A good dog may be better than a flashy one.
One of my favorite things to do after a recent hunt is to recount stories with friends. Reliving the hunt’s highlights, close calls, successes, and failures promotes a sense of kinship with those who participated in the hunt. It’s always great fun to talk about the dog work, especially when someone shares a perspective about the dogs that you may have missed during the hunt. It also provides some transcendence to the experience, which is how I would imagine legends are started. Recently I was sharing one of these post-hunt memories with my friend, Jason Graham. I was describing a moment in the hunt when my dog, Crank, had struck a bear and proceeded to take the track ahead of the pack.
We had a difficult time getting a track started that morning and by chance, the wind had switched direction and provided Crank with a face full of bear scent, which set him off. Because of the thick vegetation, the other dogs struggled to get the wind once they were out of the box and on the ground. Crank, on the other hand, proceeded to run well out ahead of the pack to where he could gain enough elevation to catch the wind and proceed to the track. We ultimately caught that bear in a cave in one of the thickest pinion and mahogany jungles I’ve ever seen. All things considered, it had been a remarkable hunt, and one of my favorite memories. I was going on and on about how impressed I had been with this little stunt that Crank had managed to pull off and was feeling quite proud of my notoriously trashy bluetick. While Jason patiently endured my admiration for Crank’s stylish performance on that particular hunt, after I had finished talking his response caught me by surprise. “I know how much you like your Crank dog,” he said, “but I really think Hannah is the better dog.”
I was surprised because previously I hadn’t really thought of Hannah to be a better dog than Crank, but the more I considered it the more I realized Jason had a valid point. If you’ve read some of my previous columns, you’ll know that Crank is, at times, a standout dog. The problem is, he’s a stand out dog equally for things he does very well and for things I really wish he didn’t do. He’s the kind of dog that is nearly as likely to make you feel like a million bucks as he is to downright embarrass you. It’s difficult not to be enamored with a dog that really stands out in certain aspects, but when a flashy dog also happens to have a couple major flaws, as Crank does, it’s important to keep a balanced perspective about the whole dog, not just the exceptional qualities.
Hannah, on the other hand, doesn’t really have any exceptional qualities, but she does most things really quite well. In fact, as I considered Jason’s comment further, I couldn’t really think of anything I wasn’t happy about with Hannah. Not that she’s perfect by any means – she doesn’t like to rig and she tends to have softer feet than I would prefer - but when it comes to cold trailing, a jump race, treeing, and general intelligence she seems to have more than average ability. She’s gritty enough to stick with a mean bear, but smart enough to not earn me a veterinary bill. She’s fast, but usually not at the head of the pack. Of all my dogs she seems to have the easiest time transitioning between hunting bears and lions. And unlike Crank, she’s an easy handling, good-natured dog that is consistently a pleasure to be around. Hannah is a Treeing Walker, with a black saddle back and tan trim. She wasn’t seriously hunted until after she was three years old when she came to live with me. Despite this delayed start as a big game dog, she has managed to really prove her worth. She is an overall good dog.
We’ve all heard the phrase that a person’s ego is a heavy burden for a dog to carry, and it is certainly true. In reflecting upon Jason’s statement I’ve learned to be more honest about my dogs, and in turn, about myself. Hannah probably carries more than her share of the weight in our hunting pursuits, but until then I hadn’t really considered how much of a contribution she was providing. In fact, there’s been several instances that I can now think of where she likely played the pivotal role in getting a bear caught, though her contributions are subtle enough that they could almost get overlooked. A flashy dog is certainly fun, but a good dog may end up being far more useful. While most of us want to have great dogs, the reality is that a good dog will still take you to plenty of trees.