By Kelly Irwin
The sport of running hounds has grown in the past few years. Almost everyone that gets into hound hunting got started going with someone else and their hounds, and instantly had that burning feeling of needing their own dog. Some, not many, are content just going along and helping, but the majority of people get hooked, and there is no better feeling than having your own dog in the mix. This may or may not affect the original houndsman’s future.
As most of us get started in the sport, we have probably gone along with a local houndsman and gotten the "bug.” Most will tell you that you either “have it or you don’t." Those that feel the need will yearn for a puppy. Any pup will do as long as they get the satisfaction of feeling like a true houndsman and dreaming of the future. Some will have the patience to wait for the right breeding, and will have better odds of achieving their goal. The original person that got you into it may offer you a pup, as he will be able to keep tabs on more of his blood and guide you on this particular bloodline, and offer tips on what works best for their training. He may also be more apt to let you keep coming along, as you are running his stock and he gets to keep tabs on its progress without feeding it himself.
There are different rules and regulations in each state, and some have dog number limits for pursuing game. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire have six-dog limits for running hounds on bear. If the houndsman that has now gotten you hooked, and with your own pup, has six or more of his own dogs, he will have to leave some of his own hounds home so you can take yours. This is a hard task for any houndsman as they have been putting time, feed, and energy into their own, and making the decision to leave theirs home to take yours should not go without many thanks. Most houndsmen I know get their truest pleasure in watching their own dogs progress and excel, so letting someone else bring their dog or dogs along and leaving some of his home, so as to not exceed that limit, is a kind and selfless action.
Some houndsmen desire to run only their hounds together at the same time. They don’t mix their packs with friend’s hounds. It is a serious business, and they want the best possible results every single time. There are a few advantages in running this way. One being that your own dogs get all the work. They are learning to lead, to understand who is the leader, and the role they play inside their own pack. If you run your own hounds alone, you are not using your "top" dog to guide other people’s dogs. Also your own hounds are not learning bad traits or habits from outside dogs. There is no one to blame the trash-running hounds on except your very own trash runners. It’s easier to find the problem and get it fixed.
On the flipside, running mixed packs can be super fun and great friendships are made this way. It’s more about the company and fun than perfection. There are more hands to help, and the stories told are unforgettable. I personally have done both. I love the company of running with friends. The help and fun we all have doing what we all love to do is a great feeling. That being said, I have gotten great satisfaction running my own hounds and learning each dog’s ability within their own pack. Dogs are pack animals, and I do firmly believe you do get better results in running just your own. Your dogs know who to trust and when to make moves. Young dogs learn who their leader is and I think that trust makes young dogs stronger and more secure within.
Owning hounds that consistently catch game takes many hours and dedication to get them there. It is a lifestyle. It is every waking hour and every spare minute. If you cannot commit to this, maybe it is worth not diving deep into houndsman status and just going along as a helping hand anytime you have available. Most houndsman, whether they run alone or with buddies, will always welcome a helping hand with a giant smile. To the houndsmen, remember the time when you started and someone took you under their wing, to guide you and get you going in the right direction. Remember their unselfish act of taking you. Growth does mean competition, but if we do not be the mentor and show the next generation the sport and ethics, our most loved pastime will die off in the near future. It is our job to keep it going and going strong. To show today’s youth how to be respectable dog owners and ethical hunters is an important job. Wouldn’t it be grand to be remembered for years after you are gone as someone’s mentor? The person that was looked up to and deeply respected for all they had supported and taught. That job is priceless.