I went hunting with Larry Morrison on Saturday.
Larry is a JRTCA hunt judge, a terrific gentleman, and about as knowledgeable a terrierman as I've met so far. I met his daughter Gail on-line back when I was looking for a small dog. Their very small bitch had three pups, only one of which was female. They decided to keep her for themselves -- a smart move as she's turned out to be a REALLY nice looking dog.
I met Larry at his place at 8:30 and we were on the road in just a few minutes. It was cool (about 45 degrees) and still early when we got to the farm, so we started looking for raccoons in den holes between a small creek and as-yet uncut corn field. Nothing home.
As we came out of the woods we got to a tall electric fence. The top two wires were cold, so I thought maybe the fence had been turned off. My mistake. As I got to the top the third wire down shocked me pretty good, and I leaped off. As I went over the top, however, my right foot got tangled and twisted in the top two fence wires. I ended up with my right ankle hog-tied and twisted up in the fence behind me, my head down on the ground with the pack still on my back, and nothing to grab on to but the hot third wire behind me.
I tried to stand up using the posthole digger, but only succeeded in moving my foot just enough to connect my tangled foot with the hot third wire -- ouch!
The good news is that Larry got me disentangled without laughing too hard. In the end I got away with nothing but a little scrape and a bruise.
After Larry pried me off the wire we started down the pasture. It was then that I realized Trooper had disappeared in the commotion. I didn't worry too much about that -- he's really too big to get down a hole (15 inches at the shoulder), he doesn't run off, he's stock broke, and he doesn't care about other dogs. It was odd he didn't come when I whistled though .... We went up the pasture along a creek. Still no sign of Trooper.
Trooper the border terrier, Lilypons, Maryland
We were headed up to a brushy patch of bramble about halfway up the sloped pasture. Larry knew there was a good sette in there, and Sailor ran ahead to the location.
A rock had slid into the groundhog hole, making it a particularly narrow entrance. Sailor is only 12.75 inches at the chest and yet she could barely slip past the stone. She got in, and whatever was inside was very close to the entrance. I heard an odd chirping sound I hadn't heard before. Larry got to the hole just as the critter moved away from the entrance. I told Larry I thought it was either a fox or a 'coon -- it sure didn't sound like a 'chuck. Maybe my dog was making weird sounds, though.
Larry settled in to wait for the bolt, and motioned me up the hill to keep an eye on the uphill exit holes. This looked like a four-eyed sette, and all three of the other eyes were within my view from my perch on the hill. Whatever bolted would have to run out of the bramble patch and would have a long run across open pasture -- a perfect place for Trooper to do what he does best. Where the hell was he?
After about five minutes, I saw something black and white dash out of one hole and dive into another followed by Sailor just two feet behind. SKUNK!
I cursed and hollered for Larry, just as the skunk, with Sailor close behind, dived underground again. Then the skunk sprayed and we could smell it. I started hacking at the brambles with my very dull machete, and Larry got out the locator and tried to get a fix on the dog's whereabouts underground.
Unfortunately, the electric fences all around us were throwing off the collar, and the reading was pretty unclear.
The dirt was soft and I started cutting into the bank to open up the tunnel. All I could think of was that one of my dogs had just come up missing, while the other might end up dead if she passed out underground and I couldn't locate her.
A few minutes later --- no more than five -- Sailor staggered out from a hole behind me, and Larry said, "There she is." I scooped up Sailor and swung her to get the blood pumping to her head and to encourage her to vomit. She threw up watery fluid almost instantly, and did so again as I rushed her down the hill to a tiny creek cutting through the bottom of the pasture. There I coated her in mud to wash off the skunk stink (the mud would dry and flake off) and to stimulate her into movement.
She was a little dazed, but recovering fast, and was soon rolling in the grass to get off the mud and the skunk stink.
Trooper showed up, coming out of the corn field. He had dirt on his nose. Apparently he had found his own hole and been working it. Too big to really go to ground, he had finally given up and come to join the party.
Larry came down the hill with all the equipment and we settled down by the creek with both dogs staked. Sailor was recovering fast, and we checked her gums a few times. They were pink and bright. The skunk must have blasted against a den wall while making a turn, rather than giving it directly into Sailor's face. Sailor got herself out of the ground pretty quickly.
We were lucky.
A dog hit by skunk underground is totally different from above ground (see SKUNK at http://www.fallingbranch.com/working/indexwork.shtml) . Unless the dog is gotten out QUICKLY, the toxic fumes can overpower the dog, drain the iron out of its blood and cause horrendous other complications, not the least of which is death. Dogs normally convulse, vomit and go into shock unless gotten out within a few minutes of being sprayed. But Sailor had been underground for no more than five minutes, I think. In any case, after about 25 minutes she seemed fine, if stinky. Her gums were pinker than ours (white gums is a sure sign of skunk-induced anemia and shock), and Larry and I decided to continue the hunt.
In almost 10 years of very active hunting, this was the first skunk Larry had come across. In over 1,500 miles of hiking, I've only seen one other skunk before.
We went up and worked a groundhog sette located at the corner of the pasture with exit holes on both side of the electric fence. Sailor kept moving around underground, but wouldn't give up. She whined some, but never really bayed. With the electric fence right above her, it was hard to get a fix on her exact location, and she couldn't seem to pin the chuck down in this four-eyed sette. We decided to move on.
Sailor eventually came out and joined us down the field where Trooper had found a one-holed sette he was trying to squeeze into. It was clear someone was home, and I pulled off Trooper. Sailor went down the hole like a silk scarf through a bracelet. We barred the hole and located the tunnel. Larry had called it exactly right -- the hole we cut in was at a right angle in the tunnel, dead between the chuck and the dog. Larry barred the back of the hole behind the chuck, and it came into view through the hole. Adios, groundhog. The chuck weighed maybe 10 pounds -- bigger than Sailor for sure.
Breaking through to the den. Note bar
hole below dog's head. West Viriginia.
The next sette we came to was pretty big and seemed pretty deep from the sound of Sailor's baying. This one too was in a corner of the pasture and completely surrounded by electric fences, which again threw off the locator box. Sailor seemed to be moving around all over, and stopped barking pretty early on. We cut into a section of the tunnel, but there was no sign of a critter.
After a bit of conversation with the farmer mowing the alfalfa field right next to us, we decided to pull up stakes and move down the field to explore a little more. We came to a location where a groundhog hole had been opened up to a perfect oval. We agreed it looked like a fox den, but no on was home. Maybe next time.
We were starting back to the car when Sailor went into the Mother of all Multi-Flora Rose Patches, disappeared down a groundhog hole, and proceeded to bay up a storm. Here we go.
Larry said he thought Sailor was right up against whatever it was, and so we proceeded to try to hack our way into the center of this jungle. This stuff was THICK and wicked, but we eventually made a passable trail to a three-hole sette . Sailor came out of the hole and then dived back in. Trooper entered another hole we had missed in the brambles -- we could hear him thumping the ground, but we couldn't see him in the thicket. After about three or four minutes of initial baying from Sailor, she was quiet again. I eventually went to look for Trooper and, after hacking my way into the center of the briar thicket, found him completely underground with only his tail reachable. I grabbed his tail and, after a bit of a struggle, he popped out. A 15-inch border terrier with a 19 inch chest is a lot of dog in not-very-large woodchuck hole. I was pretty amazed he got in as far as he did!
I hauled Trooper back to the edge of the corn field and staked him. Then I went back to where Larry was trying to find Sailor in the thicket. We lined up all the holes we could see and spent about a half hour hacking away at the damn briar patch so we could use the locator box and pole. We tried the locator collar again. Nothing. We moved off and waited for her to exit. Nothing. We went back and tried the locator collar again. Nothing. Just then, Sailor came up the back side of the woods with an expression that seemed to say "what the hell are you guys doing back here?" We figure Sailor had bolted the woodchuck out of still another hole we never found. A good dog in a bad bit of Multiflora Rose.
We headed back to the truck, lost Sailor again (that dog really wants to hunt) and Larry gave me an excellent lesson in how to wash out a dog's eyes. We then settled in to savor the really excellent beef jerky that Larry and his wife Linda make.
After 8 hours in the field and two Mountain Dews, a whole lot of great stories and laughter, I was feeling excellent. On the way back to Larry's place, he pointed to all the subdivisions, houses and min-malls where he used to hunt. "Bolted a fox off that hill before the houses" he said pointing to a couple of big boxes with plastic siding. "Used to take a lot of 'chucks in that pasture before it became a parking lot" he said as we pulled past a mini-mall.
Larry has amazing eyes. He stopped by the side of the road and pointed to a critter on the edge of a field about 300 yards away. I could barely see what he was looking at even when he was pointing to it -- and he saw it while he was DRIVING. The only question he had was whether it was a groundhog or a raccoon. When it shifted into better light, we could see it was a BIG groundhog.
Back at the house with the stink dog and Trooper, we had a WONDERFUL dinner cooked up by Larry's wife Linda and we sat around for an hour or so and told jokes. I recounted the tale of my multiple electrocutions for the amusement of all (we were working both sides of a hot fence all day and I got nailed about five times). Gail, Larry's daughter, took me through Larry's hunting photo book -- great pictures of digs and dogs, with some of the nicest fox shots (almost all bolted) you ever saw.
The drive back that night was with the windows down the whole way. The pet stores were all closed, so "Skunk Off" was not an option. The stink dog got multiple baths with shampoo, peroxide, baking powder, masengill, mouthwash, and even Simple Green. Right now, she's not too stinky, but she's sore all over. Me too. For therapy I've given her a couple of massages, doused her eyes with liquid tears, poured her a big bowl of sugar milk, given her extra food, and put her on hot pad in my study where she has stayed most of the day. As for myself I'm doing a fair amount of Alleve.
If Sailor and I could do it all over again tomorrow, however, we would in a heartbeat. Larry Morrison is a great terrierman, a good story teller, and a really fun guy to spend the day with. His daughter is charming, his wife is a wonderful cook, and between the three of them they have the best BS meters going. My kind of people -- or at least the kind of people I would like to be.
Stinkdog (Sailor) with terrierman
extraordinaire, Larry Morrison.