About three years ago, I had a litter of pups that were from some dogs that a friend, Mike Kemp, had raised. The dogs were the total package. They were sound from strike to tree. Most of the dogs that were from this litter could handle a bear by themselves. None of them seemed to ever look over their shoulder to see if help was coming. As time went by, some of these dogs were sold or traded to different people throughout the country. I ended up keeping one female and selling two males at 14 months of age for a very large amount of money. The female that I kept was a real nice dog. We bred her to Kemp’s top male dog and it raised some outstanding young bear dogs.
This fall I had the opportunity to start hunting a litter of young dogs that I had raised. I was a little wary about starting my pups on bear at seven months of age. Knowing from past experiences that starting pups too young can sometimes ruin them, I decided to take the chance and start these pups because I felt they had something a little special in them. My pups were bred from top to bottom with generations of bear dogs behind them and in the seven months that I had raised these pups, they had given me little hints that they were the right kind.
Finally, fall bear season was here and my dogs and I were anxious to get started hunting. I had been out scouting for sign and knew there were plenty of bear in the area that I was going to be taking my first hunter to. After loading up and heading out to the woods, it did not take long before the dogs struck a bear and were released.
This was the first time I had ever taken my seven month-old pups to the woods on any type of hunting. When the old dogs were released, the pups went totally crazy wanting to go along. I thought, well, if they want to go that bad, I will go ahead and turn them loose so I did not have to listen to them bark and whine in the dog box while I was trying to listen for the older dogs. Most pups, when turned loose the first time usually do not get hooked up right away with the old dogs and they end up dropping out of the bear race. These, on the other, hand did not seem to have a problem packing into the race and wanting to stay with the main dogs. It was like they had come preprogrammed from the factory. My pups were not only making the race but they were barking every time their feet hit the ground.
It was not long and the bear was treed. One of my guides, Mitch Payne, and I headed into the tree with our hunters, a pair of brothers from Michigan. Upon arriving at the tree we noticed we had a very nice bear and that all of the pups I had turned loose were also there at the tree. After leashing all the dogs up at the tree and getting them tied back out of harms way, we got Tim Luczak in the best position for a good shot. One shot from Tim’s hopped up, hand-loaded .45-70 and the pups first hunt was over.
I kept hunting the pups all through the season and they were running and treeing bear with my main pack as if they were four and five year-old hounds. Things were going great, bears were plentiful and I had top-notch hounds. It seemed like the perfect year for my pups until the last four days of the season. The season had gone by and all the dogs had escaped without any serious injuries. Then, like flipping a switch, the bears’ attitude changed. My pups had been doing great, but none of the bear they had seen really put them to the test. All this was great with me because they were young and I was hoping to get some age on them before they were introduced to some real rank and rough bears.
Well, you know what they say about wishing, and it is exactly right. We were rigging along some old logging roads when the dogs struck and we turned loose. The dogs went directly over the hill and began to trail the bear. In no time at all, they had the bear jumped out of his daytime bed and running toward a big canyon. I had turned half of my pups loose and the other half I had kept for a future turn in. I knew the dogs were going to the big canyon where the creeks come together so I pulled out on a point were I could hear them. When I stepped out to listen for my dogs, I heard them bayed about 400 yards directly below me. I turned my remaining pups loose and they joined in with the others immediately. The sound of the bay job was intense and made this houndsman smile. You could almost feel the vibration of the dog’s voices coming out of the canyon. As I listened to the dogs work the bear, I began to wonder if turning my pups loose on a bear like this was a great idea. Time went on and it became certain that the bear was not going to tree. I needed to make a decision of how to get the hunter to this bear on the ground and kill it. The bear was baying up in a side canyon that had a road all the way around it. I knew that our best opportunity was to get the hunter above of the bear. After hiking around the road, it was not long and the hunter and I were on top of the bear and dogs. We saw the bear and dogs several times, we just could not get the right shot. I explained to my hunter that the bear must be dead when he pulled the trigger or we were going to get dogs hurt. As we were trying to get ourselves positioned in front of the bay job and let the bear come to us, I could hear sounds from dogs that were being caught by the bear. Things were definitely starting to get wild and I had all those young pups to worry about. The bear was making his way right to us and the roar of the dogs was about to fall right into our lap. Our set up was perfect and the bear was within ten yards of us and closing.
Right when I told the hunter to shoot, the bear turned and downed one of my pups. It grabbed him and stuffed him in a hole where a log had been uprooted. It reminded me of a bull getting a rider down and trying to grind him into the ground. I told the hunter to shoot the bear and he said “I can’t hit him in the head.” I replied “I don’t care, shoot him in the top of the shoulders and now.” As soon as he pulled the trigger, the bear let go of my pup and rolled down the hill. I grabbed the hunter and we followed the bear through the brush to make sure that it was dead and not going to hurt any more dogs.When the smoke had cleared and the hunter and dogs were settled down, I started to assess dogs and wounds. All six pups that were turned loose were there. Three of the six had bad wounds, but they stuck it out to the end. That is the kind of percentage I expect out of my main dogs but not out of pups. My hunter said that he had hunted all over the world for several different species and had never had the rush of adrenaline like he had on this hunt.
Another hunter who had hunted with me several times before called and said that he would like to go bear hunting and it looked like the last day would be the only time he could get off from work. I gave the dogs two days off and we were down to the last day of season. I had put the dogs on strong antibiotics and they were doing rather good for what they had endured.
On the morning of the season’s final day we headed out to see if we could come up with the last bear of the year. I left one of the pups home because his injuries were bad enough that I figured he should not run. My hunter on this trip was a bowhunter and he had his sights high on a Pope and Young black bear and I told him that the chance of filling that requirement was good. Early that morning the dogs struck a very cold track. Only a couple of the old dogs got out on the track. Mike Stockton, who is an outfitter and guide for me, found the two dogs that got out on the cold track and was able to get his dogs turned into the race.
The race headed off in a direction where the only way to follow the dogs was on ATVs. After locating the dogs, we knew right away that they were bayed and that the bear we were dealing with was every bit as rank as the last one. The dogs came baying the bear down the steep draw right to us where Mike and I got a direct turn in on the bay. Every dog we owned was on the bear, including the pups. The bear came fighting right up to the edge of the road where we were standing. The bear turned back up the hill and was walking right along side the road. It was a good opportunity for us to see what dogs were doing what. All the pups and main dogs were giving it all they had. They could not have barked at the bear any harder. Some dogs were trying to grab the bear, but the bear was one that demanded some respect. Every time a dog tried to bite the bear, the bear would chase the dogs out through the woods.
The bear tried for a second time to cross the old logging road that we were on. I told the guys that were with me not to let him cross. I said, “We need to keep him above the road if we can.” About the third time the bear tried to cross the road I knew I had to do something because bayed bears and bowhunters do not get along. I knew that we were going to have to break the bear out of his game plan and with any luck, by breaking his plan he would tree. When the bear approached the road for the third time I had a rock in my right hand waiting for him. When I saw his head right in front of me, I give it all I had and hit him right on top of the head and that made his game plan change. He whirled around and headed back up the hill. For the next several hours the dogs bayed that bear all over the hillside. I was wondering how the pups were doing and if they were going to make it to the end. The bear finally got out of the thick brush and small trees and went into some country where the timber was much larger. Just before reaching the top of the hill, he found a tree that suited him just fine.
When arriving at the tree the first thing I did was see what pups were there. All the pups were accounted for and the one that had been hurt by the previous bear had been injured again. If I had not have seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. Young dogs like that are almost unheard of. Several older dogs had been bitten by this bear also. The hunter got his bow out and we found the best place for him to stand for the shot. After launching a few practice arrows he put a perfect heart and lung shot on the bear. Within seconds the bear hit the ground completely dead. It was a big male whose skull will easily go in Pope and Young. The hunter was more than pleased with his bear but not half as much as I was with my pups.
I have hunted nearly every kind of hound there is. Until I tried the strain of dogs that Mike Kemp put together, I did not know what I was missing. I have owned some awesome bear dogs that caught every bear I put them after, but none that started as early or were as wound up as these young dogs are. These dogs are like miniature old dogs. They are easy to handle and quick to learn. After one trip to the woods they were always loaded in the truck and made every bear race they were turned into. They are certainly a strain of bear dog that I do not plan on being without.
Any hunters that are interested in going on the best bear hunt of their life can contact Reggear Outfitters at 208-476-5638, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.reggearoutfitters.com.
Any hound hunters who are interested in the background of the dogs that I am hunting can visit www.threebearkennels.com or contact Mike Kemp at 208-289-4686.