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Hoping For A 'Son-Of-A-Gun'

by Michael J. Dwyer

         Our Beagle Gunn is now 10 years old and in my humble opinion is among the top hunting dogs in central Newfoundland. Some acquaintances of mine refer to him as "Gunn the Great."

          My son Mark and daughter Michelle, pups themselves at the time, had been pressuring me to get them a puppy. Eventually I relented and made a few inquiries.

          My friend Bruce hails from Goulds, the reputed home of the hunting Beagle here in this island paradise of Newfoundland. He told me of a man in Bay Bulls who bred top quality hunting dogs, so I contacted him and made some arrangements.

          Bruce readily agreed to bring the pup out to us at Notre Dame Junction, where Michelle and I  drove to meet him on a beautiful afternoon in the fall. It was a memorable ride indeed because as we were driving up the highway we spotted two massive bull moose establishing dominance on a bog no more than 50 meters from the road.

          It was the first time either of us had witnessed such a spectacle. For the whole of 20 minutes they fought and steamed, bellowed and broke off small trees, tearing up bog in the process. They were evenly matched and both fought furiously.

          Abruptly and with no apparent winner as we could determine, but for some reason known only to them, they ceased the battle and disappeared into the foliage.

          Bruce was waiting at the intersection and when we saw the little pup it was love at first sight. To see the tiny furball of black, tan, and white curled up in the cardboard box on a security blanket with a fat freckled belly, button nose, watering brown eyes, and those long drooping ears, one couldn't help but fall victim to infinite affection.

          With cooing sounds of love and adoration escaping her lips, Michelle took possession without delay and we brought him home with us, although Bruce thought a little hard of letting him go.

          He grew up quickly and he grew up lean, his muscles grew strong and his nose got keen. We searched for an appropriate name for him and out of the blue Mark suggested that we dub him "Gunn."

          I asked why he thought that would be a suitable name.

          "Well, Dad, the way I see it, he'll live by the gun and there's a good chance that we will die by the gun, so Gunn is a good name," he rationalized.

          We all agreed wholeheartedly and so it came to be.

          That first year we took him out in the thicket almost every day. One evening I brought along my shotgun and with Mark cuddling him in his arms a short distance away, I fired into the air to get him over any gun-shyness he might harbor. Before half a box of shells were spent he was frolicking around on the ground between my feet, oblivious to the noise.

          The instinct to hunt was well inbred but I knew from inquiries that it had to be brought to the forefront. One day we snared a hare and I kept the skin. Mark held Gunn on a leash while I dragged the skin through the grass in the garden. In no time at all he was following the scent trail, making scattered excited yelps along the way.

          He spent most of his time in the house sleeping with the kids until a rabbit hunter came to visit and told me that I had a great dog, but... "he can be a pampered house pet with carpet paws, a mattress back, and bedroom eyes, or he can be a great hunter, but he can't be both at the outset. Once he's trained you can keep him anywhere you like," he said matter-of-factly.

          "And another thing; I'd advise you to feed him the night before you take him hunting. If he is anything like my dog, on a full belly he will run until well into the night. By feeding him the night before, by days end his desire to eat will over-ride his desire to chase and he will give up and return to you."

          By the second hunting season he had developed into a masterpiece of the Beagle breed. Standing tall on muscled legs, head held proudly on a thick neck above a barrel chest and streamlined body, Mark declared that he was the Arnold Schwartzenegger of the canine family.

          In the shade of some aspen trees we poured a 12' x 12' slab of concrete with a sandbox in the center and surrounded it with an 8-foot wooden fence before situating the snug doghouse inside. Neither he nor the kids liked the idea for the first week or so, but inevitably he became an outdoor dog.

          That fall a friend of mine, Terry, who owned and hunted an aging Beagle named Candy, suggested that I bring Gunn over for a day to show him the tricks of the trade.

          The first blood drawn that day was his. While walking in the road he was having a great bit of fun playing, jumping, and frolicking about Candy like the pup he was until suddenly the old girl became fed up and snarled at him. In the vicious attack that ensured she bit a piece out of his left ear. Gunn yelped and , when he found his legs, scampered to me seeking protection. It was a quick, crude, and violent introduction to his vocation but it did teach him a valuable lesson - hunting is a serious business; don't be fooling around. After recovering from the shock he stuck to Candy's heels like a shadow, and when a hare was started, he howled his heart out and followed her until he was exhausted. Over the course of the day we bagged five hares.

          It put him on the right track to becoming a great hunter and when I was thanking Terry for the time, he smoothed down the fur on Gunn's neck and said, "You got a good dog there. He's gonna be a great hunter."

          That year over Gunn, I bagged enough fresh meat for 17 pots of rabbit stew. He never seemed happier then when he was on a fresh scent. Mind you, those scoffs never came easy. We spent hours and days in succession in the thicket cracking off alders and dry sticks, kicking the tops of windfalls, trying to get one started.

          More often than not he'd lose the scent shortly after the initial adrenaline surge and we'd spend hours on end trying to get him back on track. That winter with snow on the ground the tracking process was made a lot easier and we honed our hunting skills every chance we had, sometimes from early morning until long after dark.

          One day Gunn escaped from the pen and the kids become uneasy. When the next morning arrived and there was no sign of him, we made a thorough search of the town, calling out his name to no avail. Filled with anxiety and imagining the worst possible scenarios, Mark and Michelle made up an advertisement to put on the community cable channel. It read: "Missing. One tan, black, and white male Beagle. Don't answer that well to the name of Gunn. Finder please call..."

          The following day we received a call and without delay we went to get him, finding him none the worse for his experience.

          On the occasion of Mark's 13th birthday I took him hunting so that he could study how I went about this wonderful activity, and today he's almost as good a hare hunter as his old man is (nudge nudge).

          It wasn't just because of the acquiring of succulent meat that I took a hankering to hounds and hunting. There's  the sheer thrill of seeing the dog doing what comes naturally in a natural, pristine environment as well. It adds weeks to my life to see him with his nose to the ground, snorting the fresh scent, searching them out with his white-tipped tail upstanding and waving like a flag, or hearing the exciting, hair-raising sounds he makes when the quarry is rousted, followed by the unfailing adrenaline rush as he tongues ever closer (whether you take a shot or not).

          These are the kinds of things which make me feel alive and invigorated at that moment in time, with not a care nor a concern in the world.

          As well, it's the strong bond of loyalty and trust that ultimately develops between man and dog, coupled with the wonderful times spent in the great outdoors. They serve as a source of fuel for endless hours of interesting, lively conversations.

          In retrospect, even the countless times we spent waiting, calling, and blaspheming his name until well after dark in the snow and rain, hoping he'd give up the chase and come on so we could go home, makes us laugh today.

          Gunn quit? No way. He'd run and howl for hours and hours, covering 40 miles or more, I'm sure. Often, my patience would be tried, my vocal cords hollered sore, and my legs walked off when he'd disappear and not make a sound. Other creatures in the area would hear me shout repeatedly; "Gunn! You son-of-a-gun, get out here!"

          At times, I'd find myself pacing and pleading, threatening, and swearing on him. It seemed that when he was on the hunt, his hearing shut down. We'd tramp the brush for any given length of time until finally we'd find him quietly and happily feeding off or rolling in a rotten moose paunch or feasting on a hare caught in someone's snare.

          Some snare hunters we encountered were not at all friendly to us, and on several occasions they threatened to shoot Gunn if they saw him handy to their slip line. To these people I'd unequivocally state that I had rights to acquire with a dog as much as they had to acquire with wire. As long as the animal was on the hop, he was fair game for either method.

          Gunn often became entangled by the paw and sometimes by the nose in the wire slips, even though if we found the area was slipped out, we'd take every precaution to avoid them. But with so many hunters setting miles and miles of wire and some not even bothering to strike them up - encounters were imminent.

          Feared most were the fox snares because they were set to go around his neck and strangle him. When we came across them, we left the area immediately.

          Gunn is outside in his pen at present waiting to hear me appear on the bridge with the bell collar and the shotgun in hand. His face is turning white and he spends more and more time in the house with us. But he hasn't slowed down any and his desire for the chase is still an overpowering force that keeps him going and going and going.

          Pretty soon I hope to breed him with another hunting Beagle and bring into the fold a young "son-of-a-Gunn," the next generation, so that when he is eventually put out to pasture, we will have another to carry on his legacy.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).