Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Hunting Dogs" by Oliver Hartley, 1909

Teddy M. sent me a terrific link to an old now-public-domain book from which these pictures are lifted: Hunting Dogs, by Oliver Hartley

A couple of things leap out at me while reading through:

  1. Many of the old working dogs were as ugly as a muddy river, and;
  2. People still tell hunting stories with the same humor they always have.

A few lines should suffice to demonstrate that last point:

I had an old speckled hound we called Teddy. He went in and when he backed out he had company with him, and he seemed to think a great deal of his company, for he was hanging right on to him just as though he thought his company might leave him if he got a chance. Ted was doing all he could, but he got him up so the other dogs could see Mr. 'Coon's back and then he had plenty of help and the 'coon's troubles were soon over.

Some coons, but a lot of skunk, and one dog that looks half pit.

The text and pictures are a very good read, for we are reminded that this book was written at about the time we had shot out almost all the game in this great county.

There are many reasons why the 'coon hunt is fast becoming one of the most popular of the manly sports. The 'coon is found in many sections of the United States. Other game is becoming very scarce. The wealthy business man, the man of affairs who is tied to his desk six days out of the week, can own a 'coon hound and in the stilly hours of the night, after the day's turmoil of business, can enjoy a few hours of the most strenuous sport now left to us and witness a battle royal between his faithful hound and the monarch of the forest, the wily 'coon. Nothing that I can contemplate is more exhilarating or more soothing to the nerves than the excitement of the 'coon hunt. From the first long drawn note when the trail is struck until the hound's victorious cry at the tree, it is one round of excitement and anticipation. What or whose hound is leading? What direction will Mr. Coon take? What dog will be first to tree? And then the fight! It is simply great! And then showing the hide to the boys who didn't go, and telling them about it for days to come.

The good news is that 100 years later deer, once scare, are now so common that I saw two on the way to work yesterday morning.

It may be bumper-to-bumper traffic from my house into the city, but I can still hunt deer from the front seat and watch bald eagles nesting while I do it!

Greyhounds said to be of a good type.

As for fox and raccoon, we have never had more animals in the history of this nation. The fecundity of Mother Nature is amazing, and if we will only protect habitat and regulate hunting in a sensible way (and we do), then she is only too happy to get up off the floor and dance a jig for us.

Of course it helps that coon and fox hunting is a little less popular than it once was. And for anyone who wonders why this is the case, the book helpfully explains!

The 'coon hunt calls for manhood. Tender weaklings cannot endure the exertions necessary to enjoy this sport. It is too strenuous for the lazy man or the effeminate man to enjoy. They shudder at the thoughts of donning a pair of heavy hip boots and tramping thru swamps and slashes, crossing creeks and barbed wire fences, thru briars and thickets, maybe for several miles, and the probability of getting lost and having to stay all night. But to the man with nerve and backbone this is one of the enjoyable features. It affords great fun to get a tenderfoot to go out for the first time and initiate him into the "'coon hunters' club." The tenderfoot will use every cuss word ever invented and will coin new ones when the supply of old ones becomes worn out and ineffective. He will cuss the briars, cuss the ditches, cuss the creek, cuss the fences, cuss the swamps, cuss the slashes, cuss the man who persuaded him to go, and finally cuss himself for going. But when the excitement of the chase is on and when the fight commences he becomes reconciled; and if good luck is had he is very likely to be the next man to propose another "'coon hunt."

Coonhounds in 1909.

Motley dogs with cased coon skins, and men with carbide lights.

This photo is captioned "fox hound graduates".

Captioned as "foxhounds worthy of the name."

Fox Terrier (what we would now call a Jack Russell)

Some things never change, of course.

The best advice any honest working dog man can give a novice is to stay away from the purebred Kennel Club show dog. As Hartley notes,

The ideal coon dogs of most experienced night hunters are the half bred fox hounds.

True enough today.

The rarest dog in the AKC is the purebred American Foxhound. Who wants a purebred from show lines? No one! And yet foxhounds are as common as stagnant water in this state, and the Masters of Foxhound Association is just an hour up the road from my house. What is rejected is not the foxhound, but the inbred and the nonworking version of these dogs.

Working dogs come with pedigrees too, but those pedigrees mean something, as attached to every dog going back five generations or more is a decent story or two about real work in the field.  Not trials with coons in cages, or farm-raised and just-planted birds, or pet sheep trained to follow any man or woman with a stick. Real work.


seeker said...

Mr Terrierman, I do love this article but I disagree with you on one thing. I do not see an ugly dog there. They are all magnificent warriors of the wilderness with hearts and brains and spirit. Remember, Spartacus didn't really look like Kirk Douglas.

Debi and the TX JRTs
who especially liked the last picture

Seahorse said...

I'm struck by the amount of bone on the Fox Terrier. I had the same thought looking at the Grey Hound on the left in that photo. Where has all the bone gone???


PBurns said...

I ignore bone and measure chest for Russells. If I can get bone and a small chest, great, but too often "bone" means too big a dog.

Mountain and Gideon both have a fair amount of bone, but I have seen some whispy bitches do pretty good work because they could get where they needed in a pipe.

Out west, the greyhounds were rarely pure -- they were often crossed with light pits to be 7/8 greyhound which gives a heavier fast dog for knocking over coyotes. The same is done in the UK today where the fox are about half the size of a western coyote (which is smaller than an eastern coyote).


Seahorse said...

This got me thinking, and I looked up your post regarding worldwide fox sizes. I know you've written about this extensively, but I'm a little confused. In looking at the table of average fox weights, my state of Maryland has the lightest foxes of any location shown. Some of the European foxes were far heavier. I hear people talk about the European fox as being a much bigger animal and therefore many of the European-bred Jack Russells are larger. Two questions: I think I recall you showing that the red fox here is the same red fox as in Europe and not another variety, as they were imported from Europe. Is that correct? And, does the chest size of the red fox worldwide change as much as the weights do? Or, do the chest sizes remain closer to equal despite a heavier animal overall? I lied, I have another related question. U.S. earths vs. European earths: You refer to our earths as "tight". I can make something up about what I think that means, but what does it mean? I have also heard that the more north you go in America, the larger the dens and holes become, so a bigger dog might do o.k. in the field way north, but not more south. Do you have an opinion on that? Just trying to sort through it all to get it straight in my head, thanks.


PBurns said...

The short answer is here >> with data from all over.

As I note in my book, fox size are variable all over, just as wolves are, and coyotes are, but they "bell out" at an average weight of around 15 pounds +/- two pounds, and that's true all over.

Yes, across broad regions there is some variation in size, but this seems to be mostly due to the length of the body. Italian dog foxes average two pounds lighter than their English kin, and Italian vixens averaged one pound lighter than their English counterparts. Though you would think this might make for an English fox with a slightly larger chest, this does not appear to be the case -- body length seems to the determinant variable.

In my experience, Maryland fox are about 12-15 pounds, but I have handled some smaller (11 pounds) and a few that were considerably larger. I do not kill fox, but I have friends who do, and they have booked a few as big as 22. Still a small chest though. A fox is mostly fur! It says a lot that there are no fox taxidermy mannikins with chests larger than 14" around.

European fox earths are often old badger earths that may be anywhere from a month or two old to 200 years old or better. Some of these earths, especially the ones dug in chalk, get quite big around as badgers pull bedding in and out, and as erosion takes its course. That said, the folks I know who dig badger are the folks who also dig fox, and all are using the same size dogs that we are -- a shy bit over 12 inches at the shoulder is average, and a chest of around 14" in a young dog (it might spring to 15" or 16" with age)

The fact that animals get larger as you go North is called "Bergmann's Rule," except that's it's more like "Bergmann's Suggestion" as it's not always true.

For more on Bergmann's Rule and other wildlife "rules of thumb," see >>

Bottom line: Anyone tells you a BIG dog can do the job with fox, you be sure to ask them to post their pictures of themselves digging on a few fox. It seems they have always "forgotten to bring a camera," LOL.


Seahorse said...

Thank you so much for this clarification! I'm trying hard to plant provable things in my memory as opposed to things I thought I knew, or things that get repeated so often as to become "truth". I'd read the post that included the fox data you linked to above, but I'd never have found the Bergmann's Rule post. Much appreciated, as always.


Seahorse said...

P.S. Thanks, too, regarding the "earths" question. Over the holidays I hope to read the Eddie Chapman and Bob Clough books I recently acquired. I think I need to do a serious review of "American Working Terriers" as well!