Templeton's Wild Buford (Hank)
By Steve Fielder
“The country I hunt consists of a big mountain with thick laurel and the ridges are straight up and down. There are no roads. It’s all foot travel and I try not to think about being all alone. You keep the thought in the back of your head that you’re dealing with an animal like a bear that could hurt you. I send my recovery collar ID numbers for my dogs to my neighbor and I have someone I can text about the general direction I’m going when the dogs strike a track but there’s no cell service. Once you start in, you are alone. – Adam Barnhart”
Adam Barnhart’s dad was a rabbit hunter, running beagles in the cedar thickets and on the steep hillsides near their rural southwest Virginia home. The Barnharts lived in the country on an acre of ground that contained their house and also owned a small farm for several years but sold it, in Adam’s words, “to pay off the homeplace.” Hunting clubs have taken over much of the available hunting lands in the valley leaving only a forty-acre farm that is available to hunt where Adam now lives, in fact, in the same spot where he was raised.
Home for Adam is Honaker, Virginia (pronounced Ho-naker) in rural Russell County. Human population for the county was 1318 in 2019, not exactly a metro area. But the nearby mountains are teeming with black bears and at about age twenty, Adam began to hunt them. Lawrence Barnhart, Adam’s daddy, never killed a bear nor did he ever want to kill one. When Adam was five years old, his daddy would “pack” him on his back as they followed the rabbit hounds. Like most boys raised in rural America, Adam learned to hunt at an early age, killing his first whitetail buck at age nine. He would kill his first bear while still-hunting from a stand at age sixteen and his first with hounds six years later.
“I enjoy any hunting with dogs and once I got switched over to bear hunting, I talked Dad into going with me and he absolutely loved it. I pushed it from then on because he enjoyed it so much. Part of that with him was a little funny. He never had a desire to pull the trigger. I would put a .30/.30 with shells in a case in the truck. Unless someone else needed the gun, it was never taken out the case. One photo I have with him and a bear was an example. It was really wet that day. We treed the bear over in West Virginia close to the road. I tried to talk him into shooting the bear. We could drive the truck almost to it but he wouldn’t shoot it.”
I wanted Adam to tell me more about that bear but I also wanted to know how his Treeing Walker Hank, a one-man-army on bear and the subject of our tribute in this issue, came into his life so here we go as Adam tells the tale:
“I had two pups and I was trying to hunt with other people,” he began. “It wasn’t working out. My dad and I wanted to be able to go hunting after work and needed a solid dog. We heard about a trained Treeing Walker bear dog over around Elizabethton, Tenn., named Hank. His registered name was Templeton’s Wild Buford and he was a highly-competition-bred coonhound by pedigree. He was born on August 5, 2006 and was four-years-old when we bought him.” Photos will attest to Hank being a beautiful, tri-colored Walker weighing about sixty-five pounds in hunting shape. Barnhart continued.
“I knew the fellow that had Hank, a guy called Wormy. We brought him back home to hunt him. It was a little while before training season came in and the first week of training season would be my trial. The short of it is, I fell in love with him. Everyone talks about a once in a lifetime dog and Hank is mine. My problem is I compare all my bear dogs to him and I get down on them.” I asked to know more about his acquisition in hound dog flesh.
“He was stubborn and hard-headed,” Barnhart said. “He was bred to be a coon dog but he wanted nothing to do with a coon. He was an independent start dog. If I started a bear with him and wanted to pack other dogs to him, it was fine. If I came to hunt with you and he needed to pack to your dog, he wouldn’t. He would go to the right or to the left to find his own track and to avoid going to your dog. If he was working a bear track and smelled other dog’s tracks with the bear track, he would go somewhere else. He was bred to be an independent coon dog, not a bear dog.” Barnhart continued, “At the same time, if you put him on a bear track, you caught him on a bear track. He would not quit.”
Continuing, Barnhart said, “We ran a bear in training season that tore up all of the dogs. I had to run Hank down and tackle him to get him off the bear. It had hit him in the front shoulder with so much force that it broke two ribs behind his shoulder. We later went back to run that bear during kill season. It had killed one of Rodney’s dogs and tore up five others. We had to skin the bear out in the mountains and packed it out. The boy that killed the bear had a full body mount done on his trophy. It was his first bear and the taxidermist said the frame he had to use was for a bear over 500 pounds. That was the year after we killed the big bear.”
Barnhardt’s reference to a big bear, killed the year before the 500-pound full-body mount bear, is a testimony to the toughness and determination in our legendary bear hound. Barnhart tells the story this way:
“I went to routinely feed the dogs in the evening and noticed that Hank’s foot and one of his toes had burst open. I thought he had caught his toe in the chain leash or something. I took him to a veterinarian in Abingdon but there was so much swelling they couldn’t x-ray him. They gave me some antibiotics and sent us home. When we got home, he couldn’t stand up to come out of the dog box,” Barnhart said. “So, we went back to the vet. I told the vet that something wasn’t right.”
“In this area,” Barnhart continued, “Hank was the first hound to be diagnosed with blastomycosis. The vet found another vet in Arizona that relayed information to them as to what they should do in treating Hank. He was placed on bed rest for five months. I kept him in the tack compartment in a horse trailer and I could get him to go out to use the bathroom. At one time they gave him a ten percent chance of survival. He was on life support for his first three days at the vet. But once he got up and started eating, he would get up and walk but he would get tired. After a month, he started acting better to the point you couldn’t tell anything was wrong with him. I would take him once a week to have blood work done. I had a good vet and she trained me to do a lot of stuff that I could do. I had to log his temperature three times a day. If his temperature went up it meant the disease was getting stronger.” The effects of the disease were devastating as Barnhart continued, “The disease had eaten a joint on his foot completely out and it ate a hole in his side. Blasto is a fungus that the dog breathes and it starts in the lungs. Once in the lungs it can spread anywhere in the body. It ate a joint out on his left front foot and a place in his right hip. It went into his reproductive organs and rendered him sterile. He was about nine years old at the time.”
Hank had been on bed rest for five months when Barnhardt took him back to the vet. It was just before the annual Youth Day hunt that Virginia provides each year for youth through the age of fifteen. Hank was still on medication but the vet gave him the okay to take him out and run him a little bit. Barnhart tells the story:
“We went hunting that misty, drizzling morning. We were hunting with Rodney Roberts of Wythe County and we went up a hollow and turned the dogs loose. Taking the kids hunting is something we really enjoy. We try to load up all the kids and all the dogs we own. We knew where a big bear was using. The dogs struck and broke into two separate packs. In fact, the second pack consisted of Hank by himself and he brought his track down into the hollow. When the other pack of dogs bayed up, Rodney, his wife Carol and his granddaughter Trish went in to them and they had a good bear in a real thick place. The shooter, fifteen-year-old Trish, let the bear get by her and it went into Little Walker Mountain. Checking the Garmin, we could tell that Hank was close to the road.” Barnhart continued, “I was going to stop and go in there and get him. When we pulled up on the top of the ridge, Hank was hammered down.” Hammered down is an expression recognized by houndsmen as meaning the dog was solidly treed. Rodney said “Take Trish with you, he’s treeing too hard.”
“It was in a really dense pine thicket and when I bent down to take a look, there was the largest bear I had ever seen,” said Adam. “Because I was relying on a young shooter, I was trying to stay as calm as possible. Trish fired and missed the bear and it went around the point of the ridge and went up the left-hand hollow. Trish and I went up the right-hand hollow and went up on the ridge to set up for a shot. She used my shoulder for a rest and I plugged my ear on that side. After the first shot the bear had run about ten yards and came back to a walk. We were set up on the ridge and the bear walked right up the hollow with Hank behind it. Her first shot had been at about thirty yards and this would be a fifty-yard effort from the side of the ridge. Her second shot was perfect, hitting the bear just behind the shoulder. At the crack of the gun the bear went down in a heap. Both Trish and her sister can shoot. The bear weighed 561 pounds making it the largest bear harvested that year on Youth Day and the largest bear taken that year in Virginia. The big bruin also qualified for the Boone and Crockett record book.”
A Day On Big Tumbling
“It was summertime, training season and I loaded four hounds on my four-wheeler and went to Big Tumbling Creek,” Barnhart begins in our last story of his famous hound. “There’s a big apple orchard on top of the mountain. The dogs I had were Hank, Bill, Jake and Amanda. The first two were my veterans and the latter two, my pups. They rigged a track from the four-wheeler and it ran from Mutter’s Gap to Twin Hollows. The first hollow comes off at the little falls on Tumbling Creek and the other, about one hundred yards distant from where the other hollow comes off. Looking down from the top of the mountain, when they hit the Twin Hollows they turned right. They went to the top of the ridge where the switchbacks are and bayed on top of the ridge. It probably took me an hour and a half to walk through there. About the time I got within one hundred yards from them, it broke and went down the cliffs. I was looking at the Garmin and it showed that the dogs had gone straight off the cliffs which I knew was impossible. They would have had to go off a 70-foot drop straight down. Standing on top, I could hear them but I couldn’t see them. I knew they were down there. I went about one-hundred and fifty yards right-handed and started down, not straight off but going about twenty feet to a bench and then about fifteen feet to another. I was about half-way off when I stepped to the edge of the cliff and the edge broke off. I fell about fifteen feet and landed in a laurel bush. I was sure I had broken my right arm. All the skin was torn away from my wrist to my elbow on my forearm. My dad worked in the coal mines and always carried a roll of black electrical tape. I had a roll of it and wrapped the whole arm to stop the bleeding. I then worked back left-handed to where the dogs were. I got Hank and Bill on the leash but the pups broke with the bear. I hollered and they came back to me. I was three miles from the 4-wheeler with four dogs and one good arm. I dropped straight off the mountain to Red Creek and that’s where I stopped. The dogs were exhausted and that’s where I took a photo of them resting on a rock pile,” Bernhart said.
It took a month and a half for Barnhart’s arm to heal. When he got to a hospital, he learned it wasn’t broken but was badly bruised. As a testament to his determination as a hunter, Barnhart said, “Once I got out of there and got checked and got antibiotic cream on it, I went coon hunting that night. Barry, my neighbor had called and he and his step-dad wanted to go coon hunting so I did.”
The last day Barnhart hunted with Hank was also the last day he hunted with his dad. “The bear was one of the biggest sows I’ve ever seen,” Barnhart began. “We went to McDowell County in West Virginia and went up on top of a ridge. It was reclaimed strip-mine land and they planted fifty to sixty acres of autumn olive bushes for wildlife. We free-casted Hank and Hunter, a dog Rodney owned, into the autumn olives. They struck and went across the ridge. It was a mean, walking and fighting bear. We had two shooters along that wanted to kill a bear and we were trying to get them down in there. The terrain was straight up and down. There were some old beaver ponds in there, dammed-up and swampy. The bear got into that and things started getting really mean. The bear was chasing dogs. It was chaotic. The bear was running dogs and I could see blood on the dogs and knew they were injured. I decided to end it. I got close enough to get a .44 magnum round in the right spot and it was over. Out of the ten dogs we had on that bear, eight of them were injured. It was a sow bear that weighed three-hundred and twenty-one pounds.” Shortly after that hunt, Barnhart’s father, who had been having trouble breathing, was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Within two and a half weeks, he was gone.
It was about a week after Barnhart’s dad passed that he fed Hank for the last time. “I fed him that evening and he came out of the box and ate,” Adam said. “I went to bed that night and when I got up the next morning to check on him, he was gone. I guess that Dad needed a good bear dog in Heaven.”
Reflecting on his amazing hound, Barnhart said, “As far as me, Hank was my measuring stick for bear dogs. He had a big heart. He would give you everything he had. If it was a mean bear and he was by himself, he was always there, one of the grittiest dogs I’ve ever seen. On the big bear he was by himself and I’m not sure how many staples they had to put in him. He had a faucet flowing red from his stomach area.”
Templeton’s Wild Buford aka Hank is buried in Barnhart’s back yard. There’s a cross to mark his grave with his collar handing on it. And as a memorial to his prowess as a one-man-army bear dog, there’s a European-mount bear skull lying on his grave. I asked Barnhart if he ever goes out and talks to Hank? He said, “I talk to him all the time. When you put him on the bear track, you caught him off the bear track. He never quit. He had the mindset that he could kill that bear and he was going to kill it. I’m glad I got to travel the woods with him. I miss him, I know that.”