Jet was a hound from Mike Kemp’s Three Bear Kennels. Now, Mike Kemp’s dogs mostly aren’t  registered, but they do have pedigree.

Mike Kemp said, “The pedigree is in my head. I've got papers on some of the registered stuff that I bred into these dogs. The reason I bred this stock of dogs is because I am a big game hunter and a small game hunter, and I could never find anything out there. I've been doing this for 45 years now: I could never find anything that suited me to a tee. I didn't like tree hounds. Half the thing about tree hounds I liked and half I didn't. The same with the running stock, or the registered run dogs. I like a lot of things––about half of what I see out of them I like––and about half I don't.

So, I started down this road of my own breeding program to put out what I like.”


Kemp has a hard-earned reputation of putting out dogs with nose, grit, intelligence, speed, and tenacity. Jet’s owner, Craig Marcum, learned to hunt bears with hounds the hard way. He started on coons and learned how to hunt bears through trial and error.


Jet shone in his ability to chase a cold track until a bear was in a tree, usually after breaking away from the pack. Jet hung up his hunting career when he passed in 2017 at the age of eight.


Hunting hounds is like making biscuits. If I don't know how to make biscuits, someone can tell me how; they can give me a recipe. But when you make biscuits together with them in their kitchen, you're like, ‘oh, that's how you do it.' This is what happens when you're in the field with hounds, too. When somebody is an expert, and they've been an expert for years, they don't even think about what they're doing. They do it automatically. If you're a newbie, you can look at that and say to yourself, 'Okay, now I see how that is.'


Marcum said, "A couple of years after me and my buddy, Josh, got started, we went hunting with a fellow named Junior Alshire and a man by the name of Chad Acres. Chad and Junior had been hunting since the 90s in one of the neighboring counties with a hound season. They had been there, done that. They're great Houndsmen and “Goodfellas”. And so, we went hunting with them. And you know, that got us on the right path. There were some things that made me say, “Wow, I didn't see that till now. I see it."


Craig Marcum lives in southern West Virginia and has chased bears with hounds for 15 years.


He said, "As a kid, my great-grandpa was a hunter, and he would tell us coon hunting stories. He always kept a few dogs around. Four or five nights a week, that's what the old man did for fun.

When I was big enough to tramp in the woods, 10-11 years old, he started to take me coon hunting. I walked a lot and learned about the woods—I enjoyed it. That started my love affair of hunting with a dog. Then, in my early teenage years, my great uncle took me squirrel hunting with a dog. I enjoyed hunting with a hound or some dog. When I was just out of high school, our bear population started counting, almost exploding, and my state is catching on quickly. They just opened a hound season in the neighboring county, in northern West Virginia over in our mountains.


"One of my buddies and I get to talking one day and get a wild idea that we want some bear dogs. It was an adventure for the first couple of years. We made a road trip and ended up with some hounds. I think we had four or five dogs the first time we went out. My buddy looks at me and says, ‘I think the dog struck.’ You know, we were great. We turn the dogs loose. We're trying to track it all. We're spinning in circles. And finally, a couple of hours later, the dogs didn't go 300 or 400 yards over a point. We found the dogs, and they got a bear treed. We thought we were real bear hunters.


"We go about two more years of grinding—just him and me. I think we saw a couple of bears and chased a few on the ground. But as far as putting a bear in a tree––it was two years after this. We learned the hard way and learned on our own. We started hunting with my good friend in the neighboring county that had hunted over there since the 1990s. He started educating us, so we felt like we were getting a little better. Then I think it was in maybe 2010-2011 that my brother started getting interested. And, you know, we're catching a few bears."


Craig's experience in the woods hunting bears with hounds was enough to know he loved the sport and that he needed to upgrade his dog.


Marcum said, "My brother Zach says, 'You heard of this guy named Mike Kemp?' And I've heard tell of him, you know, but don't know about him. 'I've been reading a lot,’ he said, ‘I think this guy's got some hounds. His breed is the real deal.' A month or so goes by, and my brother comes back to me. And he says, 'You know, we need to get one of these dogs from Mike.' He comes back and tells me the price, and I was taken aback, you know, and had to think about it. It was a lot for a dog. So we jump in and we buy this dog. That dog was named Jet. Jet was the one that started it all. He was about 18-months-old when we got him from Mike. We started hunting with this dog, and immediately, you know, the guys we're hunting with were great bear hunters, Great woodsmen, just all-around guys that can do it all––any hunting. There was nobody hunting down here in our area, nobody hunting this terrain.


“And so, when I started hunting with him, I said, ‘You know, we would kill bears on the ground most of the time, and we’d have a big group; it would be nothing to have 30-40 people and 30-40 dogs, and we didn’t see a lot of bears treed. But when we got Jet, we suddenly started seeing bears climb, and he was running off and leaving the pack. He was just a swift dog that could drive a bear.’ That’s where we got started with the Kemp breed––that was probably pushing 12 years ago.”

Marcum said, “Jet could almost read my mind. It’s just one of those things that you must be there to see. You must understand that bond, the time you spent with them, and how much you care for him—and the joy they gave you. It’s one of those things; I think you’d have to be there and be in that moment to appreciate it and understand it. You know, dogs are amazing. They’re smart, they’re highly intelligent. When we take them bear hunting, when we hit the woods, I mean, it’s all business—they are there for it. And that’s what they want to do.”


When I asked about the last bear season, he said, “It was a good season. We were fortunate. We had our December season, and just about every time we went out, we treed a bear or two. We didn’t have any snow. You know, that’s my favorite part about December; usually down here for a week or so we will have snow and like to hunt in the snow. Everybody goes out to look for tracks, and this adds an element of excitement. This year was mild. There wasn’t much as far as mast this year, so not many of our bears were out. We had to work and walk a little further than normal to find a bear. We had a fun season; the kids enjoyed it. No dogs got hurt, no vet bills, and we got some bears in the trees. It was a success, you know. It’s about the chase. I don’t have a big desire to harvest the bear, but you get many people who like to go and they like the meat. A lot of first timers have never seen one treed. We take a lot of kids and if it’s a decent size bear that they want to shoot, we’ll let them.”


Breeder Mike Kemp’s supplied Jet (Jet passed in 2017) and later a great hound named Kempy who Marcum hunts with now. These two dogs have changed Marcum’s bear hunting forever.


Marcum said, “We had one on the ground this December. It was getting ugly. All bears have different personalities, and you can’t get mad at the bear for defending itself. But sometimes there are those situations, so we had to take him. I took him to the butcher and now he’s in the freezer.”


When asked about what kind of hound he prefers, his response is, “Different geography requires different styles of hounds. In some places, the bears are runners; in some places, they’re not. It depends on how steep your mountains are and how thick the brush is. I would suggest somebody wanting to get into hound hunting find somebody willing to help you and get you on the right path. You can waste a lot of time and money if you don’t understand it. There’s a lot to it; there’s a lot with taking care of the dogs and what type of breed suits your geography, but it’s going to help you catch bears in your area.”


While there is no spring season (nor baiting) in West Virginia, running your dogs for training purposes in the spring is legal.


Marcum said, “One thing we’re fortunate with here in West Virginia is we’re allowed to train year-round. When the bears start moving around in the spring, we can get the dogs out and let them stretch their legs. It helps a lot if you have pups at a certain age to get those pups in the woods. They need to be in the woods instead of waiting six months later in the fall, so it helps.”


He said, “Jet was a very smart dog, you know. I appreciate him because I think we would have never gotten to where we are today if we hadn’t had Jet. He was special. He was an intelligent dog. He wasn’t a cold nose down. He was more, just, speed. Mike named him Jet because the dog could catch anything. He rode around a lot of times in the front seat of my brother’s Toyota and struck bears, then out the window he’d go. He was a joy. He helped us get where we are today.”


Boys and dogs. Dogs and boys. Life is better all around because of these pairings, but bear hunting is also significantly improved.