By: Shayla Pukas
Hunting is a way of life for many of people in the world. I wasn’t always a hunter, but the day I pulled the trigger on my first whitetail buck, I knew it was in my blood. At the age of 14, I was introduced into the hunting world by one of my friends and ever since I have been hooked. After a few years of hunting big game like whitetail deer, elk and mule deer, I was introduced to a whole different type of hunting, hound hunting.
I rescued my first hound dog from the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA); he was a 4-month-old bluetick coonhound. I wasn’t very familiar with hound hunting, but that soon changed after I began hunting with a few local houndsmen. After seeing my first majestic cougar, sitting perched high in a pine tree, and hearing the amazing hound song, I knew this was the life I wanted to live. Gunner, my bluetick, soon learned how to track and tree cougars himself and I realized I needed to get him a hunting partner. I now have a plott hound, Jane, an english hound, Storm and my trusty bluetick Gunner.
Being a houndswoman is more than just having a dog, it takes guts, trust, stamina, patience, heart and a whole lot of outdoor knowledge. You need to know how to read a GPS; figure out how old a track is; do what we call “homework” once you find a track; and really study what the cougar, bobcat or lynx is doing and where they are heading. Also knowing and trusting your hound is a huge part of hunting with them. They are more than just a dog, they are your hunting partner. You need to learn them and their tones of bark. When my hound puts his or her nose in a track, the tone of bark will tell me how much scent there is. By learning your dog’s tones, you learn to trust them. I can sit and listen to my hounds run up the valley and just by the change in their bark I know when they are looking at the quarry, or have the quarry in the tree.
The moment you “dump the box” and your hounds take off with their noses down singing their song is the moment when your blood really starts pumping. There are so many things that could happen and you never know once that tailgate drops what the outcome of the hunt will be. Most of the time you will have a flawless run which means you will quickly hear your hounds treeing, drive a within a short distance of the tree and hike in and see the magnificent animal. But not every day can be perfect; you can lose GPS communication with your hounds not being able to hear them which causes you to not know what is going on. The reality of the backcountry is unpredictable things like weather, rugged terrain, darkness and other predators of the wild like wolves, are your hounds’ number one enemy.
Preparation for cat and bear season, takes a lot of conditioning for yourself and your hounds. Like most other kinds of hunting, you need to be prepared for the worst terrain and long treacherous hikes. But, unlike other hunting, you never know where you will end up when you start hiking after your dogs. There is no way to tell where your dog will end up. Being prepared for the worst is always the best thing to do. You could be hiking for hours in three feet of snow up and over mountains in the dark of the night or just walking a short distance on flat ground.
I enjoy being a houndswoman because I love the places my hounds take me. It’s easy to be a killer, but being a houndswoman you learn to pick and choose the appropriate animal to shoot. I have learned that conserving our predators is just as important as conserving our prey. One of the greatest challenges is figuring out which animal is the appropriate one to harvest.