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John's Journal... Entry 100, Day 1

Defining a Squirrel Dog

click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: In years past, you would find squirrel dogs as common as front porch swings, big black pots in the backyard for canning and a smokehouse for preserving meat. You expected to see a squirrel dog in a neighbor's front yard, just like you'd know he had a garden in his back yard. But as the country's population migrated from the farm to the city, a good squirrel dog became as scarce as hen's teeth. This week we'll look at why every outdoorsman should own a squirrel dog.

Through the early morning fog at White Oak Plantation near Tuskegee, Alabama, I heard the clear, clean voice of Horse Creek Monkey, a chop-mouthed feist dog. Immediately after Monkey began talking to the timber, Reba, another registered feist squirrel dog, joined in with him. Although the clouds overhead promised rain, we had to go to the dogs. "Monkey's treed," said Tim Cosby of Ramer, Alabama, chief of law enforcement for Alabama's Department of Conservation. Danny Williams of Clinton, Louisiana, said, "sure has. And my dog Reba's right there with him." These two men raise, train, competition-hunt and sell registered treeing feists, some of the best squirrel dogs in the nation.

click to enlargeAs we went to the tree, I told Cosby I didn't think the squirrels would move that day. He looked back at me and smiled as he observed, "I didn't believe they would, either. But Money and Reba found one that did." We all tried to spot the squirrel that the dogs had barked at, but the bushytail remained invisible to us, lying flat on top of a limb. Williams told us, "You fellas get ready," as he held a wrist-sized vine that climbed up the trunk of the tree. "I'm going to jerk this vine, and one of you ought to get that squirrel." As Williams pulled the vine, Cosby thought he saw the squirrel move and suggested, "I'll see if I can hit it."

At the report of Cosby's Ruger .22 rifle mounted with a 3-9X scope, a fat bushytail came tumbling from the high limbs. Monkey grabbed the squirrel and shook it to make sure the bushytail had expired. "Good dog," Cosby said as he patted the little black feist. "Let's go hunt another one." In less that five minutes, Reba treed as the rain began. This time when we arrived at the tree, I spotted a bushytail about 30 feet up, holding onto the trunk of the tree. When my Remington 541S cracked, the squirrel fell. Reba caught the bushytail in her mouth, shook the squirrel and then lay it down with pride. I could almost hear her say, "I told you that squirrel was up there." We had this highly productive squirrel hunt at White Oak a couple of years ago.

click to enlargeBut I've had a love affair with squirrel dogs for most of my life and have enjoyed hunting squirrels as one of my primary sports since childhood. While in elementary school, I paid $75 for half-interest in Butch, a dog of questionable heritage that loved to locate and hunt squirrels as well as other animals. My dad paid the other $75 of Butch's cost. I considered Butch the finest squirrel dog that ever walked in the woods. We hunted together for 10 years. Then when I married and moved from home, ole Butch stayed with Dad until the day that dog went to that big hollow in the sky where the sun always would shine and the squirrels always would move. But I never lost my love for hunting squirrels with a dog and the camaraderie it created between young and old.

The many advantages of squirrel hunting with a dog include:
* you don't have to sit still or quietly,
* you usually get to shoot a lot,
* youngsters will stay busy and excited all day,
* older hunters can talk, hunt and reminisce together.

But how do you identify a squirrel dog? Where can you find one? What's required to train one? And how can you tell if you've got a good one? I've learned the answers to these questions by hunting with some of the nation's top squirrel-dog breeders and trainers. Many breeds of dogs will tree squirrels. I've hunted with collies, redbone hounds, Mexican chihuahuas and Scottish terriers. But most serious squirrel hunters choose either to hunt with a feist or a cur. You'll find wide discrepancies in the common definitions of these two breeds. However, the American Treeing Feist Association has attempted to standardize and register feists and curs.

click to enlargeTo register a treeing feist, the dog must tree a squirrel and bark on tree, according to Tim Cosby. A feist stands between 10 inches and 17 inches (female) or 18 inches (male) high. It has a short coat, short ears and a pointed snout and comes from mixed ancestry. Cosby defines a cur as a bigger version of the feist. A cur may have some hound in its background, since it will bark on track as well as on tree. "The easiest way to distinguish a feist from a cur is to remember that a feist is a little, short-haired, mixed-breed dog, and a cur is a big, short-haired, mixed-breed dog," Cosby said.

When I asked Cosby to list the qualities of a good squirrel dog, he said, "A good squirrel dog will hunt with you and check in every five to 10 minutes. It'll watch the treetops to see if a squirrel timbers out by leaving one tree and going to another and will follow it and bark as the squirrel moves through the trees. A quality squirrel dog won't bark until it knows it's on a squirrel. If the squirrel's gone into a hole, you can call the dog off the tree and get it to hunt another squirrel. If the squirrel jumps out of the tree, the dog will chase it and may even catch it. Also the dog will come back when you call it from a tree across a creek or a river. And if a squirrel falls in the water, the dog will jump in after the squirrel. A good squirrel dog is a pleasure to hunt with and a joy to watch as it hunts. It will also be friendly to hunters and has an obedient personality."

To learn more about White Oak Plantation's squirrel hunts, call (334) 727-9253, or go to the website, www.whiteoakplantation.com

TOMORROW: How To Breed A Squirrel Dog




Check back each day this week for more about Everyone Should Own A Squirrel Dog ...

Day 1 -Defining a Squirrel Dog
Day 2 -How To Breed A Squirrel Dog
Day 3 -How to Test and Buy A Squirrel Dog
Day 4 -How to Train a Squirrel Dog
Day 5 -Why Every Family Should Have a Squirrel Dog and Where to Find One

John's Journal