by Clay Newcomb            

In this episode of “From The Global Headquarters” Bear Hunting Magazine publisher, Clay Newcomb, shows how he renders bear fat into oil using a Fry Daddy. Just for kicks, Clay uses a bear baculum to stir the fat (baculum = penis bone). He and a friend just got back from All Terrain Bear Hunts in Manitoba and harvested the fat off a large bear. There are many practical uses for bear fat including cooking and lubrication, but also some folklorie-ish type uses including a baldness remedy and a using a clear jar of fat in a window to forecast the weather. This video shows all the steps for rendering bear fat. Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/o6zGHjbifd4

how to render bear fat

            Historically, rendered bear fat was a valuable commodity because it didn’t go rancid as quickly as pork fat, and was even used a medium of currency in many parts of the American frontier. The rendered fat of a bear symbolizes much more than just “fat.” It symbolizes the biological success of a species that was designed to live, adapt, and thrive in the rugged wilderness that we all appreciate so deeply. The fat of a bear symbolizes success. The feat of harvesting a bear once meant that your family would be well-stocked throughout the winter. It meant that the challenges of living in the Northern hemisphere would be less severe. A bear is a master at gathering calories and storing them. In the same token, those calories can be transferred to the hunter through this ancient ritual we call “hunting”. There was a time when the people in North America were trying to put ON calories, not take them OFF. Bear meat is rich source of organic, healthy caloric content.

            The rendered fat of a bear, known as “bear grease”, was once an extremely valuable commodity financially and practically. In the 1800’s, and before, in most of North America there were no regulations on hunting and market hunters harvested bruins in excess. One of the main objectives of these entrepreneurs was to make ‘bear grease’. Bear hunting in many regions of the country was a lucrative business, especially where the bear commodities could be exported effectively to urban markets. One small town in Independence County, Arkansas, named Oil Trough, got its name because of the volume of rendered bear fat it produced. Records show that in the mid 1800’s bear grease could be sold for $1 per gallon and it was measured in “ells”. An ell was a unit of measurement used to contain, transport and measure the oil and it was made from the tanned neck of a deer/ The rendered bear fat or bear grease had many valuable uses back then and still does today.

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By Jacob VanHouten

This article appeared in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Bear Hunting Magazine

“Never give up” was the last thing I said before giving it “one more shot” at finding the lost black bear I and two others had been looking for the last 4-5 hours. The bear had been shot the previous night with a crossbow bolt at 16 yards. The hunter was sure he had made a killing shot with a clean pass through from a broadside angle.

            The arrow was located with blood on shaft and fletching…but only a small trace of visible blood at the shot location.  One pin-size drop of blood was located about 30 yards away and that was it.  The three of us had made numerous circles, grids, and moose trail searches without any luck. As we sat on a stump trying not to sweat to death in the Ontario August heat, I told the group I was making another run at it. 

blood trailing dogs

            Following a well-used bear trail that I had already checked out, I went about 200 yards until it slowly dissipated. I decided to “bush whack” and headed at a right angle towards a ridge…meandering through the path of least resistance, I went at least another 300 yards past the trail and there he was. Lying on its back was a nice big (400 lbs. plus) boar. The shot had entered well, but had angled out his groin and the wound had not bled at all externally.  It was eventually a lethal shot, but I had really gotten lucky (the harder you work, the luckier you get) and so had the hunter who had given up hope of ever finding his trophy bear. Getting that bear back to the boat and into camp is a whole other story. 

            After that experience and several “unrecovered” deer, I made a decision to do something about finding lost big game.

 

INCREASING YOUR RECOVERY ODDS USING TRACKING DOGS FOR WOUNDED GAME

 

            If you are a bear hunter, (especially hunting over bait), the loss of a bear may either happen to you or someone you know during your hunting life.  An underutilized method to increase your odds of recovery may include the use of a tracking dog. I am not talking about traditional “bear hounds” used to run and tree. I am talking about “blood tracking” dogs following a bow, crossbow, rifle or shotgun wounded animal.

            The first time I observed a “blood tracking” dog was while volunteering as a deer tracker for limited mobility hunters participating in a NWTF Wheelin’ Sportsmen deer hunt.  Held during the first three days of the rifle season, the hunt allowed hunters to have a chance at bagging a buck or doe with the assistance of staff and volunteers. One of the volunteers brought along his dog, “Gus.”  Several volunteers and hunters were watching Gus, the “different looking” dog, wander around the meeting site greeting people as they arrived.

            “What kind of dog is that?” people would ask.  Gus turned out to be a standard wirehaired Dachshund.  To the untrained eye, this handsome dog did not appear to be a “wiener dog,” which is what most people think of when they hear “Dachshund” (and don’t say “dash hound”), in either size or appearance. 

            After a group of us “master tracker” volunteers could not locate a participant’s wounded deer, Gus came in and found the deer, with absolutely no visible blood, in less than 20 minutes. This was a serious “wow” moment for me. I kept the memory of that experience tucked away.  Fast-forward 10 years, after sharing the experience with my brother-in-law and loaning him the book:  Tracking Dogs for finding Wounded Deer by John Jeanneney, he purchased a pup. He had great success with his dog, which convinced me.

 

Background in using tracking dogs for finding wounded game

 

            The aforementioned book was written by the man that may be considered the “father” of on-leash tracking dogs in the U.S., John Jeanneney of Berne, New York.  First of its kind and in its 2nd edition (2016), his book provides everything needed to start using tracking dogs to recover wounded big game. Richard P. Smith (well-known Michigan native bear man) considers this book a “ground breaking volume” and also says, “This book should be required reading by all state and provincial commissions and administrators who are also responsible for setting regulations regarding the recovery with dogs.”

            A retired university history professor, John Jeanneney is a hunter, tracker, dog trainer/breeder (of wirehaired dachshunds) and author.  John began tracking deer in 1976 after being granted a research license from New York State’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Since that time, he has personally recorded over 1,000 deer “calls” for deer tracking/recovery, as well as numerous bear recoveries

            If interested in finding out more, the group United Blood Trackers (unitedbloodtrackers.org) provides a good starting point. They are “dedicated to promoting resource conservation through the use of trained tracking dogs in the ethical recovery of big game.”  The term “blood tracking” is most often used, even though it can be misleading in that usually when called into action, the dog will be on a track where there is little or no blood present.  With experience and training, dogs can track individual wounded animals by other scents. Although primarily used to recover whitetail, tracking dogs are used for many big game animals such as bear, moose, elk and hogs.

 

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR BEAR RECOVERY

 

  1. Wounded bears many times leave little visible blood, but their strong scent makes them easy to track as far as dachshunds are concerned. They adapt almost immediately, even if they have never tracked a bear… although the dog may give you a “funny look” at first.
  2. Bears should not be tracked with a dog at night when visibility is poor.
  3. In my experience, mortally wounded bears won’t travel as far as deer, so if the track goes on for “miles” (literally), the bear will most likely recover and the tracking job can end.
  4. Most dogs that track wounded deer will track wounded bear without any specialized training.
  5. Bears can be hard to track by eye, but they are easy for a dog because the body and pad scent of the bear is overwhelmingly strong. 

 

The Puppy

 

            After the decision to purchase was made, the application and other paperwork was complete and accepted (yes, this is serious business), my wife and I made the trip to New York to meet John and his wife Jolanta (publisher/editor Teckel Time, Inc. www.born-to-track.com), to pick up our new puppy. Jolanta and John are an incredible couple that truly care about who will purchase one of their puppies and will spend at least half a day with the new owners demonstrating training techniques and other priceless information. The Jeanneney’s only offer one or two litters of puppies per year, so it is not cheap and not easy to acquire, but we were very happy to get one on June 3rd of this year.

            Seeing our pup for the first time in his pen with 5 other puppies, we fell in love with “Jager”… pronounced “Yager,” (the “a” has an umlaut in German), which translates to: “Hunter.” It was chosen due to his lineage being direct from Germany (the breed itself was developed there to hunt badgers and foxes. Dachshund translates into English as: badger hound). Tommy, the sire Dachshund for Jager, is a proven deer and bear tracker and came directly from Germany. 

            John and Jolanta spent time showing us how to use a liver and blood “drag” line to train our young puppy.  At only 9 weeks old, Jager readily followed a one hour-old line, which included three 90-degree turns.  Jager is a born tracker and is now a very happy member of our family.  He has made many dragline tracks since and is currently 5 months old and will be ready for his first real test this fall.  My family jokes that I got this dog only for “poor shooting relatives.”  Not true, but if needed, I am confident that Jager will be ready to try his first recovery this fall.

tracking dogs

 

Training and Use of Tracking Dogs

 

            There are many breeds of dogs that can be used for tracking bear and/or deer. These include the scent hounds such as dachshunds, beagles, bloodhounds, coonhound; pointers/retrievers like labs, golden retrievers, Chesapeakes; curs/border collies; and old breeds like jack russell terriers and German shepherds.  All have their own advantages and disadvantages, of course.

            The dachshund has shown to be a formidable and versatile breed for tracking wounded bear, deer and other big game. With their innate hunting sense, training of a newly purchased dachshund puppy can lead to an excellent chance of developing a usable tracking hound, by reinforcing natural instincts, basic obedience training, and motivating and encouraging a young pup, as well as “on lead.”

            The owner/handler must work in tandem as a team with the tracking dog. Communication with the hunter is important to determine perceived shot location or “wound” which will add to the successful conclusion of any track. Young dogs can be started on a “drag line” of liver and blood and even the preferred German technique of using “Fahrtenshuhe” (Tracking Shoes) which uses an actual deer leg attached to a boot or shoe.  The leg from an individual deer must always be used as dogs recognize individual deer through the interdigital gland found between the hoofs.  A 30-foot lead that does not easily catch on brush can be used (different types of line/rope are used).  Typical rewards at the end of a dragline include “nibbles” on the liver, hide/skin or leg.

            Like any other dog/handler “team,” it is essential that they work together closely. Each can recognize in the other behaviors that will result in the positive outcome of a wounded game animal tracking event, which is of course what the hunter is hoping for, either in the location of the wounded game, or the determination that the shot/wound was not lethal.

 

Learning more

 

            Obviously there is much to know and learn about tracking wounded big game such as bear and deer. Many books and videos are now available (other than the previously mentioned book), but a few other good books include: Tom Brown’s The Science and Art of Tracking (Berkley, 1999); Richard P. Smith’s Tracking Wounded Deer, How to Find and Tag Deer Shot with Bow and Gun (Stackpole Books 1988); and Niels Sonergaard’s Scent and the Scenting Dog (Denmark, 2006).

            As previously mentioned, the group United Blood Trackers.org (questions@unitedbloodtrackers.org) is also a good place to inquire and gain further information, including “Find-a-Tracker” listing and regulations for each state that allows the use of tracking dogs.

            This season and in the future, whether using a bow, rifle, shotgun, crossbow or black powder, make every attempt to make a good lethal shot. However, if not, consider utilizing a tracking dog (either of your own, or from an experienced handler… check state regulations as well) to make your recovery.  Good hunting.

By Steve Herd of Bluff Creek Plotts

This article was published in the July/Aug 2018 issue of Bear Hunting Magazine

I have been asked by Bear Hunting Magazine to write an article about my many thoughts and theories about breeding hounds. To some, the process of breeding two dogs requires little thought. Put the male with the female or the female with the male. I was asked to write this article because I have spent 65 years breeding, raising, hunting and writing about my life with the Plott Hound. I will attempt to provide some ideas about what I believe, and what I’ve learned and some theories that I have developed. If nothing more, I hope it will be entertaining.

Bluff Creek Plott bear hound

 A pair of Bluff Creek Plott hounds. 

BREEDING AND MAINTAINING A BREED AND STRAIN OF TRAIL/TREE HOUND (Bear Hounds)

 

            Many young hunters evolve from just owning and hunting hounds, to the next step of wanting to breed their hounds, and if successful, they may have the desire to continue the process through three or more generations in order to develop a strain. A strain or line of hounds usually shows traits the breeder feels are most important to him. The breeder of a strain has control of the steering wheel and can move his line in about any direction that he desires. Some will breed for more nose, more speed, or harder tree dogs. Some breed for physical traits including size, color, among many other things.        

            There are no breeding police to govern how we breed our dogs.

It’s almost impossible for any one breeder to begin a new breed of hound that raises to the top of what we identify as top hunting hounds. It is also extremely difficult to even maintain a line of dogs who are of the highest caliber for more than three generations.

            Much of what I write is blunt and some may not approve of my style, but in order to breed hounds worthy of the best houndsmen we have to break a few eggs.

History has proven that it is difficult for a breeder to breed beyond three generations without diminishing what they started with. The desire of most breeders to want to change, in some way, the traits of the hounds that they are breeding has most often ended in producing lesser hounds.

bluff creek bouncer steve herd

Steve Herd with Bluff Creek Bouncer. One of his earlier hounds. 

            I am going to try to provide a strategy for producing a line of hunting dogs who would suit most hunters and also who will breed true enough to provide generation after generation of similar dogs. If a man is lucky enough to start with a few dogs who very closely reflect his ideal, then he should attempt to maintain that line of dogs in almost every new generation. The old adage of “don’t fix it if it is not broken” applies. I pride my self in the fact that my dogs look and hunt like the long ago ancestors back 12 to 14 generations.

            The first requirement is that a hunter/breeder must have had the privilege of hunting with a top dog or dogs from his preferred breed. If you have never hunted with one of the phenoms (a dog has that outstanding talented and above and beyond the norm) of your breed than you may not fully understand the extreme talent that certain hounds have attained.  While I was just beginning my own breeding program in the early 1970’s, I traveled to hunt with the dogs and the hunters who had risen to the top of the country in reputation, so that I could see and evaluate what made these dogs so special. At times I was disappointed as some dogs were better in their owners eyes that in the woods, but in the process I got to hunt with some incredible dogs.

            My beginning of my life long journey started just before I turned five years old. My dad DeWayne Herd, bought an impeccably bred, 13-month-old  Plott female, whose sire, North Carolina Tom, was known as one of the early great bear dogs of the newly registered breed of Plott Hound. He was from the most famous cross of his time, Smithdeals Smoky to Smithdeals Cubby. This female’s mother was Von Plotts Fanny whose mother, Lady Plott is now considered one of the blue hens to the Plott breed. I have to mention this part of history because this female who was to be registered as Herds Rio Grande Trouble (RG Trouble), became the foundation of our breeding program, and her influence spread far and wide within a short 10-year period.

Bluff Creek Drive

            The early beginning of my intense belief in line breeding, in breeding and even family-breeding began after Dad had bred RG Trouble four times. Her first mating was to a non-related male (an outcross) and the pups were no more than mediocre and were used to breed on. They had no value as breeding dogs.

            Dad felt that in order to reproduce RG Troubles caliber he need to breed her to a male similar in ability but also in pedigree. He chose here next mate, Herds Smokey, who was already inbred to Lady Plott. Smokey was a son of Lady Plott but whose sire was also a son of Lady Plott. Many frowned upon breeding this tight, but dad wanted to raise the best pups available. It worked. This litter was of a very high caliber and can still be found in pedigrees. Next, Dad chose another male, Ozark Chief, who also was a grandson of Lady Plott. This cross produced so well that it can be found in most Plott pedigrees of today and would have to be considered one of the important frame works of the Plott breed.  RG Trouble was bred once more to a grandson of Lady Plott and once again it produced to the highest level.

            The results of breeding a line of hounds without the use of close line breeding or inbreeding can be argued, but to me the proof is so obvious that I can see no way to maintain a line of hounds without the use of such a great tool.

            After I got out of college, I was hunting with my dad and I got an obsessive desire to once again hunt the dogs and maybe start my own strain. I found it very difficult to find the caliber of Plott that I was searching for. I had three females and they were just very watered down versions of what I had grown up with. In order to tree coon here in Kansas I had to spot light them and encourage the dogs to tree. At about the point of giving up my dad got ahold of Everett Weems in Illinois. Dad bought me a nine-month-old Plott male. This male was tightly bred around the crosses that my dad had made 15 years earlier.

           

The Prototype: Jud

 

            I named him Jud and could quickly see that he was of the old time Plotts that I had spent my youth with. He was high-strung, gamey, barked a little too much at anything that moved. Any rabbit, cat, chicken, or loose dog set him off. I was afraid to turn him loose for the first two weeks. It was late fall and one night I took the three females a mile north up the creek and left Jud home. I hunted by myself and could not handle an extra rowdy dog. I had walked about a half mile toward my house when I could hear a dog treed. The females were still underfoot so I did not know what I was hearing. Upon arriving at the tree I found the Jud pup, still tied to the front of his doghouse, but which had been torn off the sides. He was treed solid and had three coon up. I was in disbelief. I unchained him and we continued the hunt and treed two more coon. By the end of the season Jud tree over 90 more coon. He was completely straight on coon and he never even bumped anything else. If I attempted to bobcat hunt him he would pull off and tree a coon. He would never leave a tree and so at the end of a long hunt I would have to go get him. He became my proto type. I had to have more like him.

Everett Weems and Steve Herd

Everett Weems and Steve Herd. Steve got a pup from Everett named Jud that became a big part of his bear hound breeding program. 

            I began to study his long six-generation pedigree to see how a dog could be that complete in all the traits. It was with that beginning that I began my long adventure and complete obsession of breeding his type hound. Here are my thoughts, theories, beliefs, experiences, and advice on breeding better hounds.

 

How to Breed Better Bear Hounds

 

Establish a prototype - Find a dog who excels on your preferred species of game. If you cannot buy such a dog, use his offspring to begin your line. If you find such a dog spend time with the owner or especially the breeder, to find out how they produced a dog of that caliber. You must have a solid example of what you expect in a dog. As described, Jud was my template to begin my program. I found two females who were half sisters to Jud and bred them to a littermate male to Jud’s mother. The crosses worked in my first attempt. Those two litters were solid coon, cat, and bear dogs with dogs like Bearpath Gunner, Allheart Millie, Bluff Creek Sarge, Becky, Jody, etc. gaining national attention.

Crossing the best of those two tightly bred litters together again established my strain and I am now in my 8th generation and if you include my dads contribution, we are at 11 generations.

 

Words of advice for Breeding Bear Hounds

 

            Begin with the very best specimen of the breed that you can possibly find. Never settle for less than you want to spend your hard earned dollars and boot leather on. Let your experiences begin to build you judgment on what is good and what is great. Never let yourself be fooled by the difference between common and what is exceptional. When you have dogs worthy of breeding, and you get your first litter, study it. Picking the exceptional pup or pups from a litter is difficult but not impossible. Selection is a “gut” feeling at first and over the years and generations it becomes a gut feeling from experience. If you have the luxury of keeping a whole littler until they are around three months old, then it will be far easier to choose your next generation. If you are happy with the ancestors that are stacked behind your litter then use those ancestors as your pattern by choosing pups who closely resemble the parents and grandparents. Any attempt to change the looks, size, color, build, or physical characteristics from that of the ancestors may also have a negative impact on the hunting traits of the pups.

            Most outstanding hunting hounds from any breed have been bred, and hunted, and culled for many generations by hard hunters and master breeders until, if mated correctly, they can reproduce themselves at a very high percentage.

            As mentioned earlier, the tight crossing of dogs from the same family, having multiple common ancestors, is called family breeding. When breeding closer than that, using very close ancestors or multiple siblings in a short pedigree it is called linebreeding. The most risky but also the most rewarding in my experience is inbreeding. This is breeding 1/2 brother to sister mating. Mating a grandaughter to her grand sire, or grandson to his grandmother. At one time it was believed that such close mating’s would always bring out many unwanted, negative traits that weakened the offspring - well part of that is true. By close breeding many unwanted traits did surface, but the master breeder used that occurrence to cleanse his line. Pups and at times, even one or more of the parents were culled.

            Breeding tightly around closely related, outstanding, “purified”, mates sooner or later provided the breed with a male or female who were considered “pre-potent.” A pre-potent animal was so loaded up with the genetics that he stamped his desired ability into many offspring. The pre-potent traits could be physical traits easily identified by the naked eye (phenotype), or they could be hunting and behavior traits not identified until exposed to game and hunting conditions (genotype). The top males of a breed are exposed to far more females and can produce far more offspring in their reproductive life than a female. However a female can also be a pre-potent mate and when a male and female, both from the same family or line, both possessing the gift of pre-potency are mated to each other then we expect and often see offspring from that cross becoming what we like to call PHENOMS.

            My Jud male was from a pre-potent male and a highly pre-potent female. The level of his performance equaled both his sire and dams. I have been asked if a dog can be pre-potent if not from a tightly bred, line bred style pedigree. I am not aware of a dog from the breed of Plott hound that was pre-potent to desired traits, that was from an outcross pedigree. Some dogs produced size, color, behavior problems and other noticeable traits from many different mates but these were more of a mutation from the standard of the breed than a desired trait.

 

One of my less popular theories on Breeding Bear Hounds

 

Color and Hunting Ability - I believe, from past experiences, that color can and often does play a part in the hunting ability and the reproduction quality of certain lines of tightly bred hounds. I am convinced that some performance traits are somehow linked to the color of the dog. In my strain a light brindle dog will usually not have the nose power of the dark brindle mates. The light brindle will have more of a locating ability and possibly a sharper intelligence. If selecting pups for a coonhunter I will send the lighter brindle. If sending a young dog to a bear hunter or lion hunter I would pick a very dark individual. When talking to many, hard core, top bear or big game hunters over the nation, I find that many agree completely and search out the darker brindle dogs. We feel that the gene to produce the lighter brindle is attached to the gene that has some control over the nose and other hunting traits.

BLuff Creek Donna and Bearpath Gunner

Bluff Creek Donna and Bearpath Gunner were both great bear hounds that came out of Bluff Creek kennels. 

 

Size - After hunting with a breed of hounds for many generations, an observant hunter must see that there certain physical traits that effect a hound by making him more competent or less. So many people just like a big dog. I have known breeders who always kept the biggest pup from each litter. If bigger means leggy, then I understand as it takes good legs to fly on a track, but I could never see how a large boned, heavy, houndy-eared dog could be expected to compete with a more athletic dog. At one time the Plott breed was nearly overtaken by the 80 to 90-pound male dogs who did not represent the breeding done in the past to produce this breed of hound. Carrying an extra four to ten pounds can handicap a 1200-pound Thoroughbred horse. I feel a dog is also handicapped by too much bulk.

 

Looks - Another far-fetched theory of mine is that often a dog can be pre-judged by looking in his eyes. An intelligent, shiny eyed dog who seems to just “look right through you” is one of the unwritten qualities that you may have not read but it has been discussed throughout my life by the old timers. The hound who looks like his name might be dumbo, might be missing some of the grey matter that is needed to make all of his genetics work. Intelligence can at times be a noticeable trait according to the look in the eyes.

            Breeders of champion livestock including, champion horses, champion milk cows, grand champion swine, and even into the world of dogs, only have to bred for a few traits. Bare with me, a show dog just has to look real good or a greyhound just has to run fast. The breeder only has to breed for a very few traits. Establish that one or two traits and breed to embellish it and you are almost home.

            I know of no other animal that has to be bred to the same level of excellence for SO many traits as the trail/tree hound. List the traits of the best of any breed and it goes on forever; nose to trail, intelligence to follow a track hours old, speed to gain on the pursued game, straightness to not run off game, locating ability to find the smallest game up the biggest tree, treeing traits to keep a dog treed for hours, courage to stop big game on the ground with or without help, temperament to not clash with other dogs even though they may be rough under a tree for hours, conformation for speed, tough, tight feet for soundness, stamina, a voice clear and loud enough to allow the hunter to follow (before Garmin)...the list goes on. It may be easy to produce hounds that are not complete; who are used as pack dogs but this article is about producing to the top of the breed. A really true balanced dog, who has it all in ability traits but also physical traits, has to be considered one of the greatest of mans accomplishments in the animal world.

 

One last trait: DESIRE - I discovered in my first attempt of breeding hounds that in order to bring to life all of the genetics that a dog may possess, that there is a fuel to ignite all of those genes. It is DESIRE. My first great dogs all possessed this trait in spades. At times it was difficult to put up with a dog who would put their desire above their own safety. Digging into the earth to fight a denned coon on a riverbank. Trailing down a high way through traffic with no thought of quitting. Continuing to hunt with severe injuries or caked with ice in 10 degree temps. The desire to hunt with no pad left on their feet. A dog with super desire can almost always be usable because they may overpower their weaknesses with sheer determination driven by desire.

 

I hope that this article is an enjoyable read even if many will not be in agreement with many of my thought on breeding dogs.

STEVE HERD

Herds Rio Grande Trouble and Chief

Herds Rio Grande Trouble and Chief were some of the original Plotts owned by Steve's father.