Little Buck: The Hound That Rode Bears
By Steve Fielder
When hound men or hound women reach my juncture in life, they realize the value in making memories. As one ages, the memories become the essence of the sport when physical limitations dictate the degree to which we may be involved in this sport that, for many of us, has been lifelong. Fortunately, my storehouse of memories spans more than 70 years and I still have the ability to follow hounds, just not at the level or intensity that was once common for me. As this article goes to press, I’ll be journeying to the Appalachian Mountains, my birthplace and origin of manifold memories, to make more of the same. Having been blessed with a father that was the consummate outdoorsman and lover of hunting with hounds, my storehouse of memories is well-supplied. I reach into that storehouse this month to share a tale of an exceptional bear hound that I call “The Dog that Rode Bears”.
My father, Homon Fielder, was born in 1920 in middle Tennessee. His background with tree dogs began with a pair of all-purpose cur dogs named Pat and Mike. Some 250 miles to the northwest lived Everett Weems in Salem, Illinois, who was the same age as my father. My dad and Everett began their journeys with the Plott breed at about the same in the mid 1950s, Everett in Illinois and Dad in West Virginia. Some 20 years later, they would learn that the foundation stock for each of their bear packs came from the same source. Unbeknownst to each other, each man developed a love for hunting bears with hounds and made breeding bear dogs the central focus of their efforts going forward. They eventually met in the early 1970s at the National Plott Hound Association’s annual Plott Days event. It was there they learned of the similarities in their breeding programs and ultimately settled upon the idea of breeding their personal hounds together.
Everett produced a litter of Plott puppies that would influence him to repeat the mating at least four and maybe five times in early 1973. Each mating produced outstanding bear dog individuals. My dad, through his arrangement with Everett, acquired a female puppy he named Bear Pen Fancy and was so pleased with her abilities as a bear and raccoon dog that he purchased an additional male pup from the third litter of the cross, which has now become legendary among fanciers of the Plott breed. The parents of the litter were CH Weems’ Plott, Butch, and Weems’ Plott, Jill. Early on, Everett and my dad learned the benefits of line or family breeding Plott dogs.
Weems’ Plott, Butch, was a bear dog with exceptional looks and speed. He gained the respect of many hunters in Michigan and Wisconsin where Everett hunted bears. He produced his Butch dog by breeding his stud dog, Weems’ Plott John, to a Plott female owned by a Ferdinand, Indiana Plott breeder named Leroy Haug. Mr. Haug earned legendary status within the Plott breed for his Swampland line of bear dogs. He recently passed at the age of 100 years old. Weems’ Plott, John, was sired by Bluff Creek Drive and his dam was Weems’ Plott, Susie.
Susie was the reason Weems’ Plott, Jill, was bred to CH Weems’ Plott, Butch, in keeping with Weems’ desire to family or line breed his hounds. Jill was sired by a hound named Ursus Rowdy Plott. Rowdy and Susie were littermates. The cross of Butch to Jill featured Rowdy in the second generation and Susie in the third. Cold-nosed track dogs with exceptional speed and drive as well as being strong-mouthed, stay-put tree dogs were characteristics of hounds from within this family line.
The first litter of Butch and Jill puppies was born on April 5, 1973. Afterwards on February 25, 1976, the third litter was born. Having seen the results of the first two litters, Homon Fielder acquired a male pup from the third mating that he would name Bear Pen Plott, Little Butch. Little Butch gained the distinction of being one of the hardest fighting bear dogs in Bear Pen history.
Little Butch matured into a 55 to 60-pound, brown, brindle-colored male with a small white spot in his chest. He had the classic look of the Weems’ bred hound of that day with a flat-crowned head, dark, pleading eyes, and the trademark frosted muzzle. He was hunted on coon as a young dog and proved to have a cold nose and a clear bawl mouth on track. True to his ancestry, he was a strong, stay-put tree dog. He would open good on a cold track and tighten it up as the track got better. He was definitely a "run-to-catch" type of hound. Little Butch was hunted a lot on bears with NITECH CH Bear Pen Plott, Bronco, who was born 11 months later than Butch in January of 1977. The two young hounds learned to tree coons and to run, catch, fight, and tree bears while hunting with CH Bear Pen, Fancy—who was doing it all at two years of age herself.
I shot a remarkable photo of Little Butch and Bronco fighting a bear in a frigid creek on a cold and snowy December day, the last day of the West Virginia bear season. Ice is floating in the stream as the Pentax captures Little Butch and Bronco pulling a 130-pound sow bear off her feet and over backwards, while ice water flows over their backs. Bear hunter, Oliver Smith III, famous for his Cascade Timber dog (among others), called it “the best action photo of Plotts fighting a bear” that he had ever seen. The dogs were caught and the sow released unharmed, but no less wise to the ways of bear dogs bred to catch bears no matter the circumstances.
Once while hunting bears in the Cold Knob region in Greenbriar County, Bronco cold-trailed a bear into a hollow tree. I went to him thinking he had treed a coon. The other members of the party turned some dogs loose and after a while, the hunting party and several dogs were at the tree. The late Harry Honaker, a bear hunting friend and houndsman of great reputation, began to beat on the tree with a big rock. The unmistakable sounds of claws scratching bark preceded the emergence of a sow bear from a hole above our heads. Wishing to take advantage of the opportunity to show some young dogs their first bear, we cut the dogs loose and over the mountain toward the hollow far below they went. As soon as the dogs disappeared, two cubs weighing about 40-pounds each came out of the tree and down the mountain, going in the direction of Mama bear and the dogs. We knew we didn't want to harm this family of bears and struck out in the direction of the roaring dogs. The sow turned right-handed and came back up the mountain to the south of us and treed. The action was repeated several times as the sow would pick a tree and vacate it almost as quickly. Finally, we were able to retrieve the hounds and restrain them from the chase, relieved that neither Mama nor her cubs had been harmed. In the midst of the fray, Little Butch was seen on the bear's back, shaking her by the scruff of the neck. That's the kind of bear-fighting hound he was. After the hounds were restrained, the bear came out of the tree for the last time and ran straight at one of the hunters, causing him to sidestep from under the cowboy hat he was wearing. The hunters had a good laugh about that.
As a reproducer, Little Butch was bred only once to his niece named Bear Pen Blackie. Blackie was a top producer of good hounds, having been bred to Little Butch, to Bronco, and to Everett Weems’ Plott, Punie. One of the pups sired by Little Butch was owned by Tennessee bear hunter, Ron West, a longtime hunting friend of Homon Fielder. I hunted with Spike on a combination hog and bear hunt in east Tennessee with West and Rodney Burris in the fall of 1982. Spike sustained an injury by the hog and was seen sailing over a small pine tree as he was going into the bay. Despite being injured, Spike quickly closed on the hog again until the shooter’s gun found its mark. Like his sire, Little Butch, Spike had no shortage of grit.
Little Butch died an untimely death at the age of five. Ironically, he did not die fighting bears. He was stricken with a heart attack as he was eating. I was there, and when Dad set his feed dish down he took one bite and dropped dead. There was no choking, coughing, or any indication that there was any cause other than that his heart stopped. His death was a terrible blow to our hunting plans for the future.
Many memories survive the short life of Little Butch. He was a hound that could be restrained on the lead until dogs that were released on a strike had crossed one of those high mountain ridges and were nearly out of hearing before he was released. When the dogs were next seen or they crossed a road, he would be in the lead more often than not. He and Bronco ran neck and neck, and were judged to be nearly as fast as Fancy on track. Fancy and Bronco would be recognized by their induction into the National Plott Hound Association Hall of Fame. Had he lived longer, perhaps Little Butch would have gained that recognition too. He was a good dog that we will always remember, despite his short life.
Many of Little Butch’s siblings were recognized to be in the upper echelon of Plott bear dogs in their day. Plott dog icons, Joe Hudson and Larry McKenzie, and a host of others owned, hunted, or otherwise witnessed their exploits in the bear woods of Michigan and Wisconsin in their day.
I’ll never forget Little Butch. I clearly recall his commanding, clear mouth on track and his extreme desire to catch his game. He sometimes frustrated me because he would cease to bark as the track warmed up and the catch was eminent. I’ll never forget the hopelessness I felt as I picked up his lifeless body and compressed his ribcage in an attempt at CPR. Air moved effortlessly in and out of his lungs. His brave heart, the heart of a hound that rode bears, had simply ceased to beat. He’s legendary to me.
NITECH Bluff Creek Drive (NPHA HOF)
NITECH Weems' Plott, John (NPHA HOF)
NITECH Weems' Plott, Susie (NPHA HOF)
Sire- GRCH Weems’ Plott, Butch (NPHA HOF)
Brandenburger's Cherokee, Joe
Haug's Swampland, Star (NPHA HOF)
Frake’s Swamp Queen, Sally
Bear Pen Plott, Little Butch
NITECH Weems' Plott, Dan
Ursus Rowdy Plott (NPHA HOF)
Brandenburger's Sashay Moon II (NPHA HOF)
Dam- Weems' Plott Jill  (NPHA HOF)
Congo's Bayoo, Pantha
Weems' Little Punch