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Hunting cats is all about the dogs

I can hear the howls from a mile away. On this sunny summer day, I’m driving to a site near White Sulphur Springs where the Montana Houndsmen Association is holding a field trial. I’m here to learn more about these interesting dogs and the men and women who train them.

The first thing I discover is that there are six types of hound: black-andtan, bluetick, English (redtick), Plott hound, redbone hound, and treeing Walker. In other parts of the country, hunters use these dogs to chase raccoons or bears, but in Montana the hounds hunt cougars. Without dogs, it’s nearly impossible for hunters to find, much less tree, a mountain lion.

In one event, dogs race cross-country after a bear scent–soaked skin dragged over a 1-mile course. Thirty-three hounds were released, and the first one that finds the lure wins.

I talk to Skeeter Baertsch, 68. He got started running hounds four years earlier, for the exercise and the excitement. “I had open heart surgery this past winter,” says Baertsch. “The doctor said I’m doing great and to keep doing what I’m doing. So that’s why I’m here.”

At noon, handlers line up six dog kennels along the edge of a pond for the water drag. A bell sounds, the doors fly open, and the dogs plunge into the water after a raccoon skin pulled across the surface by a rope. In a contest called treeing, judges count the number of times a dog barks in 30 seconds. The winner today has 72 barks.

I ask Tony Knuchel about the appeal of running hounds and hunting lions. “See that hill up there?” says the Potomac resident, pointing to a mountaintop in the nearby Big Belts. “A person might want to go up there sometime and see that place. But there’s really no reason to do it, so they don’t. But when you’ve got hounds chasing a lion up there, you’ve got a reason. I see more of Montana in a year than most people see in a lifetime, just following my dogs.”

Without lions, however, houndsmen have no more reason to explore the mountains than anyone else. Which is why these hunters were the strongest advocates for reduced harvest quotas and the biggest supporters of Rich DeSimone’s ten-year mountain lion study.

Over the din of barking and howling dogs (another water drag is about to begin), Knuchel tells me that most houndsmen pursue lions more for the thrill of the chase than to kill a trophy. “Shooting the cat is not what most of us are into,” he says. “In doing this for 14 years and having treed about 300 cats, I’ve only shot one, and I’ll probably never kill another. The rush for me, I think for all us houndsmen, is training the dogs and seeing and hearing the dogs work as they chase the cat. The pleasure is all in the dogs.”

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Upcoming Events

  • Monday, April 22, 2019 - 6:00pm
    Paintbrush Piecers Quilt Guild meeting will be Monday April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Cody Sr. Center. After a short business meeting the program will be a trunk show presented by Betty Hecker, Audrey Clark and Sharon Kaeding from Red Lodge. Meetings are free and guests are welcome. For information contact Marybeth 754-5399
  • Monday, April 22, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, April 26, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.

The Carbon County News

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11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

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