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Houndsmen and harpies

By Jefferson Weaver

A heritage borne on impossible ears

Good William IX doesn’t have to hunt for a living any more, but the instinct is still there.

I brought the redbone home on my birthday a few years back, hungry, tick-infested and cast away after what was likely a less than stellar performance in his first hunting season. He wasn’t the first hound that made his way into our home, and likely won’t be the last. There’s always a hardluck case that turns up beside the highway or in a coyote trap.

William is gunshy, but he still has the hunting instinct, and a voice that rings through the holler whenever the right song comes on the radio, or the coyotes moan, or he smells something that just needs to be bayed.

There is something about a hound; I have written about our love for long ears and strong noses so many times I expect some of you have turned away in disgust. That’s okay. I generally don’t care for chihooahooas or mopdogs, either, although I have met a few who became friends. To each his own.

Every fall, the Walkers, black and tans, Plotts, beagles and others take to the woods to do what hounds have done since man first realized some dogs were better hunters than others, and helped fine tune their love of the chase. Just as humans have evolved, so has hunting. I will not criticize most of those who chase their dogs with trucks and radios, although it’s not my preferred way to hunt. Nor will I ever intentionally hurt a  hound that “messes up” my still hunt. That’s part of the sport, and while dogs can’t read, humans can indeed understand words like “Posted” and “No Trespassing.” The dog is no more responsible than the surprised squirrel that gives me a cussin’, or the murder of crows who can’t help but tell the world there’s a stranger in the woods.

At the same time, I understand folks who get frustrated at “starving” dogs wandering up to their houses in the country, looking as lost and neglected as an honest politician in Washington City. I cannot count the number of people who excoriate all houndsmen as fiends and sadists, and stridently broadcast their super-
righteousness while “rescuing” someone else’s dog. Too often, some of those same people who claim to love animals will look the other way when the pass a homeless person asking for change.

Too many times, I’ve written about hounds that were poisoned, shot or intentionally run over by oxygen-thieves intent on protecting “their” deer.

It’s gotten worse in recent years, on both sides of the dog box. We have folks moving into the country who seem to think paying taxes on a quarter-acre means they have exclusive rights to the adjacent thousand. We have houndsmen who intentionally release a dozen poorly-trained dogs on a ten-acre timber cutover and have no choice but trespass to catch their dogs – accidentally hunting on posted property along the way.

In the meantime, as with every other societal problem, the true victims are caught in the middle – the hounds.

A true working hound will gaunt down when hunting season opens; it’s not so much a lack of food (in most cases) as it is exercise. I have never yet seen anyone virtue-signal their superiority by tackling a long-distance bicyclist in the midst of a marathon, forcing wormer down the rider’s throat, and buying a hundred dollars worth of fattening supplements whilst confining said rider in a small room. It might be amusing to watch someone try, however.

For several years, Miss Rhonda and I seemed to run a home for “lost” hounds. Most just needed to rest a little bit, maybe have a meal or two, then hit the road again. Oftentimes we were able to track the owners via a collar or through neighbors. One con artist of a hound, a lazy yearling, began turning up on our front porch every other week or so, cadging a meal and sometimes even getting to sleep in a nice warm house. He wasn’t so much lost as he was opportunistic. His owner even got to the point that he would call me if the hound didn’t turn up after a Saturday hunt.

That dog wasn’t lost. He was just lazy.

There were others who became permanent members of the family. Lopsided Ophelia, Gimpy Jack and others whose age or infirmities led them to be truly lost or cast away. We rarely had them for very long, but life was good while they were with us. Again, our household has always been different. I wish a pox on all those who
discarded those wonderful animals.

I know full well there are irredeemable people who expect hounds to survive off of entrails and leftovers during hunting season. Most of those folks don’t deserve a hunting license, but wouldn’t care anyway. I am sure a special punishment awaits them.

Most of the houndhunters I know spend the budget of a moderately successful third world country on feed and care every year. They are the ones whose retirees have a place of honor when they are too arthritic to make that first leap after the tailgate drops. Those houndsmen are the ones who are not ashamed to shed a tear when a beloved old warrior passes on to a place where the soft-sand trails are clear of copperheads, the coons are peaceful, and the rabbits and deer slow.

I wish I could come up with a way to ensure that every hunting hound could read and respect a no trespassing sign. I wish so many folks who move to the country didn’t immediately try to change North Carolina into a more manageable version of whatever asphalt-encrusted, overtaxed, hyper-regulated cesspool they left. I wish there was a way to truly make an example of those folks who abuse hounds. I wish there was a way to similarly punish those whose self-righteous sanctimony makes them take advantage of a hound’s gregarious nature in order to steal working animals and convert them into lazy works of art, decorative dogs who serve no purpose except to occasionally smell bad, bark so loudly that their owners give them tranquilizers, and provide socially superior brownie points.

Folks on all sides of the issue of hunting with hounds cry for my scalp every year. I really don’t care. Given the opportunity, I’ll happily hunt over hounds, then go home to ruffle the ears of my beloved and worthless William IX. I’ll be a witness against someone who abuses any dog, as well as anyone who steals one in the name of “rescuing” a dog into an unnatural life as an objet d’art.

My concern in the houndsmen versus harpies fight isn’t with the feelings of either side’s extreme.

All I care about is a hound being able to do the job God programmed into his DNA, and protecting the heritage that trails behind every set of impossibly long ears on an autumn morning, a story sung in bays and barks.

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