt. The landscape can hurt or help a dog. Take brushy, steep hillsides. This seems like a bad combination for a hound to be running a bear in, and it can be. If a dog is running a bear and you want to pack some help into the race, it is easier to pack dogs (get them into the race) off of a steep hillside than it is on flat ground. The dog can hear better because of its elevation. There is just nothing like pulling up to the edge of a big canyon, hearing a roar coming down it and getting dogs turned in from the top. The dogs can hear where the front dogs are and head toward it, instead of coming from behind.
Steep, nasty hillsides can hurt a hound; they do not have the advantage, especially if the bear holds the high ground. A lot of older bear dogs have learned that the safest place to be when near a bear is on the high side. The older dogs take the high side knowing that the bear has to pull the hill to get to them as the younger dogs will get below the bear and sometimes end up paying the price.
Brush, as all bear hunters know, can be a pain to deal with and it can be the same for dogs too. Sometimes a bear will use the brush to ambush dogs. Many dogs have been hurt because the brush was thick enough that the dog just could not get away from the bear when it charged. A dog, too, can learn to use brush for security. If you think about it, the jungle is a much better place to escape into than the wide open. Dogs that make their living in real brushy country usually have learned how to make the brush their friend, not their enemy.
A rank bear that has been dogged a lot on open, clear terrain can be a bad deal. When a bear can see a dog for a long way, it can chase a dog for a long way. This allows the bear to have the advantage. Many half-hearted bear dogs like baying bears in open terrain because they can see the bear from a distance and that gives them a sense of security. These are the type of dogs that don’t want to be close to the bear anyway.
Swamps can dictate on how a dog behaves while bear hunting. Water yields humidity and brush and that equals bugs. After hunting a few times in swampy terrain I can tell you that it has its own kind of ruggedness. Dogs have to swim some days as much as they run, if a dog doesn’t like water that could spell disaster. Dogs that are not accustomed to humidity also have another barrier to overcome. Hot, humid weather on flat swampy terrain can be as rough on dogs as any mountainside if the dogs are not acclimated. Then to top it all off, during the day there are always some kind of insect hatching that likes to bite, sting or burrow into your dogs.
Geography and landscape play an important role when chasing a bear with hounds. It can be a plus or minus for both dog and bear, and creates unique hunting situations that can change from one moment to the next. As long as there is a bear for a dog to run and you can listen to a good race, all is well.