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A great bear dog needs grit and a good cold nose

During a midday break from bear hunting at the Dry Dock Restaurant and Bar in Douglas County, the talk quickly turned to bear-hunting hounds -- and stayed there.

Running dog
Kollin Horn of Almena, Wis., hustles to catch Diego, a Walker hunting hound, to pull the dog off the trail of a bear. Horn and others in the Belden Boys hunting party were doing a training bear hunt on Aug. 16 in Douglas County. (Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com)
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During a midday break from bear hunting at the Dry Dock Restaurant and Bar in Douglas County, the talk quickly turned to bear-hunting hounds -- and stayed there.

The hunters, sipping only soft drinks, talked about dogs they had owned and legendary dogs owned by other hunters. When they spoke of a dog, everyone knew which dog the hunter was talking about.

Hound hunting in Wisconsin is a family thing, and the dogs are part of those families.

The hunters talked about them the way dogsledders talk about a good lead dog or a duck hunter talks about a Lab that has made memorable retrieves.

"That Miller dog ...," someone will say, and launch into Miller's strong traits.

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Or, "that Daisy dog ...," another will say.

"That Oscar was a good cold-nose dog," someone says.

A cold-nose dog is a dog that can piece together a "cold" trail, left behind by a bear that has been gone for a few hours.

The hunters talked about dogs with "grit."

Steve Horn of Almena, Wis., explained grit in a bear hound: "A bear might swat it around, and it won't quit."

On the other hand, some dogs might have too much grit. Some bears, especially big boars, won't go up a tree. They'll face off a pack of hounds on the ground. A dog with too much grit might go in too often and get swatted around a lot.

"That dog ran a $2,500 to $3,500 vet bill every year," one of the hunters says of such a dog.

Too much grit.

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Hound hunters look for specific qualities in their dogs, the way dogsledders breed for speed or thick fur or tough feet. Bear hunters want good noses and grit and a dog that will sound off to let you know when a bear is treed.

"She treed," one of the hunters says of a dog he had, "but her voice was crap."

A dog with all the right qualities is hard to find. It's taken Mike Edwards 10 years of breeding to get to the kind of dogs he has now. He runs the Plott breed, named for a couple of German brothers who settled in the eastern U.S.

"In 27 years, you're only going to see a couple of exceptional dogs," Edwards says.

And if you're lucky, you'll own one of them.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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