This is the third article in Bear Hunting Magazine's series on Legendary Bear Hounds
By Clay Newcomb
The legacies and stories of the dogs included in the Legendary Bear Hound series epitomize what we love about hound hunting. Bearpath Gunner and Shamrock’s Timex, both Plotts, were the first two in our series. In this article, we’ll look at a legendary line of Walker hounds. Dogs that stand out from the pack because of the their drive, toughness, nose and intelligence intrigue every houndsman, beckoning memories of their own hounds. The truth of the matter, however, is that most bear run and treed are done so behind good dogs or even average ones. Legendary hounds are few and far between. They aren’t the norm and you don’t have to have one to have an excellent, effective pack. Though everybody is looking for that great hound.
As we move forward in this series, I continue to be struck by one significant impression. The men and women that have raised and handled the hounds we’ve highlighted, from my observation, have exemplified the true spirit of the houndsman. All of these men have been committed for decades to their respective lines of hounds. They are committed to conservation and the continuation of hound hunting as a viable and valuable aspect of science-based bear management in North America. Lastly, they are upstanding people that have been a pleasure to deal with. None of them have sought ought recognition or are driven by a competitive spirit to out-do another. Though they take pride in their hounds and their accomplishments, they’ve all spoken highly of their fellow houndsman, careful to never take anything away from another handler or breed of dog. I appreciate that.
Troy Huff with a fine pack of Nance bred Walkers and a Michigan black bear. Check out the Michigan Bear Hunters Association of which the Huffs have been long time members and supporters of.
Keith Huff of Michigan fits right in with the aforementioned qualities. Two data points can be arbitrary, but three data points is beginning of a trend. Keith is the third houndsman that I’ve interviewed in this series. Born and raised in Michigian, now 70 years old, Keith served as the president of the Michigan Bear Hunter’s Association (MBHA) in 1972. Since that time, both of his sons, still heavily involved in hound hunting, have served as president in later years. According to Keith, “The MBHA has been the salvation of our hound hunting in Michigan, along with other dog associations.” One of the prerequisites for hunting with the Huffs is that you’ve got to be a paying member of the MBHA. Keith is a believer in a united hound community, and that strength is gained by numbers.
The Nance Bred Line
If you know much about Walker lines, then you are familiar with the Nance line of breeding. Starting in 1932 in Indiana, a coonhunter by the name Lester Nance started breeding a line of Walker Foxhounds that would later be recognized as Treeing Walkers. Nance knew he had an excellent line that was different than their “Running Walker” relatives and had a strong desire to tree. Nance is indisputably credited as the father of the Treeing Walker breed.
Nance’s first Walker was a dog he named ‘White River King.’ Nance promoted his dogs at the World’s Fair in the 1940s and labored diligently to promote this new line of treedog. He first worked with the Full Cry Kennel Club (started in 1940) to officially recognize the breed in 1943. Two years later the United Kennel Club (UKC) began recognizing the “English Coonhound” that would later, in 1978, be officially recognized as the Treeing Walkers, which was what Nance originally called them.
Huff's Rufus was one of the best bear and cat hounds that Keith has ever owned.
Keith got involved with the Nance Bred line through a man by the name of Roger Redick. In 1947, Redick brought some Nance bred Treeing Walkers to Michigan to hunt bobcats. When Redick hunted, he stayed in a trailer on Keith’s father’s land. Corresponding with the line of dogs arriving in Michigan, in the 1950s, Carl Johnson, a state official with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, pushed heavily for hound hunting for bears to be allowed in the state. This was the perfect setting for the new Treeing Walkers to thrive in Michigan.
As a teenager, Keith hunted with Redick’s hounds, and to make a long story short, in 1967, after getting out of the service, he took over the Nance line of breeding in Michigan. Since that time Keith has overseen 67 generations of Treeing Walkers. “I am very selective in my breeding. I don’t just pick a pup from a litter, but they have to be good on two sides. The male and the female have to be top notch.” Keith says.
The Nance bred dogs are known to have all the traits that make bear dogs great. In Keith’s breeding program he is looking primarily for four things and in this order: cold nose, speed, aggression and endurance. “The ability to jump game is very important to me.” Keith says. He also added, “Walkers are typically bred for coon hunting in the south and that’s what they prefer to chase, but these dogs love to chase bear. My dogs are also known for their aggression, if they bay a bear they won’t leave.” This may be the defining characteristic of the Nance line that Keith runs. That being said, “We run the same dogs on coyote that we do on bear, but they never run coyotes when we’re in bear country.”
Keith says that the best dog that he’s ever owned was named ‘PR’ Huff’s Rufus. The dog was born in 1972 to a litter of six dogs, which all turned out to be outstanding tree hounds. “Rufus had the best nose of any dog I’ve owned. He had grit, intelligence, common sense and stamina. He was very balanced between ability and intelligence.” Keith recalls. Rufus was also an excellent bobcat dog, but preferred to run bear. One of his outstanding traits was his cold nose. “If a track was made within the last 24 hours, he would tree the bear.” Keith said. His only faults where, “He was a large dog, probably 70 pounds. And When he was older, he couldn’t back track himself very well and he’d get lost.” Keith admitted.
Common thread among the legendary bear dogs we’ve written about has been their performance when they were young. Keith knew that he had a special hound when, at six months old, Rufus jumped out of the truck window and joined a pack of hounds running a bobcat. The young dog joined the race and treed hard. “He was just such a natural.” Keith said.
A beautiful Michigan bobcat. Keith likes to have dual purpose hounds that run bear and cat.
A second common theme among many great dogs is their ability to handle and be trained. Rufus never had to be led on a leash and he stayed in the house most of his life. Keith said, “When in the house, you would tell him to “go to his room” and he’d go and lay on the his rug and stay there. When it was time to doctor him, you’d tell him to sit down and he’d open his mouth and take medicine. You could tell him to jump in the back seat of the vehicle and he would.”
How many treed bears was Rufus involved with? “We treed between 40 and 60 bears per year and Rufus lived to be 12 years old.” When you do that the math, as a conservative figure, Rufus helped tree over 500 bears in his lifetime. Additionally, Keith estimates they treed between 15 and 18 bobcats per winter during his lifetime, too.
Overall, the bear hunting branch of the Nance line of Treeing Walkers, bred through Keith Huff, have a proven record of being excellent big game hounds. Keith has sold hounds all over the country and literally has dogs from his line in every state that has a bear season. Many people also use them for cougars in the West. Keith has been a member of the MBHA since he was ten years old - that now tally’s to 60 years of membership. He’s a firm believer in the strength and effectiveness of organized hunting associations, and believes they are keys to the future of hound hunting. It’s the legacy of men like Keith Huff that I’m confident will help fight for the rights of houndsmen across the country and continue to preserve the sport of hound hunting.
Jun 17 2016
This aritcle appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Bear Hunting Magazine
By Clay Newcomb
The connection between a houndsman and a hound is hard to describe. Certainly, it’s a unique bond that outranks the bond between a pet owner and their pet. A hunting dog is a provider. He is a hunting companion. He is the hunter’s connection point to the wild game they pursue. Hounds that achieve “legendary” status are few and far between. They are a special class of hound. Though some dogs are blown out of proportion, a real houndsman knows when a dog is the real deal. Such is the case with a 40-pound plott named Shamrock’s Timex.
You won’t have a full picture of Timex until you know her breeder and owner, Joe Hudson. Joe is a Michigander from birth and has been hunting with hounds since he was 11 years old. In 2015, at the age of 67, he’s still as passionate as ever about chop-mouthed tree dogs. Joe trained bear hounds and guided bear hunters for a living in Michigan between 1975 and 1995. For over 20 years, he hunted or trained hounds five days a week. His faithful hunting companion and wife, Nancy, took part in the hunting and training too.
When Joe was asked why he loves hound hunting, he replied, “It’s like an off-road race from start to finish. The degree of excitement is astounding. A still-hunter gets five minutes of excitement when a bear shows up. A hound hunt is non-stop action. To this day, when I walk up to the tree my heart is about to jump out of my chest. I haven’t shot a bear in years. It’s about the dogs how much stamina, grit and desire they have.” He said, “Then to turn around and see them be so gentle when they aren’t on a bear. My grandbabies can crawl all over these Plott hounds and I never hear a growl. How they bring that energy down is beyond me. They pump themselves up so hard on a bear. It’s amazing.”
Joe Hudson and Shamrock's Timex with a Michigan bear. Shamrock was born in 1981 and died around 1990.
Timex was born into a litter of only two puppies on September 10th, 1981. The sire of the litter was Joe’s dog, Shamrock’s Pete. According to Joe, “He was the first dog we had that was the real deal.” Pete was the pick of the litter from a cross that Joe instigated with a friend. At first the friend didn’t want to make the cross, but Joe sweetened the deal by offering to give him the sire in trade for the pick of the litter. That pick was Shamrock’s Pete.
He was an impressive hound that carried the characteristics that Joe wanted – grit, stamina, desire and a powerful treeing instinct. Joe bred Pete to Shamrock’s Annie, a Cascade Big Timber female, and the litter had a male and a female pup. The female would later be known as Timex.
Joe fondly recalls how the dog got its name. “One day the four-month-old pup got off its chain. At the time, I had a 30-pound male coon and the pup got after it and I had to break them up with a broom stick!” The pup laid into the coon and an all out fight broke loose! The pup stood its ground with the boar coon almost twice its size and never backed down. “At that age a lot of dogs would have quit and never wanted to do it again. We sewed her up and doctored her for weeks. From day one she had that kind of grit.” The hound carried white scars on her muzzle her whole life that came from the coon fight. After the scrap, Joe made the statement, “She’s like a Timex watch, she takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’.” From that day forward she was known as Shamrock’s Timex.
Shamrock's Timex wasn't a big dog. Joe estimates she weighed around 40 pounds. She had extreme grit, stamina and tree power.
At eight months old, Timex ran her first wild bear track to tree. According to Joe, “She never missed another tree after that.”
The characteristics that made Timex legendary were her grit and stamina. She once got in a tussle with a bear on the ground and three of her ribs were crushed. During the fight she also got a hernia. When Joe arrived at the tree she was treeing hard, but they had to carry her out of the woods, straight to the veterinarian. The vet removed three ribs, replacing them with a wire screen. The doctor said the dog was otherwise healthy and could start hunting again as soon as she felt up to it. Joe said, “We let her rest the next day after the surgery, but on day two we started hunting again and she hunted for 33 straight days.”
Timex’s reputation began to spread far and wide when she was young. Joe also said, “When she was two years old, Dwayne Smith from Vermont called and asked me if he could breed his female to “him.” He thought Timex was a male and was shocked when I said she a two-year-old female.” Dwayne replied, “How can a two-year-old female be so well known?” She was known from coast to coast at only two years old. Joe recalls, “I’d say close to 100 houndsman came and hunted with Timex over her lifetime. They came from Washington and Idaho and put their best dogs to run with her. Most walked away shaking their heads.”
Once, while hunting in Ontario, they lost the dogs on a track early in the morning. The dogs wore yagi antennas but couldn’t be located for over nine hours because of the bouncing signal. Based upon their readings, the dogs were treed early in the morning and were still treed when they arrived. The dogs were treed solid for nine hours. Timex was hunting with her father, Shamrock’s Pete. The next day Pete was tragically killed in a river by a bear.
Most assumed that the scars on Timex's face came from a bear, but they actually came from a coon she fought when she was very young. She got the name Timex because "she took a lickin' but kept on tickin'."
One day in Michigan, Joe and his wife met up with a fellow houndsman in the woods. The man explained how he’d been running a track most of the day, but his pack couldn’t tree it. The man had a youth hunter with him and they wanted to get the lad a bear. He asked Joe if he would turn Timex out on the bruin. Well, you can predict what happened. Timex and a few other of Joe’s dogs hit the track and after a long race they treed. Upon arrival at the tree, the intensity of Timex impressed the other houndsman. Joe said, “He pulled out a key from his pocket and handed it to my wife and said, “Go turn that dog off. She’s a like machine!”” Needless to say the young hunter got his bear that day.
How many bears did she help tree? Joe replied, “I hunted five days a week guiding bear hunters and training bear dogs. For 20 years I was treeing 60-70 bear per year. She was on well over 500 bears. In 1987 we ran 43 days in a row with the same five dogs and caught 39 bear in Michigan and Wisconsin.”
The beauty of breeding hounds is that legends can live on even after they’re gone. Timex died in 1990 at nine years old. She was a good reproducer and had numerous top litters. Joe has line bred off of Timex for years and still runs dogs that have her on both sides. Joe is a true houndsman. He has raised and hunted with hundreds of top dogs, but by his estimation, he’s never owned one better than Timex.
You can save a good deal of money on your next bear hide if you flesh and dry it yourself. After drying you can send it a tannery for finishing it into a buckskin tan. Most tanneries charge $25-$30 per foot (from nose to tail) to tan a dried hide. A six-foot bear would cost under $200 (plus shipping). Compare this to last year’s taxidermy bill and it might motivate you to break out the fleshing beam.
- Use a fleshing tool and fleshing bear to scrape off the fat and excess meat on the skin. It’s best if the hide is cool or crisped in a freezer before you begin. (We did this in May in Arkansas and it was too warm and muggy, but it turned out fine.) These tools are cheap and readily available from trapping supply companies. It’s messy, but you’ll be surprised how easily that fat scraps off the hide.
- You’ll need to joint out the paws all the way down to the claws. Use a very sharp knife and take your time. A Gerber Vital with scalpel blades is a good option. You’ll need to split the lips and turn the ears (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxkRiMCcsss)
- Stretch and nail the hide to a piece of plywood. Then liberally salt with non-iodized salt. Table salt from the grocery store will work. I used about 20 pounds total for this bear and it cost less than $6.
- Elevate the hide on a slight angle so it can drain. The salt will pull out the moisture and you’ll see some wet spots – this is good. Preferably keep it indoors (garage) or at a minimum under a roof. After a few days, scrape the wet salt off and resalt until approximately 80% of the moisture is gone. You may have to salt two or three times.
- Box up the hide and mail it to the tannery. Check out www.usafox.com or call them at 218-722-7742