Sailor Gets Her Bronze

Groundhog, Red Fox, Raccoon

I met up with Larry Morrison on Friday morning at his house.  After one of Linda's terrific breakfasts, we loaded up the dogs and headed out to a farm where Larry thought we might find a little shade.  It was unnaturally hot for this early in July.

On the drive up to the farm, I noticed hundreds of new wooden stakes flying red surveyor's tape -- the victory flags of developers.

Larry can point to hill after hill covered with houses and tell you what kind of wildlife used to live there since he's hunted a lot of property in the area that has already fallen under the developer's bulldozer.  If you know wildlife, you mourn the sight of red tape.  Every new house is a kind of gravestone.

On a previous hunt with Larry I had visited the farm where we were now headed .  In early February, right on the heels of the only real ice storm of the winter, Sailor and Larry's little Key, had bolted two red fox out of a hedgerow sette next to a cow pasture.

As we pulled onto the farm now, however, it all looked different.  The land that had been cow pasture in February was now planted in corn.  The fields that were mowed clean in winter were now waist-high with thistle and Queen-Anne's lace.  One hedgerow, right at the farm's entrance road, had already fallen to a developer's plow.

The hedgerows that ran through the middle of the farm were still there, however.  They were thick with multiflora rose, black walnut, black cherry, elderberry, mulberry and honeysuckle.

The sticks of February had given birth to the jungle of July.

We piled out of the truck, slipped a collar on Sailor, and grabbed a bar and shovel.  We hadn't gone 10 feet before Sailor went to ground and began to bay.

Sailor bayed up a storm for about 5 minutes, and the chuck moved around in the sette.  I tied off Trooper -- my 15 inch tall border terrier -- to the truck's metal step.  After about 10 minutes, the chuck bolted off into the brush.  Sailor had gone to ground so quickly and moved the chuck so rapidly, we hardly knew where all the holes were yet!

We moved down the hedgerow another 40 yards, and Sailor slid into another hole.  This time I let Trooper loose, and she suddenly dived into one of the holes like she had seen something.  Within a few seconds Trooper had shouldered his 15-inch frame up to the first turn, with only the top of his feet and his tail visible down the den pipe.

Sailor had been baying up a storm, but now she grew quiet.  After a few more minutes Sailor came out and, snuffled around to the other holes, and then looked at us to let us know it was time to move on.

Whatever it was that she had been baying, had bolted out of the maze of tunnels.

I walked over to Trooper and tried to extract him from his hole.  This is never an easy job, as Trooper is very big, very stubborn, and very dedicated to destruction.  By grabbing both his back feet and tail, however, I managed to pry Trooper out.

It was pretty clear Trooper had tangled with the chuck -- his face was bleeding from a small puncture wound through his top lip, and he had a small cut as well.  It was more than a shaving cut, but not nearly enough to keep this hard-dog out of action.

We washed him off, and we continued down the hedgerow.  Trooper was totally unfazed.

At the bottom corner of the field Sailor went to ground again, and again began barking up a storm.  I went around to the other side of the hedgerow, and Larry and I both tried to figure out how many holes were in this sette.

So far, all the settes had at least three or four holes.  Some seemed to have many more.  With the thick jungle of vegetation and the profusion of holes it was hard to know where one sette started and another began.

Sailor continued to move around underground, baying hard.  After 10-15 minutes of baying, something bolted  -- I heard it and Larry saw it.  It flashed off, and Larry said it looked awful red.  It may have been a fox lying up in a groundhog den in order to get out of the heat -- it had been over 100 degrees for about 5 days straight. Whatever it was, it was gone now.

I took the dogs down to the creek, which was about 40 feet away.  When we came back up, we headed down the connecting hedge row at the bottom of the field.  Almost immediately, Sailor went to ground on another chuck.  The honeysuckle and multiflora rose were a solid mass 4 feet deep at spots.  It took us 15 minutes of whacking with a sharp machete to get enough bare ground to sink a small hole.  By the time we broke into the den Sailor had moved the chuck past this location.  About three minutes after breaking into the den, Sailor came out of another hole farther on.  She must have bolted the chuck.

Sailor, 11 inches tall, 13 inch chest
JRTCA Bronze Medallion for Special Merit in the Field to Groundhog, Raccoon and Red Fox

We looked around for Trooper, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Larry said he thought Trooper had been working a hole in a horrendous thicket of multiflora about four feet away -- a thicket of multiflora so impenetrable we couldn't see into it.  By lifting up a corner of this haystack from the bottom, I could just see a small hole.  This hole was close enough to tie into the sette that Sailor had first entered, but it looked too small for Trooper to have gone to ground in.

I walked around the back of the hedge row and listened.   Nothing.  We waited a few more minutes, and then Larry thought he heard a small snuffling noise coming out of the hole in the impenetrable thicket.   I crawled into a small tunnel in the multi-flora to see if there was anything down that hole (maybe the groundhog?) and I touched Trooper's back foot.

The next five minutes were pretty absurd, as Trooper was head down and deep, and I was facing the wrong direction to pull him out.  There wasn't a lot of dog to grab on to, he didn't want to come out, and I had nothing to brace my feet against.  Finally, with a great deal of force and a rather ungainly backward roll into the brambles, Trooper popped out of the den pipe like a big cork coming out of a champagne bottle.

We moved down the hedge row another 50 feet or so.

Larry pointed to a large bald area at the edge of the cornrows.  He said that when the corn had been just a few inches high, fox kits had used that area as a play area and killed off the sprouting corn as it popped out of the ground.   The fox den itself was located about 15 feet away, right on the edge of the hedgerow.  Larry said he had never seen the kits, but he had seen the bones and the fur dragged outside for the pups to play with.

Trooper sniffed the main den pipe, and then moved off to look at the side holes.  When Sailor got to the main den entrance, however, she slid down into it with a purpose in mind.  Almost immediately she opened up and started baying.  I slipped a leash on Trooper and moved him to the back of the hedge in order to tie him next to a possible bolt hole.  Sailor continued to bark and bark and bark.  Larry and I stood back looking for the bolt, but nothing came out.   After about 20 minutes, it seemed as if Sailor had bottled up whatever it was.  She continued to bark and then suddenly she was quiet except for a growling.  It was pretty clear she was gripping something. 

Then the barking started again.  She didn't sound deep, and she wasn't moving around too much anymore.  The locator box said she was at four feet, but she didn't sound that deep.  We barred down and hit the den just 20 inches down in very hard-baked dirt interspersed with tree roots.

We dug down into the den pipe, and pulled Sailor out in order to clean the dirt out of the hole.  We put Sailor back in, and then we heard a growling.  Sounded like a raccoon!  About 5 minutes later, we heard another odd noise like furniture being dragged across the floor.  Definitely a raccoon!

We pulled Sailor out, and Larry barred into the den behind the raccoon.  We blocked off the main den pipe with the shovel, and I prepared to take a picture of the raccoon as it bolted out of the hole we had dug.  Before I could get it together, however, the raccoon popped his head out, scurried up the shovel handle, and was gone into the brush.

Never mind -- I was thrilled!  This raccoon was all Sailor needed for her bronze, and we had been right on top of every kind of quarry imaginable solid for about four hours.  So far we hadn't walked more than 50 feet without seeing a den hole, and we hadn't walked more than 50 yards without actually tying into something ! This hedge row was so loaded, it was like hunting at the zoo!

Larry and I were pretty hot and we called off the dogs and walked up the field towards the truck.  It was a hot day, but with a nice breeze blowing, decent shade in the hedge row, and very little energy wasted walking, we weren't too faded.  I think we spent more energy cutting back multiflora rose than we did digging to our dogs.

As I came up to the truck, a weasel flashed across the road.  Larry said he hadn't seen a weasel in years -- me either, come to think of it.

The water in the truck was ice-cold thanks to the frozen jugs we had placed in the cooler.  I poured water for the dogs and Larry and I tossed down a pint or two for our selves.

As Sailors' rear end swung toward me, I noticed two big burs clinging to her under carriage.  As I reached down to pluck them off, I saw what looked like a stain on the inside of her back thigh.  To make a long story short, it was a serious rip packed with dirt.  The edges of the wound were very clean, and there was no blood at all -- just exposed muscle under skin that had been cut as clean as if it had been done with a scalpel.

I suddenly remembered the low strand of barbed wire I'd passed by on the way to the creek.  I had watched Sailor pass under that strand on the way down to the creek, but I hadn't watched her as she came back up the hill after watering.  She must have leaped over the wire and caught her rear leg on a barb on the way down.  Ouch.  She had never made a sound, never limped, and she had worked that raccoon underground for between 45 minutes to an hour afterwards.  Tough little dog.

Sailor's barbed wire wound was sufficiently serious that it stopped us hunting for the day.  We headed back to Larry-and-Linda's and then made a quick run to the vet for a few stitches and a dose of Clavamox for both dogs.  Both dogs had dings, but neither was complaining too much.  This is a day they will dream about for months.

The rest of the evening (and a couple of hours the next morning) were spent eating Linda's wonderful food and swapping stories with Larry, Linda and Gail about everything from politics to puppies.  No one ever starved at the Morrison's, and no one ever had more fun than listening to Who and Key yodeling to the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out?".

Larry's little Key had just had a litter four days earlier.  This was Key's first litter, and she popped out five puppies with no c-section.  A first-time mom, she's doing wonderfully and the pups themselves are awesome.  Key is a beautiful little dog -- an 11.75 inch smooth coat with a narrow body on long legs. The sire of Key's new litter is Ravenswood Brisco, who is out of Beano, the grandsire of Sailor.  That pups are tiny -- one is 3 oz, one is 6 oz, and the other three are between 4 and 5 ozs.  So far all the pups seem to have very strong-looking heads like their sire.  The breeding is such that all the pups are likely to stay very small -- perfect little hole dogs.

Bottom line:  I already have my puppy reservation in, and I'm green-lighted by the spouse to add a new dog to the house.  It helps that these pups will be 1/4 Beano of Ravenswood, same as my little Sailor whom my wife simply adores.  If they look as good in two months as they do now, we may have a spare dog for the field come spring 2003.

Click here to see how the new pup is doing!

Sailor, age 10 months, with dead groundhog.
Most groundhogs are bolted out of their dens alive,
to be hunted another day, or are live-caught and relocated.