Monday, November 28, 2011

Hunting with a Mountain Cur

For the past few weeks I'd been laid up with what turned out to be a nasty sinus and ear infection. After the antibiotics had finally kicked in, I'm finally able to get out with Bowie after some rabbits. It was my traditional Thanksgiving hunt. Ever since our first Thanksgiving in Maryland, I have gone hunting in the morning. Even those years when I wasn't hunting much, I made sure to get out with one of the dogs. Last year, it was Hank's last Thanksgiving hunt, the year before it was Andy's last Thanksgiving hunt. This year, it was Bowie's first, and it was also the first time I deliberately set out to hunt rabbits.

Bowie is my Mountain Cur, a breed relatively unknown outside of coon and squirrel hunting circles. Despite the name “cur”, the Mountain Cur is a pure-bred dog belonging to the hound group developed in America by the settlers of the mountains in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and later Arkansas and Oklahoma and Missouri. They are the dogs pioneer used to settle the Appalachians and Ozarks, who guarded families against wild animals and other dangers, and provided food by catching, treeing and holing game for their families. Mountain Curs were held in high regard by the pioneers and few were sold after acceptance into a family. Curs were a ubiquitous part of frontier and rural life, as evidenced by a starring role in a classic story of life on the frontier, Fred Gipson's novel Old Yeller, the title character being a cur, although he was played by a yellow Labrador in the movie adaptation of the book.

The cur as a type of hunting and herding dog existed in Britain since at least the 13th century, and it's likely that the British brought some of them with them when they began to settle the New World in 1607. Prior to this, however, Spanish explorers brought the brindle, bob-tailed curs to the South, and these are said to have been found by settlers of the South in the 1700s, and were likely crossed with the dogs brought over from Europe to America by settlers in the 17th century. There are a variety of hounds in the mix as well, and possibly the dogs of the Native Americans. Appearance was never a consideration in these crosses, only the dogs' hunting and working ability. The Mountain Cur is one of several varieties of cur dogs; other breeds include the Black-Mouth Cur, Catahoula Cur, and Blue Lacy, to name a few. All varieties of curs are used for hunting, primarily small game such as squirrel and raccoon, but they are also used for large game such as bear, boar, and mountain lions.

The Mountain Cur was bred and maintained by residents of the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains for 200 years, enabling them to provide meat and pelts for personal use and trade. During World War II, however, many people left rural areas for the factories in the cities, and by the end of the 1940s the breed was becoming rare. Four men—Riley Daniels of Georgia, Woody Huntsman of Kentucky, Carl McConnell of Virginia, and Dewey Ledbetter of Tennessee—founded the Original Mountain Cur Breeders' Association in 1957 and are given credit for saving the breed from extinction, and for setting the Mountain Cur breed standard.

Bowie is short for Bocephus Rock and Roll Cool; he was named by my kids. He's on the smaller side for a Mountain Cur, weighing about 45 pounds soaking wet. He's a neat looking dog, brindle with white patches, including one that covers almost half his face. He's muscled but very lean, and he's very fast. My wife doesn't think he's all that bright, but he has a knack for escaping and for getting in to trouble. I've hunted with him several times, but always with one of my kids, so this Thanksgiving was the first time I really paid attention to him while he was working.

Every bird dog knows when his or her dog is “getting birdy.” Every dog is different. Andy's tail would start wagging tightly and rapidly, and he'd lower his head and start snorting a bit. Loki's bob-tail will start moving so fast you almost can't see it, his head gets a bit lower, and all his muscles will start to tense, right before he goes on point. I learned that Bowie's tail gets higher, like Hank's did, and his head snaps up. He works with his nose to the ground until he gets on a track, then his head and ears come up.

We weren't hunting birds, and Bowie is no bird dog, but he put up quite a few.  About four woodcock, and too many doves to count. It could be because the only game I've ever shot over him has been a pheasant, but he seemed to enjoy flushing birds. When he got on a fox track, though, he got really intense; it was like he was on autopilot.  Something about hunting with a dog like Bowie feels a little less refined than hunting with a bird dog. It's more primal, rawer, and primitive, but in some ways the fun is more pure.

Bowie just turned a year old, so he's still a puppy. Some of the books I've read say that hound guys don't start running hounds until their two. We're both learning, and I'm sure we'll both pick up bad habits we need to correct down the line, but for the time being were having fun. Bowie and I have a lot of Thanksgivings ahead, and I look forward to all of them.


  1. i have never heard of this breed, sounds interesting. although i am a bird dog guy. I run Wire haired pointing griffons my self and i love them. good post

  2. I had never heard of them before last year. All of my dogs were getting old, so we were looking at getting a new puppy, and for some reason I decided I wanted a breed created in the US. With little in the way of upland bird hunting around here, I was thinking of a duck dog, so originally we looked at the Toller, Boykin Spaniel, or Chesapeake Bay Retriever. There are a bunch of rabbit hunters running beagles around, so I thought I'd check out American dogs for fur hunting, and I stumbled into cur and hound land. It's a ton of fun.