Hound Dogs And Black Bears

Dedicated To The Memory Of Gary C. Colvin

It was a warm August evening as I sat in my pickup waiting to go on my first black bear hunt. I was waiting for Gary

Colvin. Now, to give you an idea of just who Gary Colvin is: he hunts hound dogs and from what my friend, Lowell Stroup, had to say - he could make a bear dog out of what most.hunters look right past, and, boy, was I excited to be able to go with such a capable houndsman. I had two dogs that I had only hunted acouple of times which I had brought along. I was looking forward to them seeing their first bear almost as much as I wanted to see mine.

It was about 10:30 when Gary got there. We loaded my two dogs into his box. I grabbed my coffee and flashlight and we were on our way. I could feel the excitement growing inside of me. The hunt had finally begun. We were headed towards an old railroad grade at Wolfan Meadow Junction in the Stanislaus National Forest.


It took us about 45 minutes to hit the first dirt road. Hunting at night in the forest is like walking into a whole different world. Everything changes. Owls instead of bluejays. Kangaroo rats and field mice scampering across the road just in the realm of the headlight beam. I had always been a daytime hunter and the contrast alone was very exciting to me.


Just about that time, Gary pulled the pickup over and we got out. He dropped the tailgate and opened the dog box. Out jumped a big Bluetick Hound. Right behind him jumped a Walker-looking hound. His box was divided and has two doors. Gary opened the other door and, being careful not to let out my two hounds and a gyp female Walker of his, he let out the third dog-a red brindle Plott. Instantly they went to hunting down the road in front of us like shadows disappearing in the dark. These hounds were veterans and they knew just what to do. We jumped in the pickup and took off. At first we hurried to catch up. The dogs had hunted here many times so they were already hunting their hearts out to find where a bear had passed through.


On the way in, Gary had told me that this was a,very good place to find bears. Well, we caught up with the dogs and as I watched the dogs in the headlights, I began to see and feel a proudness from them. I began to think - here is a dog that runs endless miles through the forest, fights the fiercest of creatures and for what? Just to give pleasure to its master. This must be a great sport – not to kill the bear, but to train the hound to catch it. Gary had told me of many successful hunts in this area, so my hopes were high that we would soon strike a bear.


About 3:00 my eyelids started taking first place away from my excitement. We had roaded the dogs about 15 miles and hadn't struck yet. I'd scooted down in the seat to find a more comfortable position so that I might get a few minutes' sleep. Well, you know how it is in fishing. Just when you don't think you're going to catch anything, bang, you get a strike. Hound hunting is a lot the same way. Just as I started to fall asleep, Gary said, "I think they're going to strike! Look!" I sat up and what I saw was astonishing.

Three dogs dancing on_ their hind legs with their noses high in the air. They were smelling bear. They ran down the road about 40 yards and up the bank in the brush and disappeared. We stopped the pickup and jumped out just in.time to hear the silence of night shattered like plate glass from the loud bawls of the hounds as they moved down the track.

Gary quickly unloaded the dogs in the box. I hurried to show my dogs where the others had gone up the bank. The dogs now were barking every breath. The hair on my neck was standing straight up. I was almost breathless. It is like opening your adrenaline valve, absorbing everything like a sponge. The dogs were headed up the ridge behind us. Gary had told me to wait and listen while he turned around. As I listened· I could not hear my dogs. I wondered what had happened. The other dogs were barking more intensely and excitedly. Their sounds were piercing my ears, I could tell, straight ·to my heart. While Gary was turning around, my two dogs had come in to the sound of the pickup. It took him about three minutes to get back to me. The dogs were almost out of hearing, so we hurried back down the road making sure not to lose them.


We went about a mile and a half and stopped to listen. As I got out of the truck I could hear them about halfway to the top of the ridge and in front of us the hounds were burning up the track. Now Gary had said that they would be looking at the bear soon. All I could think of was how hard these dogs were running. We moved up the road about two more miles and the dogs had stopped. It seemed like just one long bawl. Gary was telling me, "They had it jumped and were baying it on the ground." By this time, I was hyperactive. I was having a hard time  believing the dogs actually had a bear. After five minutes or so the bear took off running. And before I knew it, they ran clear out of hearing. They went up over the ridge and into the next canyon.

We drove around the road as fast as we could, hoping they wouldn't move out of there before we could get around. It took us about 20 minutes to get around the ridge and up the canyon, where we thought we would hear them again. As I got out of the pickup, I could hear the dogs. They were above us and their barks had completely changed from long, deep bawls to short, constant chops. Gary instantly said, "They're treed." I said, "Alright - let's go." Boy, I was going nuts hopping and jumping around like a crazy man. I'm sure I must have looked like a real greenhorn. Gary was grabbing his leashes and flashlight while I was still listening and trying to believe I was going to see my first black bear. He told me to get my flashlight and let my dogs out of the box so they could go to the tree.


It was almost straight up and through brush so thick that I thought that the animals must go around it - but not us! We headed right through it. My dogs stayed with me until we got about halfway to the tree, then they went on up. We stopped in a hole between the manzanita bushes to rest. It hadn't seemed this far to the tree when I was listening from the road. Gary said that we should come in to the tree from the uphill side. It seemed like we would never get there. The dogs were still telling the story - saying we've got it in the tree, hurry up! The closer I got, the more excited I became. All I could think of now was seeing that bear as I got to the tree. As I got to the tree, I circled around to come in from the uphill side. When I walked through the brush to the base of the tree, I felt an intense feeling of fear, but that only lasted a moment. Because when I looked up that tree and saw that bear, I had stepped into another world.


The king of all North American animals was lying sprawled out on three large limbs staring back down at me and the dogs with a look as if he wondered, "What's going on here? Just an hour and a half ago, I was eating acorns and minding my  own business. Now I'm in a tree with a bunch of hounds barking and staring at me with blood in their eyes." I got to watching the dogs and in between barks, they were chewing at the bark on the trunk of the tree and the brush where the bear had rubbed against it. I had never seen such a desire to please and raw instinct in a dog before.


It didn't take me long to start watching the dogs more than the bear. I could not believe what I was seeing. They were taking turns running up to Gary for praise and then back to the tree to work even harder to please. We watched the bear and the dogs for an hour or so. The bear didn't do much moving around up there so we decided to leash the dogs up and go back down to the pickup.


That was when I learned that there was hard physical work to this kind of hunting. It had taken us about 30 minutes to get to the tree and a good hour and fifteen minutes of solid work pulling the hounds downhill to get back. When we left the bear in the tree, the dogs figured they should still be under it. When we got back to the pickup, I was one tired hunter. We put the dogs back in the box and collapsed. We sat there on the ground trying to cool down from the sweat we had worked up and drinking a Pepsi. My mouth must have been working overtime. I couldn't seem to shut up about the dogs on the bear. We cooled off and decided to go down to the creek so the dogs could get a drink.


While we were at the creek we decided to hunt back out to the main road. And if we didn't strike anything, we would go on home. By this time, I was ready for a warm bed and a long sleep. The ride home was twice as short as the ride out and that was disappointing. Before I knew it, the sun was rising and we were almost home. It was already a very nice day and one of the most exciting days of my life.


I will never forget that day. It literally changed my life. That hunt was the beginning of many hunts as I hope this story will be the beginning of many stories of bear, cougar and bobcat hunts I have experienced since that August evening when I learned about hound dogs and black bears.


The above story is reprinted from the May, 1986, issue of Full Cry magazine.