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Strike Dog

by Robert L. Mason

          Arguably, the most important member of any pack, the "strike dog" or "jump dog," as he is variously known, is rapidly disappearing from the American hunting scene. Highly prized for his unique ability to efficiently search all types of cover and produce game with uncanny regularity, the true strike dog is literally worth its weight in gold.

          Growing up listening to my father and other hunters making brag about the great hounds they had owned or been privileged to hunt over, I gained a keen sense of the qualities most favored by master hunters and houndsmen, long before I was old enough to embark on my first hunting adventure. Almost to a man, the old hunters favored hard-driving trail dogs that relentlessly pushed their quarry to the gun.

          But some of the most celebrated Beagles of all were the bona fide strike dog--hounds possessed of that special knack for locating and starting game. There could be no chase until the rabbit was jumped, and with the cottontail's habitat shrinking and its numbers steadily declining, a high premium was placed on Beagles gifted with extraordinary powers for finding game. Indeed, some Beagles incapable of significant contributions to the drive, were highly prized for their jumping skills, alone.

          Of course, no one wants "half a hound," if he can own the total package, the "natural-born rabbit dog." However, thorough-hunting Beagles, capable of reliably producing game and pushing it swiftly and accurately to a conclusion, have never been easy to find.

          Most hunters have heard stories of hunting parties with several hounds that have combed a particular field with only marginal success, only to have a lone hunter, with a real strike-dog, hunt behind them and kill a hunting coat full of rabbits.

          Odessie "Pep" Malone, my best friend on this planet, is a man with whom I joined the U. S. Marine Corps and served concurrently in Vietnam, many years ago. Malone is quite a character, and he once related to me a hilarious experience he had on a rabbit hunt.

          As it happened, Malone, who had no dogs of his own, was hunting with a friend named Bill, who vociferously boasted that his small pack of three or four Beagles were "jest as good as they come." Brimming with confidence, Bill predicted that his top hound, "Old Buck," would strike game in short order, if game there was to be found.

          With their dogs advancing in a modified wedge that carried them through a broad stretch of woods, sparsely carpeted with honeysuckle, the two men held their shotguns high, fingers on their safety buttons. Occasionally, the hounds would halt to huff some scent or substance encountered along the forest floor, but no dog seemed particularly agitated by any scent he found.

          "Nothing in here!" Bill declared, after an hour or so of hunting had produced not so much as a rumor of game. "Old Buck and 'ese dogs woulda told us."

          After another half-hour of fruitless hunting, the dogs were widely scattered and beginning variously to manifest their utter nonchalance. What had prospectively begun as a hunt was fast assuming the character of a casual stroll when, suddenly, a rabbit jumped up and shot right past Old Buck. Of course, by that time, Old Buck, taking advantage of the lull, was transacting some personal business at the base of a tree.

          With wild gesticulations, yelps, shrieks and cackles, Bill strove frantically to alert his charges that the fabled critter they had all been seeking was finally afoot. Wearing mixed expressions of bemusement and confusion, the hounds glanced back to see what all the fuss was about.

          Unable to put the dogs on the trail of the rabbit, the frustrated hunters moved forward to join them. Suddenly, up jumped another rabbit! Then, with the dogs looking on, yet another rabbit bolted through the woods. Suddenly, rabbits were running everywhere! Their appearance, however, had no apparent impact on the hounds.

          Snatching off his cap, Bill fussed, fumed and scratched his head, bewilderment stamped on his face. "Pep," he said, finally, "I can't figure this out."

          "Don't bother, Bill!" Malone admonished him, "Let me figure this one out. You've got some monkey dogs!"

          Every time Malone recounts that story, we enjoy a hearty chuckle. Even with hounds of a vastly higher caliber than those Bill apparently fielded, it can happen.

          Many otherwise hard-hunting hounds lack that special talent for locating and starting rabbits. Their exaggerated movements and purposeless sniffing waste precious reserves of energy and squander countless hours of shooting light while producing meager results.

          Productivity, on the other hand, is the hallmark of the strike dog. Its intelligence, hunting instinct and hunting desire, as well as its exceptionally high energy and superior stamina are key elements separating the strike dog from others of its kind.

          Add to those extraordinary qualities the ability to employ the broadest array of sensory abilities to the task of searching cover and finding prey. Good jump dogs frequently take their scent directly from the air. They also have good eyes and can often locate a rabbit in cover or spot its likely hiding place, independent of strict reliance on their noses. The senses of hearing and touch are also vital tools in detecting the subtle, nervous movements of a rabbit "holding tight." The strike dog possesses keen hearing and sensitive whiskers.

          Most significant of all its qualities is its "hunting heart"--that raging fire of hunting desire that burns at the core of its being. The strike dog lives to find game. And there are few things more exciting than to watch a strike dog work cover and to hear him open on a scent.

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).