Houndsong

Scooter was just one of many lost or castoff hounds who lived with us for a time.
Scooter was just one of many lost or castoff hounds who lived with us for a time.

 The dogs looked not just happy, but ecstatic. I sometimes think hounds look forward to the start of hunting seasons more than the hunters themselves.

Their heads stuck out between the edge of the dogbox and the side of the truck, ears flying, drool raining on the fenders and the cars behind them.

Jefferson Weaver
Jefferson Weaver

I don’t know whether the hounds were working dogs en route to chase a hog (both were wearing vests) or just deerdogs heading for a veterinarian’s visit before the first day of the season. They may have been new additions to someone’s pack, or just senior dogs out for a joyride with their human. To them, it didn’t matter. All that mattered right then was that they were in the truck, and it was a beautiful day.

They looked not just happy, but ecstatic. I sometimes think hounds look forward to the start of hunting seasons more than the hunters themselves.

Good William IX isn’t a deer dog, but as September bleeds into October, his demeanor changes. He can’t read a calendar, but he knows the time of year, and becomes restless. Our raccoon-racing redbone doesn’t have to work for a living, and hasn’t done a lick of work since I picked him up, scared and hungry, on my birthday one year. He gets nervous whenever I pick up a firearm, and hides like one of those shivering pocketbook puppies when a round goes off. 

Needless to say, William no longer hunts – but when Indian Summer begins to turn to fall, and the air crisps like the crust of a Sunday banana pudding at homecoming, he wants to be in the woods. We speculate that someone tried to train the arch enemy of procyon lotor to instead chase Odocoileus virginianus, and discovered the hard way that coon hounds ain’t necessarily deer dogs. Whatever led William to end up beside the road, he is a house-hound now, and has been for three years, although there are times he wants to hit the woods, nose down, tail up, and feet flying.

William is by no means the first freeloader to end up as a permanent member of our household. Lost or forgotten hounds have ended up with the Weaver family since time immemorial, or at least since my dad surprised everyone on a rural Virginia road by offering to bring charges against a man beating a non-hunting hunting-hound, after Papa took off his suit jacket and offered to dispense a little dirt road justice. That dog was Driver, whose buddy Wheeler wandered up in Papa’s yard o a year or so later. One died of old age, the other of a cruel tragedy that’s a column for another day.

At our house, we’ve had Duchess, Pitty, Gimpy Jack, Cleopatra, Bent Persephone, Molly, Scooter, Scarlett and Melanie, Dan’l Grunt, Lorena and others I forget. All were either lost or tossed or the offspring of similar castoffs. Some were with us for years, some only a few months, some from puppyhood through old age. 

Very few hunted with me, but those who did were the happiest animals in existence.

As deer and other seasons start this weekend, the music will again ring through the pines, bays, swamps and hollows. Walkers, blue ticks, red ticks, black and tans, my beloved Plotts and redbones will dance at the tantalizing first whiff on the breeze or on the ground, a scent that only a dog can define. The professionals are the veterans who may not seem as excited as the newbies when the tailgate drops, but those experienced hounds have been there and done that. Their joy comes from an entire season of doing what God designed them for, not just the brief excitement of a single cast.

While I love all hounds, I can’t always say that about those who hunt with them. The majority of hunters care for their dogs, and have respect for other folks. Sadly, some of those panting like their very own dogs for the start of season have significantly worse manners than their hounds (who at least have an excuse, unlike their humans). 

As more and more folks who ain’t from around here flee the cities and suburbs for the country, the opportunities to run dogs shrink. There are those who don’t understand anything about doghunting, except that hounds smell, make a lot of noise and can’t read no trespassing signs. Unfortunately, there are hunters who refuse to make any effort to improve the image of our pastime. 

Since scofflaws by definition ignore laws and regulations, it’s the honest hunter who pays the price in gates and new local laws and restricted property and “starving” dogs that are snatched up and taken to animal shelters. I don’t see this getting any better any time soon, and despite the fact that I’m primarily a stillhunter, it hurts my heart to see hounds stolen or killed for just doing their jobs.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy an old fashioned hound drive, where you are placed on a stand to await the opening aria of a trio or quartet of hounds, with no radio or warm truck to help in the pursuit. I am not down on those who enjoy hunting from vehicles, since it’s sometimes the only way to pursue a deer deep inside a bay. It’s just not my thing. If I can’t treasure the sunshine on my face, and grumble about a damp backside, and try desperately to not think about smoking a cigarette or crunching on a snack, it’s just not my type of hunting.

While I have seen any number of truly malnourished hounds, most of the skinny, pitiful dogs that you see padding determinedly down the side of the road during hunting season are actually in prime condition. There’s no place for fat on a dog trying to outrun a deer or bear; coons and hogs are challenging enough without a hound hauling around a lot of excess weight. It’s natural for a working dog to show some ribs, same as it is for a marathon runner to look about one cheeseburger away from death.

I worry every year that this will be the last time hunters and their hounds can run the woods and fields of our state; a number of folks on the ballot next week are not very hunting-friendly, and sadly, their supporters revel in the bureaucracy and politics that drive most hunters to the outdoors.

We would lose even more of our heritage if the chorus of hounds that rings at dawn and dusk was silenced. Society would be lessened if a grownup hunter couldn’t teach a little kid how to tell which hound was on a trail, which one had treed a coon, or which one was just talking to hear himself bark. 

Beagles are often amongst the saddest looking creatures in the world, yet I cannot imagine their sadness multiplied if they couldn’t run through the broomsedge and blackberry brambles on a cold February afternoon, joyous voices ringing out that there was a rabbit headed in your direction, and you’d better be ready, bub.

God made hounds to run and sing, just as He made man to follow along looking for the next meal and to take care of the hound at the end of the day. 

Without those glorious fall and winter cantatas, performed in four-part harmony against the backdrop of a sleeping pine forest, a tangled bay or a stand of hardwoods ablaze with red and orange, the ground crunchy with acorns and hickory nuts – without that music, the world would lose a bit more of what goodness and beauty remains. Hunting season wouldn’t be as precious without the background music of houndsong.

  • In addition to electronic calls, nighthunting, dogs and bait, hunters have another tool to use in hoghunting– technology. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has unveiled a new online reporting tool for people to report any sightings of feral swine or damage to the agency. Feral swine, also called wild boar and feral hogs, are an invasive species that cause significant damage to plant communities and wildlife habitat, prey on native wildlife, compete with native species for limited food and clean water resources and potentially spread diseases that pose substantial risk to livestock, wildlife, humans and pets. Commission biologists, along with other members of the N.C. Feral Swine Task Force, are seeking information from the public to better understand the distribution and abundance of feral swine across the state, and to estimate type and extent of damages they are causing, including damage to agricultural crops, timber, wildlife habitats, landscaping and others. Reported sightings will help members of the task force determine priority areas where they can focus management efforts. Education and outreach events, technical assistance staff, loaner traps, and other control measures will be focused in areas of greatest need. “Reports we receive from the public will be extremely important for developing a baseline of information, which we will then use to track how feral swine move across the landscape,” said Falyn Owens, the Commission’s extension biologist. “Changes in the reports we receive over time will also provide a measure of effectiveness of feral swine control efforts across the state.” Feral swine are highly adaptable animals that can live in urban, suburban and rural areas from the mountains to the sea. In North Carolina, they are typically found in isolated pockets, and have been reported in most counties of the state. Commission biologists hope that citizen reports will help them better assess the extent that feral swine are impacting the states natural resources. In Columbus county, hogs have displaced deer in many areas around the Waccamaw River. Feral swine are also reportedly moving up the river toward the sensitive ecosystems around Lake Waccamaw State Park. They root cemeteries in Nakina, Old Dock and Crusoe, and destroy crops around Tabor and Clarendon. Rodney Register has become known as the “Hawg Eradicator” for his efforts to trap pigs across the county over the past two years. He expects to top the 300 mark this fall. Opportunistic feeders and omnivorous, feral swine will eat almost anything, include a wide range of vegetative matter. While foraging, feral swine root into and turn up the soil, causing extensive damage to landscaping, stream banks, lawns, and agricultural fields. On agricultural and developed lands, they cause an estimated $1.5 billion per year in damages to crops across the United States. While feral swine eat a wide range of vegetation, they also eat snakes, turtles, lizards, the eggs and young of ground nesting birds like quail and turkey, and white-tailed deer fawns. Feral swine have the potential to carry at least 30 diseases and nearly 40 different parasites that can affect humans, pets, livestock and other wildlife. Diseases like brucellosis, pseudorabies, foot and mouth disease, and African swine fever are just some of the concerns when feral swine and people or livestock interact. “Simply put, feral swine are invasive and undesirable as free-ranging animals on North Carolina’s landscape,” Owens said. “Unfortunately, illegal releases continue to supplement the growing population, making control of these destructive animals challenging. “In order to direct resources that will allow landowners and managers to better control feral swine populations and reduce the damages they cause to North Carolina citizens, the natural environment and our native wildlife, we need the public to report sightings to us.” The N.C. Feral Swine Task Force comprises state and federal agencies that are working collaboratively to learn more about and manage the impacts of feral swine in the state. In addition to the Commission, current members include USDA-Wildlife Services, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Natural Resource Conservation Service, NCSU Cooperative Extension Service, USDA-Veterinary Services, N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information on feral swine in North Carolina, visit the Commission’s feral swine web page.
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About Jefferson Weaver 264 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the managing editor of columbuscountynews.com and news director for WTXY radio. He can be reached at 910.632.4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@columbuscountynews.com.

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