An odd hunt

A story about hunting with Airedales from several years ago.

Yesterday was the big day.  National election day in the USA; and one that will undoubtedly go down in the history books.  I had already voted by mail, so I was free to do what I pleased this day, and that meant hunt.  There was rain in the forecast for the next 3 days, so I wanted to get in a hunt before the weather turned nasty.

I loaded Casey, Kelly, and Sadie (all Airedales) in the pickup and decided to check out some country across the river from my home.  I hadn’t been there yet this season and I have some good calling locations over there that have produced for me over the years.  Bear season is open, and that country normally gets hit hard by the local houndmen; but there are no bear here to speak of this year and I reasoned that the houndmen would be hunting elsewhere.  Most of them don’t start hunting cats until after bear season so I would have that country to myself.

I had several locations, or “calling stands”, in mind that I wanted to try this day; but as it turned out I never got past the first one!  I parked the truck in a saddle where the road passed over a ridge, leashed the dogs and shouldered my backpack, and hiked out an old surveyor’s trail.  It is about a quarter of a mile out this trail to one of my favorite calling stands.

I was just walking up to my stand when I saw something small and black laying there in the trail.
I had the 3 dogs on leash, and they dragged my right up to it and began smelling it.  It was a small domestic kitten; dead of course.  My immediate reaction was, “What in the world is this kitten doing here?”.  It was cold and stiff, but had not been eaten on.

I thought perhaps a varmint of some kind had stolen it from one of the homes much farther down the hill, but why had it been carried this far without being eaten?  Perhaps a mother cat had lost one of her brood, but again we were a long way from any houses.  Maybe it was a feral cat, a domestic cat gone wild, that had lost a kitten.  A puzzle without an answer, but one of those things to be stored in the memory for future speculation.

I picked up the little thing and threw it as far as I could out in the brush, then tied the dogs to nearby trees.  I removed my backpack and took out a predator call; then settled down with my back against a tree and began the familiar series of squalls, like some small animal in a world of hurt.

I had only been calling for a couple of minutes when Kelly sprang to his feet and was staring intently into the timber a little farther up the hill.  All of the dogs showed obvious interest in something up there.  I signaled Kelly to lay down again and continued to work the call in hopes that whatever was there would come out in the open where I could see it.  Kelly was soon on his feet again, and I had to threaten him with a stick to make him lay down and be quiet.  I continued to call for another 10 minutes or so, but I could never catch a glimpse of what had aroused the interest of my dogs.

Finally I stood up and unsnapped the dogs.  They were away in a rush, straight up the trail in front of me; then swung to the left into the timber, and I heard them open up.  Sudden frenzied barking, then nothing.  I stood still and listened.  Airedales quite often give tongue when they jump their game or hit a fresh track, but they normally run silent.  Far in the distance I heard some house dogs start barking and I knew there were homes in that direction.  Once I thought I heard an Airedale bark a time or two, and that was all.

I stuffed the rope leashes in my pack and began walking up the trail which follows the top of a ridge for several miles.  It is fairly easy going and I could listen off both sides of the ridge.  I took it easy and watched for sign as I always do in a place like this.  I stopped often to listen, but heard no more from my dogs.  From time to time I could hear those house dogs in the distance, and I wondered if they were barking because they could hear my dogs.  It kept me going, and I was farther out this ridge than I had ever been.  I also began to wonder if I had missed my dogs and hiked past them.

Airedales are not hounds, and they don’t tree like hounds!  Houndmen who hunt tree game are used to dogs that bark almost every breath, and keep it up for hours.  Not so with Airedales, at least not mine.  There may be a lot of barking at first, when they first tree their game; especially if they see it go up.  Then they slack off to a few barks every now and then.  Finally there is very little barking, even though they may not leave the tree for a much longer time.

But Airedales are smart, and a person has to get used to hunting with them.  Some people wonder how I can successfully hunt silent mouth dogs in mountain country like I do.  It is simply a matter of knowing my dogs.  When I am looking for them and have reason to believe they are treed somewhere, I try to get out on a high point where I can listen into a lot of country.  I let out a long and loud “Whoooop”.  If my dogs can hear me, and if they are treed, they will answer; especially Casey.

I had hiked a long way out this ridge, stopping often to listen and occasionally call to my dogs.  A look at my watch told me it had been an hour and a half since I last heard them.  I was about to turn around and go back to see if they were behind me when Sadie suddenly came down the trail ahead of me.  She looked up and saw me, and I could see the light go on in her eyes!  Instead of coming to me, she turned around and headed back up the trail.  Now I knew!  Casey and Kelly were farther ahead, and Sadie knew where they were.

I walked a little farther up the trail, and I could hear those house dogs barking again. I knew where the house was, still ahead of me and far down the side of the hill.  Then I heard another dog bark, much closer.  I walked down the side of the ridge a little bit so I could hear better, and let out a loud “Whooop”.  I got an immediate answer.  My 3 Airedales were treed about 100 yards below me.

I slid down the side of the ridge, and I could see the lion in the tree before I could see my dogs under it. Not a very big lion; probably a female and probably a young cat.  Quite possibly recently on its own and having to make a living for itself for the first time.  I thought of the little dead kitten I had found earlier in the morning, and how quickly this cat had responded to my calling efforts.  I wondered if this cat had been involved with the death of the kitten, but that didn’t explain why the kitten had not been eaten.  I’ll never know.

I unpacked the video camera and tripod from my backpack and began to look for a suitable place to set it up.  The cat was in a terrible place for pictures.  It was another of those times when it would have been a simple matter to kill this lion, but very hard to get good pictures of it.  I circled the tree a couple of times and finally set up the camera in the best place I could find.  She was laying on a limb with some smaller limbs in front of her face.  I turned on the camera and squalled at her.  She raised her head and looked at me with big yellow eyes.  Not quality video footage, but acceptable.

I leashed the dogs, and we had a long walk ahead of us back to the pickup.  The first part was the toughest.  It is a chore for a man alone to drag 3 wound up crazy Airedales off a tree with a lion in it!  That first 100 yards back uphill, when they can still see the cat is the worst!  Once we gained the ridge top we had easy walking all the way back.  It began to sprinkle rain before we made it to the truck, but once there and inside I ate a late lunch.  It was raining by the time I pulled into my driveway in the afternoon.

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