A bear camp full of firsts makes this journey to the North Woods an epic experience!
By: Brian Strickland
Check out this link for great Quebec Outfitters: https://www.pourvoiries.com/en/bear-hunting-magazine/
I really didn’t know what to expect when the wheels touched down at Montreal’s international airport. First off, whenever you travel to another country, even though it’s just across our northern border, it’s an adventure in and of itself. Preparing just for the initial journey seems to take on a whole new meaning, let alone the worries of luggage arriving when you do, delays, layovers and making sure you bring everything you need to help make the hunt successful. Furthermore, when I invited the fetching Mrs. Strickland to accompany me on this North Wood’s adventure, you want the whole affair to go as planned.
The cabin the author stayed in at Lake Suzie Lodge in Quebec. www.pourvoirielacsuzie.com
Prior to this, I had traveled to Canada several times to hunt bears and whitetails, and on all but one of those I made the long drive from my Colorado home. The one time I decided to fly I ended up waiting nearly two days for my bow to arrive behind me. Needless to say, when our feet touched the sweet Canadian soil on this trip, we were more than happy to see that all our luggage had arrived as planned. It was now time to jump into the rental car and start the eight hour journey north into the Canadian Boreal forest.
When I was invited by Quebec Outfitters (www.pourvoiries.com/en-us/) to hunt with Serge Dapra of Lake Suzie Outfitter (www.pourvoirielacsuzie.com), I was more than eager to accept. Not only do I love hunting the most overlooked big game animal in North America, the Ursus Americanus, but I also truly love my hunting brethren north of the border. Every time I have ventured Canada, the hunting experience has been exceptional, and the people even better. After talking with Serge several times over the phone, I knew that this experience would be as good as all the rest.
Quebec is the largest province in Canada and is over 600,000 square miles. Its Boreal forest provides ideal bear habitat and is known for providing high success rates on black bears. An added bonus is Quebec’s 500,000-plus lakes with the vast majority of them brimming with lake trout, walleye and northern pike, just to name a few. Although Quebec is often overlooked as a trophy bear destination, a 250 to 300-plus pound bruin is a real possibility.
Witnessing the changing topography as we drove north was stunning and the planned eight hour drive ended up taking us ten as we took in every ounce of the scenery. The farther north we drove the more remote it became as the paved roads turned into two-track logging roads in some cases. When we saw a moose lazily feeding in some un-named lake and a black flash of bear hide dart across the road, I knew that bear camp was just around the corner. After getting settled into our comfortable cabin, slinging a few arrows and enjoying an evening meal, we dozed off eager to get started the following day.
One of the best things about bear camps are the people you come into contact with, and this one was no different. I’ll admit, when I first started hunting over three decades ago I was more of a solitary hunter and frankly preferred it. However, as my hair has slowly grayed and face began to wrinkle, so has my outlook of a hunt. Sure, my ultimate goal is to punch a tag, but making new friends and seeing the expressions on their face as they relive the excitement of a hunt has become just as important.
A Camp Full of Firsts
It wasn’t long before I learned that camp was full of first-time bear hunters, and when Tennessee hunter Torey Helton pulled into camp with his first bear, I knew he had a story to share. Like many, a Canadian bear hunt had been on Torey’s bucket list for a long time, and when he gifted his dad Elbert a bear hunt for his 70th birthday, Torey decided it was a good time to check off the hunt as well.
Torey had never seen a bear in the wild before and was eager to get started on his first hunt. Needless to say, he was a little disappointed when nothing slipped into the bait that first evening. When he arrived to hunt the same stand the following afternoon, he could tell nothing had hit the bait since he had left previously. Admittedly, he was a little disappointed.
Torey hunted hard for several hours, scanning the woods for any hint of movement but after sitting like a statute for several hours he had to stand and stretch. Feeling that the coast was clear, he began to stand and as soon as he did he noticed a pair of black eyes staring at him from 30 yards away. Because this was the first bear he had ever seen, he really didn’t have a baseline on which to judge his size, but his big head and plump body told him that he was big enough. As the bear eased towards the bait and Torey thought about grabbing his .270, but every time he tried the bear would stop and stare up at him. This cat and mouse game went on several times, preventing Torey from grabbing his rifle before the bruin slipped out of sight.
Andy with a great bear killed at Lake Susie Lodge in Quebec.
Hunting is about highs and lows, and this encounter was definitely a low point for Torey. But like any season hunted, he knew another opportunity would come and a couple hours later it did. When Torey saw black hide coming up the same trail the first bear left on, he initially thought it was the same bruin and this time he was ready! As the bear stepped into the open the sling on Torey’s gun made a “ping” when it hit the stand. The bear immediately looked up and Torey could tell he was about to leave.
Upon squeezing the trigger the bear flipped on his back to Torey’s relief, but seconds later jumped back on his feet and bounded away. Concerned at first that he might have muffed a second opportunity with a poor shot, but was quickly relieved when he heard the distinct death moan seconds later.
Remembering a Friend
When I arrived back at camp on the third evening of my hunt, I was greeted by yet another first bear event, and this one was special. Serge Lestage calls northern Quebec home, and he first met Gilles Taillefer while on his family’s annual summer fishing trip. Serge was only 14 years old when they first met and in his young eyes Gilles was a giant of a man. Standing some 6-foot 2-inches tall, and pushing 200-plus pounds, Gilles was the iconic sportsman who hunted and hooked virtually every game animal or fish that Canada had to offer.
Every summer he spent time with Gilles during the family vacation, and over the years they became great friends despite their 24 year age difference. Although they never hunted big game together, they started to plan a trip to the Quebec bush when Gilles was diagnosed with cancer. After a tough three-year battle, Gilles passed away.
A beautiful black bear taken at Lake Suzie in Quebec.
Surge had never hunted big game before, but like any good friend he wanted to finish what he and Gilles had started. With a rare .303 1941 Lee Enfield rifle that Gilles had left him, Surge found himself in a treestand hoping for a successful finish. On the second night of the hunt, Surge had a good bear show up, but having never hunted bears before he let him walk not knowing what a “good” bear really was. He later learned it as a great bear after showing the video of the bear to the outfitter.
A couple days later Surge had another opportunity at a good bear at a different bait site but this time he didn’t hold back. When he let the World War I British .303 bark, the bear flipped on its side and died just five steps from the bait. Like Gilles always said, “aim small miss small.” Surge did just that.
A Second Chance
I was down to the last days of my hunt when Pennsylvania Bowhunter Andy Granger rolled into camp. Like many of the others, this was also his first bear hunt, as well as his first time to Canada’s Boreal forest, and he was taking in every inch of it. After serving as a combat engineer is Iraq, whose job was to locate and destroy Improvised Explosive Devises, he had seen and heard things that put life into perspective. While he enjoys every aspect of the hunt, as a recent Sitka film so eloquently put it, the woods have become Andy’s “Place of Peace.” A place where he can forget about some of the awful things he experienced, if only for a little while.
Andy’s first night on stand was action packed. He saw a total of five bears, one of which he knew at first sight was the kind he was after. He caught the bear’s pumpkin-sized head staring at him just a few yards away as he stood on his hind-legs resting his paws on a tree. As much as Andy would have loved to end his hunt on the first night, it just wasn't meant to be. The heavy coal-black body never paused at the bait like Andy expected, so all he could do was watch him fade into the bush.
A full stringer of walleye's at Lake Suzie Lodge in Quebec. You fish after you bear hunt!
Needless to say, Andy’s anticipation was high the following days but he never saw another bear. Rainy weather seemed to be the biggest culprit for the lack of bear activity, and when he climbed into his stand that final day, it was much the same. For five hours he sat in a bone-soaking, cold, steady rain and was seriously considering throwing in the towel when a flash of black hide appeared in the bush. As the bear stood on his hind-legs once again, Andy could tell it was the same bear from the first day. It was obvious that the bear knew something wasn’t right, so with a hairraising grunt the walked away.
The next couple of minutes the bear would enter the bait site and then walk away, leaving Andy without a shot. The once mentally draining hunt had completely flipped upside down, and all Andy could do was hope his determination would be rewarded.
When the bear came in the third time he made a critical mistake when reaching his paw forward to move a log that was covering the bait. Fully exposed Andy pressed his Matthews bow into service and touched his release, putting an end to his Quebec adventure.
I would love to end my recount of Quebec’s Boreal Bruins with another bear hide collected, meat in the freezer and the excitement of a hard-earned prize, but sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Surge and his guide Mario worked exceptionally hard to pull a mature bruin into range by keeping the baits full, as well as fresh, but with only a couple bears seen the first six days, I was down to my last.
Like magic his black hide appeared from the bush with just minutes to spare, and as I watched him ease into range I couldn’t help but think how this was the perfect ending to my Quebec odyssey. When the string touched my nose I released, and in a flash the arrow was gone. I told myself it was a good release, but the low impact of my arrow told me otherwise. The blood trail eventually ran out, as well as my time in the Quebec bush, but with a camp full of bear hunting firsts, and new friends, I was still pleased with the outcome.
Lake Suzie Outfitter (www.pourvoirielacsuzie.com)
Surge Dapra loves hunting black bears, but also offers moose hunts in the fall. Being a bowhunter himself, he knows what a bowhunter needs in order to get close for a quality shot. Surge has been outfitting since 2008 and has exclusive outfitting rights to over 160 square miles of the northern Quebec bush, and when you add the 250 square miles of public land that surrounds him that gets virtually no hunting pressure from the locals, you have a chunk of ground to hunt. To top it off, he has access to over 100 lakes that are filled with exceptional walleye and northern pike fishing opportunities. Needless to say, a successful spring bear hunt can quickly turn into a rod-bending adventure on these remote lakes.
Sep 10 2018
By Clay Newcomb
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.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
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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Sep 03 2018
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.
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
- 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.
- Bears should not be tracked with a dog at night when visibility is poor.
- 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.
- Most dogs that track wounded deer will track wounded bear without any specialized training.
- 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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.
Aug 15 2018
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
Herds Rio Grande Trouble and Chief were some of the original Plotts owned by Steve's father.
Aug 10 2018
By Bernie Barringer
Black Bear Hunting using Bait
Early in my education as a bear hunter I had read several things about doing a honey burn. I became convinced I had to use this technique, so I planned it as my ace in the hole when opening day arrived.
I had a couple bears coming to my bait site and my scouting camera showed that one was fairly consistent in coming to the bait in the last moments of legal shooting light. When opening day arrived, I loaded up my gear, including the materials to do a honey burn. When I arrived at the stand, I started the burn just as the experts had instructed me to.
A couple hours later, a bear appeared on the outskirts of the area, first as nothing more than a dark spot that moved through a small opening. Then I saw it again, sitting on its haunches up on the hillside overlooking the bait. He had the wind in his favor and he wasn’t moving. Smugly, I thought my idea of doing the honey burn was going to be just the inducement I needed to bring in this obviously cautious bear.
Hunting black bears over bait is a great way to be selective when bear hunting.
But it was not to be. He disappeared a while later and never appeared at the bait. Looking back over the many years since that day, I am now convinced that the honey burn was the reason he did not come in.
Bears become well accustomed to the sights, scents and smells of the bait site. Within the first couple visits, they have it figured out. I like to call it the “bait package.” The package includes everything to do with the bait itself and the movements of the humans and animals—including but not limited to—the other bears using the bait.
They eventually get comfortable with the bait package, and the more comfortable they are the more likely they are to approach the bait during daylight hours. If anything seems off, such as a new smell or sight, the more cautious bears, especially more mature males, may just use that as a reason to back off and wait a while before coming in.
Having the benefit of another 15 years of experience since the day I used that honey burn, I can see that what I did was really throw that bear a curveball. He hadn’t smelled that particular scent in all the other times he had arrived at the site, so he just decided his desire to get the good food wasn’t worth the commitment.
Lending credibility to that belief is the evidence from the trail cameras. He didn’t come back for a few days and then only after dark.
Over the years I have been quite cautious about the scents around my bait sites. I often bait for family and friends, and I involve them in the baiting a few times so their scent becomes part of the bait package.
In what some might consider a move that’s overkill, I keep track of which types of lures I use at bait sites and try not to vary it too much. I open most all my baits with a mixture of cooking oil and Northwoods Gold Rush, an additive to the cooking oil that makes it smell like butterscotch. I’ll pick another spray scent for the bait and use it on the bushes all around the bait. For fall bear hunting, I like the fruit smells such as blueberry, cherry, raspberry and sweet smells such as Gold Mist, which smells just like Gold Rush.
As the baiting period goes on, I grab the same bear lure as I head into the bait site so I am not mixing things up too much. The trails become obvious over time, so I spray the bushes along the trails with the scent, which causes the bear to get it on their fur so they smell it all the time. It comes a part of their daily lives and gives them a feeling of comfort around the bait.
Older bears can be super cautious, so tossing a different smell at them from time to time can really put them on edge. Don’t give them any excuse to become edgy and possibly go nocturnal on you. Once they do, it’s very difficult to get them off the nighttime pattern. I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of bears who come more boldly to the site in the daylight when everything is more consistent.
Consistency in what time of the day you bait is important as well. Bears often smell your ground scent on the trail you use to approach the bait, and they know how old it is. If you normally bait, say, between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. the bears expect your ground scent to be five hours old when they arrive at 7:00 p.m., for example. Consistency gives them a feeling of safety. Don’t mess too much with your timing.
The same is true for the day you hunt. If they are accustomed to smelling five-hour-old scent but the day you hunt you come in at 5:00 p.m. and the bear comes at 7:00 p.m. as usual, suddenly your scent is much fresher. Any reason you can give them to exercise a little more caution might cause them to back off, and that’s never a good thing.
If you’ve bear hunted very long, you have noticed a bear that tends to circle around a bait site before committing. That’s not to say they will make an entire loop, but mature bears often walk a path along the downwind side of the bait site to check it out. They want to know if any other bears are at the site, they also want to know if the fresh food is there. And they are checking for anything out of the ordinary.
I’ve noticed that many of these bears are not just winding the location, but I think they are intentionally crossing my entry trail. I am convinced that they are checking the age of my ground scent I left while walking in. If there’s little to no variation in the normal pattern, that’s one more box they can check off that makes them feel safe coming to the bait. It fits into the normal bait package.
Of course this brings up the issue that one day, suddenly you are at the bait when you never were before. This is the hardest part of the variation in bait package to overcome. There are three critical things that must be done to improve your chances of that bear committing to the bait: using the wind to your advantage, scent control and movement.
I’ll bet you that movement has saved the lives of far more bears than being winded. They have much better vision than most people realize, and their eyes are optimized for picking up the slightest movement. It’s critical to stay still on the stand because you never know when a bear may be in the area observing. It’s rare to see a bear before he sees you if you are swatting mosquitoes, messing with your phone or eating a sandwich.
I do my best to choose treestand locations where I can use the wind to my advantage, and there are a few baits that I will only hunt in certain winds. I’ve had two stands at some baits for varying wind directions. But mainly I minimize my scent impact by using scent-killing products. I’m not an advocate of any strategy that accepts the elimination of human scent, but there is value in reducing it. Scent Killer spray helps with this, as do scent killing laundry detergents and antibacterial soaps, shampoos and deodorants. Keep yourself clean and as free from human scent as is possible. It’s not magic, but it can tip the odds in your favor when a mature bear is deciding whether or not the bait site looks and smells safe enough to approach.
When it comes to baiting patterns, scents and lures, and human odor, you might as well let the bears pattern you. They are going to have your habits pegged no matter what you do and consistency offers them comfort. You might as well use their tendencies to analyze every aspect of the bait location to your advantage.