Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Still hunting and calling dogs bring back hunting day memories

Nowadays, deer hunting is almost entirely done from a tree stand, to the point that I swear deer are learning to look upward for danger during the season. Oh, yeah, deer know just as well as the Sports Editor when the season opens; maybe better.  

That big buck you saw every afternoon at four in the corner of the wheat field will not return to that field during daylight hours until the end of January, you can almost bet on that.

Some folks still practice what is called “still hunting,” which is a mysterious nomenclature for what ain’t still atall. Still hunting involves slipping slowly and quietly from tree to tree, usually into the wind. It may take all morning to go a half mile; heck, it may take 20 minutes between steps.

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I especially enjoy this type stealth during a foggy or misty morning, maybe even in a light rain. The leaves you walk on are wet, so you don’t make any noise. Each big tree that you come to, you lean against for a half hour, watching for movement.

I once had a buck come from behind me, and let him pass by unsuspecting in the fog before I took him.

Still hunting one morning I glimpsed the outline of a deer in a buck-brush thicket about 150 yards ahead, then lost the image entirely.  

Almost an hour later, when I reached the spot, I leaned against a sweetgum tree watching for movement, and as I eased my head around the tree, caught a sheen of antler in the sunlight. Just on the other side of the tree, the buck had bedded down, and now casually raised his head to glance around.

He settled back down, and I spent ten minutes getting my rifle up to a shooting position without alarming him. He was five feet from the end of the gun barrel when I fired. Later, I felt sort of guilty about it!

Back in the Good Old Days, however, we used to use deer dogs to hunt with. Now, I’m not talking about huge slavering hounds that chase Bambi’s mom until her tongue hangs out, like wolves gang up on their prey. I’m talking about Black & Tans, Blueticks, Redbones, or even beagles

Dogs that will follow the scent of a deer into briar patches, blowdowns, canebrakes, paw-paw thickets and other tight places where big bucks like to lay up during the day.

Lots of times the deer will be disturbed by barking, get up from their beds, and simply move 100 yards to get out of the way. It is during that move that a hunter may get a shot at a buck that would have laid up the whole day, had a hound not ventured into range of its hideout.

We youngsters used to have to go out and round up the dogs which didn’t drag into camp behind the Hoss Riders by late noon each day. We’d ride the jeep roads gathering them up, take them to the camp pens, and feed them well so they’d be ready to run the next morning early.  Calling the dogs was by an old-fashioned hunting horn made from a hollowed-out cow or goat horn, fitted or carved with a mouthpiece.  

Big Robert made one for me that I still have and can blow, and now that I have a grandson, I’m teaching Sir to blow it to call the dogs.

But often we just yelled the hounds home.  Jupiter Pluvius, that greatest of all Black & Tan hounds, used to respond to his name echoing through the woods: “JUUUUUUUUUPPPPP!”  I could make that U sound ring just like the horn, and he’d come straight to the Jeep.

I learned from our yardman and gardener, Coney, to call the beagles with a high-pitched, “S’here, puppy, s’here, puppy, s’here puppy!” I’m coaching Sir the Grandkid on that one, too.  He’s just turned a year old and needs to be able to call the dogs.

I’m not sure how early the children’s experts say one can remember things, but I can recall scenes from when I was just over a year old. Away back then, my grandmother on daddy’s side used to come visit for weeks at a time (she was a widow) and she told the most wonderful stories. In one of my favorites, a young boy had to call his dogs to rescue him from something – maybe a wolfpack? I don’t remember that, but I’ve never forgotten the singsong rhythm Memaw called with: “Heeere, Rowser! Here, Towser! Here, Ringwood! Here, Rock! Killee Killee Coe, be true, Boy! Killee Killee Coe, be truuue, Boy!” You have to sing it.

Calling the dogs: these days, I miss that.  But I’m teaching Sir to do it!