By Clay Newcomb
In the words of Curtis Walker, now 65-years old, the definition of a legendary bear hound is simple. “A legendary bear dog is one that when you turn it loose, you won’t see it again until it’s got a bear in a tree. Whether it’s by itself or with other dogs.” Curtis has been hunting American Plotts since 1971 when he got his first brindle dog just after getting out of the service. He bought the dog from Charlie Osbourne, and it was bred strong with Brandenburger and Gola Ferguson lines. Since that time, Curtis’ dogs have hunted all over the United States for bear, raccoon and mountain lion. He’s also sold hounds into multiple foreign nations, including Germany. Needless to say, his West Virginia Plott line has made a notable impact on bear hunting, and the Plott breed.
“When I was I was younger, I had a half-registered Plott named Ranger, and I grew fond of him. I went in the service in 1969 and was stationed in Germany; that’s where Plott dogs originated. I talked to a few people over there about Plotts, and that led me into these hounds,” Curtis recalls. When he returned home to West Virginia in 1971, he bought his first registered Plott, a gyp he named “Walkers WV Rusty.” “Every dog I’ve got today, 44 years later, if you trace the pedigree back you’ll see my Rusty female. She was the first in this area to be in the Plott hall of fame. She was a Nite Champion coondog, and I bear hunted her, too.” He remembers.
In the early 1970s, there weren’t that many good Plotts in West Virginia. They certainly weren’t the dominant breed. According to Curtis, “that was the beginning of the Plotts in this area. There are lots of Plott dogs in West Virginia now. They outnumber other breeds eight to one in this state.” Curtis’ dogs began to impact the region by producing the results that houndsmen wanted. In the words of the late Isaiah Kidd in reference to his hounds, “I have a pack of Plott hounds that I hunt on bear, cat and coon. If I knew of any better dogs I would have them.” Such was the mind frame of Curtis Walker since the beginning of his breeding program. The dogs just did what he wanted a bear dog to do.
When I asked Curtis what were the main characteristics he breeds for, he replied, “nose and desire is what I breed for. I believe that all dogs have a good nose. I believe most dogs can smell about the same. People say this dog’s got a ‘cold nose’ and this one doesn’t. That may be true, but in my experience, desire is what makes’em cold nosed and stay treed. If a dog doesn’t have desire, he won’t strike or stick on a real cold track. It all comes back to desire,” Curtis says. “It’s not what he doesn’t smell, but it’s his desire to track it, jump it, tree it and fight it that makes him a bear dog,” he said with confidence.
Curtis continued describing what he looks for in a bear dog, “a good rig dog and a good tree dog. You’ve got to have speed. If you can’t catch game, you aren’t going to bay it or tree it. You’ve got to have grit. I don’t want no pitbull. I don’t want to sew one up every time I hunt, but I don’t want one that will tuck tail and run when a bear stops! I want a dog that will strike a bear, has the speed to catch it, the grit to make it climb, and enough tree dog in it to stay til’ I get there.” That about sums up a topnotch bear dog as clearly as it can be said. Any houndsman with any breed of dog is looking for these traits. Curtis went on to say, “if you can get that in any one dog you’ve got something! It’s hard to get all that in one dog. I’ve been fortunate that to have four or five that had it all,” Curtis explained.
Curtis has had four dogs placed in the National Plott Hound Association Hall of Fame. His first hound was in 1982, NTCH Walker’s WVA Rusty, a female that all of his dogs go back to. Rusty was out of Pioneer Jake and Ferguson lines. The second dog was in 1986, GRCH NTCH Walker’s WVA Drum. His third dog made the Hall of Fame in 2001. The dog’s name was GRCH NTCH Walker’s WVA Black Gold. In Curtis’ assessment, this was the finest bear, coon and cat dog that he ever owned. The fourth dog to make it was Walker’s WVA Little Gold in 2004. As fine of an accomplishment as this is, Curtis will be the first to tell you that voting for dogs has it’s flaws. Curtis leveled the playing field by stating, “sometimes the best dog isn’t the one that makes in the Hall of Fame in my opinion.” Going back to his original statement, a legendary bear dog is one that will flat out tree bears.
Something you might notice is that three of his dogs have Nite Champion titles, indicating that he competition coon-hunted them. Of these hall of fame dogs, Gold was the primary dog that he bear hunted. Curtis said, “you breed a dog with a desire to run game and you train him to run which ever game you want him to. It goes through me like a dose a Castor oil when somebody asks me if my dogs are bear dogs or coon dogs!” he said with a passion. “Lots of my dogs you could coon hunt them at night and bear hunt them in the day. I didn’t like to put my dogs in the pen for six months.”
As far as individual dogs that stood out as legendary bear dogs in the West Virginia Plott line, Curtis quickly recalled three dogs. “As far as legendary dogs, Black Gold, Snake and my Pop gyp are probably the best three I’ve had for bear,” he said. Snake was a straight bear dog that in Curtis’ words “was a bear dog amongst bear dogs.” Snake lived to be 15 years old and treed bear by herself up until the year she died. In the photograph in this article you can see the grey muzzle of Snake with the last bear she treed!
Curtis went on to say, “the Gold dog was probably the best all around bear, coon and cat dog I’ve ever hunted. He was probably a once in a lifetime hound.” He went to describe some his characteristics, “he had a good mouth, good nose, he was a good rig dog, he fought a bear close, he was a tree dog, he handled good, and had a big bawl mouth. He was a stand out from all dogs I’ve ever hunted.” Curtis says that in the mountains of West Virginia, a loud-mouthed dog is very desirable. His dogs are bred to be loud.
Gold was a long-lived bear dog that also died when he was 15 years old. As a matter of fact, he treed a bear solo the year he passed away. “The bear actually came out of the tree and the old dog treed him again and we killed the bear,” Curtis said. This was a fitting tribute to Gold’s last hunting season.
Some of the most impressive stories about Gold involved how Curtis used him train young pups. He would take Gold out late in the evening and put him on a bear track. Once the dog struck and treed, Curt would leave and go back home. At daylight he would bring in the young pups he was training and Gold would have stayed treed all night long. According to Curtis, “I can give you a list of names of people that hunted with me when I did this.” He went on to describe the scenario, “the next morning he’d be treeing just like I left him. I would go in and tie Gold up, let the bear come out of tree then turn those pups on him.” This was a great way to start new hounds.
Curtis went on to tell a story about the best female bear dog he ever owned named, Pop. She got the name because she would always get out of the pen and would “pop up” wherever you were on the farm. “I registered her under the name Walker’s WVA Pop Up,” he said. Pop was out of Curtis’ Snake dog and she could rig, fight and tree. Once Pop and another gyp named Lucy were lost just before dark while treed on a bear out of hearing, when Curtis’ handheld GPS unit went dead. The next morning they went back with fresh batteries and the unit said the pair was still treed over the next mountain. He told the guys that were with him, “if you walk to the top of that mountain you’ll hear them.” Without much confidence, they went towards the treed dogs while Curtis stayed behind. They came back and reported, “when we came over the top of the mountain it was like two trains blowing!” At 11 o’clock that morning they killed the bear that Pop and Lucy had stayed treed on for over 15 hours (see photo).
Hound Hunting Tidbits
Curtis went on to discuss some other topics about hound hunting. When asked if he preferred a male or female dog, he said, “I always prefer a female. They train easier, are always more serious, listen to you better, they’re smaller and don’t break down as fast. In general their feet will stand up better, they’re smarter and quicker, and they don’t eat as much.” He went on to say that the only area a male can be better is in its grit.
In 44 years of breeding, Curtis’ biggest passion is starting a young dog. He said, “I like an early starting dog. If a six-month-old dog won’t bark and fight a cage coon with an older dog there ain’t no need to take that dog bear hunting yet. I start all my bear dogs on coon and then I let the young dogs retree a bear.” It is one of the most satisfying things in the hound world to see a young dog take off. That is what keeps dog breeders innovative, continuing to try to improve their lines.
Curtis went on to say that in all his years of breeding, he believes there isn’t really such thing as a cross that is guaranteed to produce great dogs. “In my opinion, there is no such thing as a proven cross. You can breed the same dogs over and over and get different results. I bred Murdock and Mousey seven or eight times and I only got one Gold dog (Walker’s WVA Black Gold). I’ve bred Shotgun and Dolly seven or eight times. I got good pups, average or even above average pups, but I’d be pulling your leg to tell you could get another Gold.”
In closing, Curtis Walker is another man that has committed his hunting life to breeding and producing the best bear dogs possible. The breed of dog isn’t the issue, but what I like about all the men we’ve interviewed for this Legendary Bear Hound series is the passion they have for their lines of dogs and their desire to see the hound sports continue in North America.