Is Not That Hard (yet)
I got down to Larry's at 8:30 am and I was barely out of the truck before Linda had me seated with eggs fresh out of the pan, the bacon as thick as a book cover, (and about three pounds of it), toast with her home canned peach preserves, and fresh coffee on top.
Wooeee! Linda Morrison is the finest cook on the planet and her kitchen is the talk of seven states. To sit at Linda's table is to be the luckiest man on the planet that morning -- it's that good.
Hills-Dale Mountain Life
Hills-Dale Quientina X Ravenswood Brisco of Falling Branch EF
After a breakfast that could not be beat, and a meet with Duncan, Gail's new standard poodle (a really nice, beautiful, obedient and dignified dog), Larry and I loaded up the dogs and tools, packed three gallons of distilled water and some soft drinks too, and off we rolled.
The Maryland countryside is as picture perfect as it gets -- rolling hills broken by hedgerows and creeks, a lot of corn and soy, but also a lot of alfalfa and long grass hayfields and always, the steady rise of new housing developments.
Larry pointed out fox settes and future housing developments in about equal number, the former falling to the later with astounding regularity. The countryside here is still very rural and incredibly beautiful, but in time it will be as gut-shot by people and pavement as the rest of suburban America. Nothing is as big a threat to hunting as simple old-fashioned population growth and sprawl, and there isn't a hunting organization in the country focused on it.
Larry pulled into a gorgeous winery with well-appointed buildings, and a prosperous and manicured feel to it. The vines were sagging under the weight of deep purple grapes in large tight clusters. Bird tape twisted in the wind over every row in an effort to keep out the starlings, while owl-eye balloons floated here and there, ostensibly to do the same. Every once in a while a speaker would squawk out an odd distress sound of a bird or animal -- another attempt to keep birds, deer and raccoon at bay.
The farm was very large -- over 600 acres I would guess -- and grapes were only a small part of it. Behind the grapes were several large pastures broken by a stream, with several hedgerows and corn beyond that -- pretty ideal country for game in our neck of the woods. Other farms stretched out as far as the eye could see.
We parked the truck near a fence and headed across a pasture to a creek bordered by a hedgerow on both sides. The hedgerow on the side closest to us us had some holes, but the ground was lower on this side and soft from the rain, and nothing was home. Mountain, the 14-month old pup, was the first dog to disappear into a den pipe for a look-see, however, which was a nice way to start the day, as Larry's dog, Key was Mountain's dam and he had never seen her work. Larry had been quite firm that morning that I would die an old man before I saw a dog better than Sailor, but I have high hopes for Mountain. Though she's a little larger that Sailor, she's still small and my fingers overlap by about two inches when I span her. She's a total ball of energy.
We crossed the creek and worked up the fence row on the other side, which was higher ground, and Sailor, my small Russell, went to ground on a groundhog. We had just started about three feet into that dig when Mountain entered a hole just 10 feet away. I assumed that the den pipe Mountain had entered was connected to the one we were digging, and I didn't pay too much attention as Mountain does not push Sailor when they are both to ground.
A minute later, and much to my surprise, Mountain began to bark and then a little riot started underground. It sounded like a small chain saw had been started up.
Woohee -- Raccoon!
We didn't know what to do about Mountain's raccoon, so we did the obvious thing -- we carried on with the groundhog we were already on. Better to finish one dig than to botch two. Plus, I had looked over the pipe Mountain was in -- it looked like it had a huge exit hole into the creek bed and she would likely bolt the raccoon out before we could extricate ourselves from the groundhog we were working.
Mountain came out after a few minutes of baying and biting at her raccoon, trotted over three feet to see what was up with Sailor's groundhog, and then she slipped back into her den pipe to give her raccoon another thrashing. A few minutes of that, and she came out again to see how we were making out with the groundhog.
What the hell??
Oh well, she's a young dog, and I figured she had probably lost the raccoon after that second go-round.
The groundhog we were digging was about four-and-a-half feet deep, and the last bit of the dig was mixed up with some smashed concrete foundation from an old forge that had once stood on the stream bank, but had otherwise disappeared.
It took a bit longer than we anticipated, and after we got finished we repaired the den with branches and bit of the scrap tin, backfilled the holes, and took a few pictures.
After we had finished and were gathering up the tools, I looked over at Mountain and she had a "Ready Now?" look in her eyes. What the hell, we thought, she's a young dog so we'd humor her even though that raccoon would surely be long gone.
Larry Morrison with Sailor (in lap)
and Hills Dale Mountain Life (sniffing)
Given a go-ahead, Mountain slipped back into her hole, and son-of-a-gun if it didn't sound like two chainsaws revved up on full bore all over again.
Unbelievably, the raccoon was still there!
We moved closer to the hole with the tools and the pack, and Mountain stayed down this time and really kept at it. It sounded like a full-on battle down there -- Mountain was really laying in on to this raccoon, and it sounded like a monster!
We boxed the sette to get a location on her, but she was moving around over a three or four foot area -- left right, back and fourth. We couldn't get a fix that seemed to make sense. Every time Larry or I boxed, it was a foot or two or even three feet in one direction or another. Larry said he thought he heard either the dog or the raccoon banging on a root, and he guessed they were backed up under the walnut tree, but where the exact location of the pipe was, was still a bit of a mystery. She wasn't deep, that was for sure.
Mountain works a den pipe near Buckeystown.
I cut a trench about a foot deep and Larry barred for the den pipe and broke into it up near the trunk of the Walnut.
I cut into that spot with the post hole digger, and broke through the side of a very large oval den only about a foot down. As I stepped back with the post hole digger still in hand, I got a quick flash of Mountain's side, and then a few seconds later a large raccoon stuck its head out of the hole. It took one good look at me, and then charged out of the hole with Mountain hard on its heels.
The raccoon turned back over the top of the hole and headed away from me toward the creek bottom. I didn't know what to do and instinctively charged forward at it, throwing the posthole diggers at it for good measure.
Of course, I forgot exactly where I was in all the excitement, and with the undergrowth I went too far and ended up flipping pot-over-tea-kettle into the creek bed about 5 feet below. A bit dazed, but otherwise uninjured, I sat half in the water trying to figure out how to get up without getting totally soaked.
Meanwhile, out of eyesight, Larry was cursing at the dogs and it sounded like a full-bore dog fight was going on up at the hole.
What the hell?
I had no idea what was going on, but I figured the dogs were asserting dominance over the hole and were having a tussle over it for some reason.
I gave up on trying to stay dry, rolled over into the creek and scrambled back up the bank, which was harder than it sounds as it was a mud wall topped by multiflora rose.
When I got up top, everything was a calm as a picnic. Larry was standing on top of a young raccoon, now dead, but still pinned to the ground under his foot. Sailor was tied off over to the side and Mountain was looking like she was interested in what we might be up to next.
What the hell?
Where did that second raccoon come from?
OK, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but you also have to remember I had just taken a big fall. Maybe I had a head injury?!
As it turns out, there had been FOUR raccoons in the den, and Mountain had been working all of them at once (hence the huge amount of noise). The den was an very large kettle-shaped chamber that went up into the roots of the Walnut tree. Mamma Coon was the big one I had chased down into the creek bed, and the other three were probably young adults -- just old enough to go off on their own into the world. Two of the teenage raccoon had taken a right coming out of the den, and had disappeared into the thick mass of bind weed and brambles along the creek. One confused young raccoon had gone left straight into Sailor, however, and that's the "dog fight" Larry had been working out.
Remarkably, Mountain ended up without a scratch on her, and Sailor took only a single canine through her cheek (all the way through, but very clean).
We skinned out the small raccoon for a friend who is going to take up taxidermy (he will do a fine job as he seems to be incredibly talented at everything).
It was about this time that I realized that my camera and deben box were both soaked. They were both in a nylon case on my belt, and they went into the drink with me when I plunged down the bank into the creek. The camera was shot, and the deben box would not fire up. The good news was that I had a second deben box in my pack (the wet deben box later fired up again when it got dry) and Larry had one too. The camera was the only one we had with us, however, and it was toast forever.
Though I was soaking wet, I was drying fast, and we proceeded across the field to the hedgerow up the way to see what we might find in there. The multiflora rose here was very thick, but it wasn't long before we found another occupied groundhog sette and Sailor and Mountain worked it while we located and dug down. It was very soft soil and it went fast, with the groundhog doing a very good job of digging away and straight down, and Larry doing expert box and bar work. We finally got the groundhog cornered, but unfortunately, when I pulled Mountain for a dispatch, I was a little slow to block the pipe and the groundhog bolted.
With that we called it a day and went back to Larry's place where Linda had hot food on the table as we came through the door -- and a lot of it too: chicken in mouth-watering barbecue sauce, mash potatoes, beans, ice tea, and all topped off with hot home-made peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.
I was proud of Mountain's work in the raccoon den, and glad Larry got to see her in action. She's still a very young dog, and is still just learning to work as a team with Sailor, but she's coming along splendidly with a fine nose, strong prey drive, and a good brain. After Trooper's wreck in June, I've been a little slow letting Mountain go at it on her own, as I wanted her to mature a little and hopefully get a little discretion. After Sunday, I think I can be sure this dog seems to know butt from breath, and hopefully she'll stay smart enough to remain just out of reach of the front end most of the time.
Mountain Life is a very good Life indeed!
Mountain and Sailor with a groundhog that has been humanely dispatched.