"Had an ol' dog his name was Blue, betcha five dollars he's good dog, too." — American folk song "Old Blue"
Most of us have known a dog named Blue at some time in our life. Maybe you were lucky and owned one yourself. From reading these pages, you know that I have had a lot of dogs (too many) in my time, but in truth I never had one named Blue.
I did own a beautiful bluetick coonhound back in the day who could have easily been called Blue, but at my dad's behest, he was named Lead, as in you would lead a dog on a leash. (That was a popular hound name at one time, I think.)
Anyhow, Blue has always been a name given to hunting dogs.
The lyrics I quoted earlier are from an old folk song done back in the minstrel show days, and it went on to become popular and was recorded by, of all people, Joan Baez and the Byrds.
Hounds and other hunting dogs are part of our American history and culture, no matter how much some of us don't want to recognize it. Sadly, there are some out there today who, because they say they don't like hunting, want this part of our past erased and unrecognized. Well, it is there, it is a part of us, and those of us who are hunters are proud of it and want it preserved, but that may be a sermon for another time.
Those who know me know I love all hunting dogs, from bony pointers to block-headed Labradors to feisty cur dogs and bawl-mouthed hounds. ("Bawl" is a type of bark that a hound often does — just stay with me here, we will educate you about this huntin' dog world.)
The topic I want to touch on for a minute is that in the outdoors industry, media and print world, bird dogs such as pointers and setters and spaniels, along with the retriever breeds such as the hugely popular Labrador, are usually talked about a lot more than hounds and curs and other dogs that are considered "tree" dogs. (Tree dogs are hunting dogs that pursue game, be it bears, squirrels or raccoons, and bark at the tree till the hunter gets there.)
Recently, though, I am seeing what I hope is a renaissance in this area in that the lesser-known hound breeds such as blueticks, Plotts, and Walkers, along with the many varieties of curs and feists, are coming in from the cold and may get more press and recognition.
Why do I say this? So glad you asked!
I recently had the pleasure of joining Ben Sheets on his podcast, "Tree Talkin' Time," which can be found on Apple, Libsyn, Spotify and other podcast destinations. Ben hails from Pennsylvania and is "eat up" with the whole tree dog and hound world, and it shows in the passion he relates in his podcast.
"I have been involved with tree dogs for the past 15 years and got my start with curs and feists while in college," Ben said. "I squirrel hunted during the day and coon hunted at night. After graduation and moving home, I transitioned to primarily coon hunting because of time constraints.
"When I made this shift, I got a few American leopard hounds. Through them, I was able to meet some bear hunters and I was able to go on my first bear hunt, and I've been hooked ever since. I live in Pennsylvania, where it's not legal to pursue bears with hounds, and have to travel to Virginia and West Virginia to do so. I didn't grow up hunting, and while I enjoy it, the dogs and the work they do is why I am drawn to this lifestyle."
(Ben told me if it were possible, he would move to West Virginia so he could run bear hounds all the time!) Do yourself a favor and check out his podcast.
Another bright spot that I see has appeared in the print world of outdoors media. I was honored and humbled to have an article on cur dogs appear in the first issue of Hound magazine, a new addition in the lineup for Game & Fish in the publishing house of the Outdoor Sportsmans Group. This is a nicely done, full-color magazine with beautiful photography and content from some well-known writers in the hunting-related media world (even if they did have me in this issue).
Dog men and women out there also know that very soon the revered tree dog magazine Full Cry is making a comeback under the new management of Dani and Jason Duby from Oregon. They are bringing back a publication that has been around since the 1930s and has been the mainstay for those in the hound, squirrel dog and coonhound world.
Many of your dads and granddads will tell you about reading Full Cry since they were kids. I think you will see a new, revamped and attractive version of Full Cry, while at the same time you will get the hound and tree dog news like you remember. I am excited to see this and so happy the Duby household took on this mammoth task of keeping Full Cry in print.
Maybe the sad-eyed hound and the feisty squirrel dog will be getting a little more respect.
I hope so. Ol' Blue has been waiting a long time.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at [email protected].