There’s somewhat of a controversy going on here in North Carolina concerning the use of dogs for the sport of hunting. Deer hunters who prefer to hunt from stationary tree stands or by stalking slowly through the woods or fields do not like to have to take their shots at running deer.
On the other hand, the hunters, be they deer, fox, bear or quail hunters have their own way of enjoying their sports and they are quite set in their way. They have a very strong lobby (The North Carolina Sporting Dog Association) and speak with a very loud voice in the legislature when it comes to a threat to their sport.
I must admit that some years ago I was among the group who had some ill will toward the deer hunters who hunt with hounds. I was primarily a “still” hunter who preferred to sit and wait for the deer to show themselves and then take a carefully aimed shot. I began to change my way of thinking when some of the dog hunters took me aside and invited me to come along on some of their hunts. My idea of having deer dashing wildly through the woods with a bunch of raving dogs at their heels began to change.
As my view of the dog hunter began to turn around I saw a very dedicated group of outdoorsmen who were as dedicated to their sport and the conservation of our wildlife resources as you’re likely to find anywhere.
I learned that there were many of these dog hunters who didn’t even take their weapons along on a hunt. They often went along on the hunt with a pickup truck full of dogs and no rifle or shotgun at all. They simply enjoyed hearing their dog’s work and the companionship of their fellow dog hunters. I began to realize that these outdoorsmen were as dedicated to their sport as the other branch of deer hunters who preferred to still hunt. Moreover, these dog hunters were preserving a traditional way of deer hunting that surpasses any other method of deer hunting as being one of our national heritages.
The same thing applies to all methods of using dogs as a sporting way of carrying out the sport of hunting. The various branches of sporting dogs used in these outdoor sports are huge when you include the dogs used in waterfowl, upland game, bear, deer and hog hunting. The numbers of hunters who use dogs in the pursuit of their sport vastly outnumbers the numbers of the ones who do not use dogs.
The anti-dog hunters often seem to have joined forces with the anti-hunting crowd who are opposed to the “blood sports” in general. Two areas of dog hunting that have come particularly under fire recently from the combined “anti” forces are the deer and fox hunting groups.
The still hunting deer hunters have been particularly vocal about the sport of hunting whitetail deer with dogs and have taken their views to the legislature in their attempts to halt deer hunting with dogs. Landowners who are anti-hunting and the deer hunters who do not like dogs have a strong case against the use of dogs for hunting. Anti-fox hunters, embolden by the recent British regulations against fox hunting with dogs, have joined this fray in a PETA backed move against the blood sports in general.
The use of “fox pens” here in North Carolina has been a large source of contention with the anti-fox hunting crowd. It would be a good idea for some of this anti-fox hunting crowd to actually attend one of the fox chases that many of these fox pens carry out every month here in our state. It was a real “eye opener” for me when I did this several years ago.
The concept of having a salivating pack of dogs chasing a poor little fox through the woods, catching it and then tearing it apart is wrong. The fox hunters pit their dog’s ability against the other hunter’s dogs in what is literally a “chase” (competition) and this is what this is all about. It would be rare to have the dogs actually catch the fox in one of these competitions and the loss of the fox would literally be frowned on by the hunters and fox pen owners who place a lot of value on a live fox. The foxes involved in these chases represent a cash investment to the owners of the pens and they’re careful to see to it that the foxes have safe havens within the fox pens. In fact, the foxes themselves seem to enjoy the chase as much as the dogs and their masters.
The bonding between these sporting dogs and their masters is as intense as the bonding between some pampered little “lap dog” and their loving owner. This seems to be particularly true in the case of the fox hunters and their dogs.
Several weeks ago I was out and about at daybreak in rural Beaufort County. Dawn was just turning the eastern sky pink and a light fog lay on the fields of soy beans. Up ahead of me a truck was stopped in the middle of the dirt road and the owner of the truck was moving about doing something around the dog box on the back. I decided to stop and see what was going on.
Milton Jones was having a little “talk” with one of histen-fox hounds that were housed in the dog box and something seemed to be getting ready to happen with the dogs. Jones, who is a well-known member of thelocal volunteer fire company had seen where a gray fox had crossed the road and was getting ready to release his pack to pursue the fox. What happened next was a scene that was straight out of a fox hunter’s favorite dream.
Jones released the lead dog into waist-high field of green soy beans and within about 50 yards, the dog’s excited barking announced to Jones and the rest of the hounds that it had jumped the fox.
Instead of releasing all nine of the other hounds all at once Jones released them one at a time at about two-second intervals. Each freshly released hound immediately bounded into the field of soy beans and followed the lead dog on the chase.
Since the soy beans were well above the heads of the dogs you could follow the chase by watching the movement of the beans and the barking of the dogs. Since the dogs had been released in sequential order, the ten-dog pack was strung out, one behind the other, across the field. You could follow the line-up of dogs by watching the beans move. When transpired next was a scene to remember.
As the dogs became even more excited they began to jump-up above the soy beans to see just where they were. Here you had a quiet, early morning just at day break, light fog rose above the green beans and ten foxhounds in an excited chase of a fox.
Suddenly the dogs began to jump up above the beans like they were on springs to see where they were. They were like little jack-in-the-boxes as they showed themselves above the sea of green beans. This line-up of dogs bouncing along above the beans moved in a small circle and then headed back toward the truck where the chase originated.
A gray fox suddenly exited the beans just ahead of the truck and behind it followed the ten dogs in hot pursuit. Crossing the road the fox and dogs then headed into a swamp to the west of the bean field.
The chase went on for maybe 20 minutes until the excited barking of the ten dogs began to diminish and the dogs started to return to the road where their master and truck waited. Milton Jones explained that the morning’s chase was over and that the fox had found a hole to hide in where it was safe and the dogs knew to abandon the chase. On command the dogs returned to the waiting dog box on the back of the truck and Jones called off the morning’s hunt as being “over.’
I think that even to a rabid anti-hunter that morning’s hunt would have been exciting. I wish that some of the “antis” could have been along to witness that morning’s activities. It might have resulted in a little relaxation of the ill will between these two factions.
It’s a shame that the various groups of hunters can’t have more tolerance between their sports and the sports of their fellow outdoorsmen. All of us outdoorsmen need to stand together in this time as we come under fire from the anti-hunting crowd. Division within our ranks is some we do not need during these times.