The guys found a bobcat track crossing an old clay road that had a dusting of snow on it. There was wide open field for 150 yards on either side of the road. Not a very likely spot to catch a bobcat track crossing. We didn’t see any wolf tracks around so we figured we’d see what the hounds could make of it. Wayne walked Jr in on the track. It wasn’t a super fresh track, but Jr could certainly smell it. He showed some excitement in the perky wagging of his tail, but it wasn’t enough to have him let out a bark yet. I got Hatchet collared up and walked him in on the track as well. Hatchet stuck his nose in every footprint that cat made, then he would lift his head and stick it out into the air, like he was trying to catch wind of it. As I walked him along the track he finally let out a big bawl, telling me he could smell the scent that cat unknowingly left behind in it’s track. It’s not that Hatchet is a better track dog than Jr, but Hatchet is only 1.5 years old and definitely gets a bit more excited when he can smell something than his 7 year old hunting buddy. It’s got to be smelling pretty strong for Jr to get fired up, and when he does, he’s going to give that cat a run for it’s money!
We released both hounds by now and they followed the track together heading east through the open hardwoods. We couldn’t see them any longer, but we were able to track their every move with the gps. They took the track to the north just a couple hundred yards and then abruptly the hounds went south! The boys were barking hard and moving fast now!! They’ve got something up and running!! They were headed straight south screaming loud and running hard! The hounds were only about 300 yards into the woods paralleling the road. I knew there was an opening over the next hill and we should be able to catch a glimpse of what they’ve got. If only I can get there in time! I floored the truck and headed up the ice covered dirt road, crested the hill and started down the other side. I had the hunter riding with me, the adrenaline was rising in both of us! As we were coming down the hill it was pretty wide open and we had just caught a glimpse of the dogs running through the clearing. We were too late to see what they had! The road turned to the right up ahead but the dogs were still heading straight south. There is an old two tracker that the dogs would have to cross, I knew I had to get to it to see what they were running. I parked my truck on the corner, grabbed some gear and headed in on foot.
It was pretty cold that day. We don’t much like to run the dogs if the temp is below 10 degrees. It’s hard on them and it can get dangerous as well. It was about 14 degrees with a steady bitter north wind. I started up the hill hiking down the two tracker. The dogs had long crossed the trail, but the tracks left behind would tell me the story. As I got closer I could still hear Hatchet and Jr barking. They were sure excited about the game they were pursuing. Rightly so! I walked uphill quite a ways until I came to their tracks. There was 2 sets of dog tracks, and 1 set of cat tracks!! “Sure enough!!” I proudly hollered out loud!! I took my backpack off and got the handheld radio out. I let the rest of the crew know these hounds were hunting a bobcat and they had it jumped! (Okay, so we’ve got pretty solid dogs that work hard and do wonderful most of the time. The honest truth is though, they are dogs. They can screw up. The young dog could easily get on some other game and pursue it and you just hope like heck your older dog is solid enough not to be led astray with him. But when you see the proof of what they’re running, there’s no questioning. Especially as we are entering some big territory and night fall will be upon us in a few hours. It’s all or nothing now!). Nobody out by the road could track the dogs by gps any longer, I was the only one able as I was closest to the dogs. So I knew I had to stay there for a bit. I listened as the dogs got further and further away. They headed south but then went towards the east for a good ways. They were running in an area well known around here as the Flag River Valley. It can be sketchy territory to run hounds in, that’s for sure. Lots of wolves inhibit these lands. The sections are large and vast with hardly any roads accessible by vehicle, especially in the winter months. The terrain is hilly, with lots of ravines heading into the river valley making it hard to keep communication with the tracking units the dogs are wearing. Better stay on top of your game here.
I stood around for a long time, watching the hounds on the gps and listening to their sounds in the sky getting fainter and fainter. Wayne met up with me on 4 wheeler. We talked for a bit, and decided someone would have to go in on foot and stay with the dogs. I was frozen solid standing there for so long, so I decided I would go in. I had to start walking again to circulate some heat in my body. I made sure I had the necessities. Gps, handheld radio, leashes, a lighter, water bottle, compass, extra gloves and the only light I could find, a small cap light. I would’ve felt a whole lot better walking in alone through this big piece of country if I had my side arm with me, but I forgot it at home this day. First time I’ve forgotten it, leaving me with a sinking feeling in my gut. But I headed in anyways. There was only about 2.5 hours of daylight left. The hounds would have to make quick work of this if we would make it happen today.
I was hiking in at a good steady pace. The hounds were two miles away last I could track them and moving away from me. They were out of gps range now and I was going on hearing alone now. Which was getting fainter and fainter with the strong north winds blowing. I walked down an old deer path and took that for a few hundred yards. It went down this long windy trail into an open area. I knew I was heading down hill into the Flag River Valley. As the surroundings opened up I stopped to listen for the dogs. I heard something coming up behind me. There was a few big pine trees between me and the noise, blocking my view and I couldn’t see what it was. But it was coming fast! I knelt down and took my bag off. I remembered I was unarmed. I didn’t know what it was but it sounded big and it was taking big strides. It was definitely tracking me, I could tell it was coming right down my boot trial. I looked for cover. The nearest climbable tree to me was a solid 75 yards away and whatever was coming at me was much closer. I would never make it. I stood there in a panic for a second. There wasn’t even a limb on the ground nearby to pick up for defense! My heart sank! It was almost here and it’s feet were pounding so hard on the ground! I stood in just about udder shock as I peered into the woods from behind me. Then suddenly I could see a branch on the pine tree only 20 feet away get shoved as it pushed it out of its way……it…it..it was Connor!!! HA! He was running down my track!! I had no idea anyone else was coming in with me. I had already put on about 1 mile or more ahead of where I left the rest of the crew, and last I knew nobody else was coming! But boy I was sure happy to see it was Connor! He said Wayne told him to follow my track in and that he had better run to catch up to me. I told him “Had I not forgotten my pistol today it may have been staring you down when you came around that last pine tree! I didn’t know what or who you were, but I knew you weren’t small by the loud thuds of your boots hitting the snow and the long stride!” Wide eyed we both chuckled, caught our breath and listened for the dogs. We could faintly hear them and every so often we would pick them up on the gps. We trudged along in after them.
We went in at a pretty good pace and although considering most of it was downhill we made pretty good time. We came across the cat tracks many times on our way in.
There was a few steep ups and downs in the ravines, it wouldn’t be all easy walking! We even saw a bear track walking through one of the ravines. The dogs must have been getting close to the cat now. They were held up in an area and running tighter and tighter circles. We weren’t far away and knew we had to get there fast now! We ran through the snow to an area that was mostly open hardwoods with some smaller balsams. There was some small ravines through here as creeks flowed down them and ran into the river nearby. The dogs were right on the other side of the river. They weren’t treed yet though! Connor and I were super quiet now as we looked for a downed log to cross the river on. Well as luck would have it, we found one! And wouldn’t you know it, there was a cat track crossing it too! The dogs went through the river. The tree was too high off the water and it was a hard one to cross.
There was about a 14″ diameter branch going straight up halfway down the log. No way were the hounds
getting across that. I wasn’t even sure I would get across it! Well I had to go for it. I carried a stick to steady myself. It got awkward when I got to the branch. I had to get my feet to the other side and swing my body around the protruding limb. I made it! Connor came across as well and we both managed to keep dry!
The hounds have moved away from us a bit now. We kept quiet and moved along with them. They kept circling and circling around in figure 8’s. They would go from one side of the river to the next and back again. This cat was really trying to lose these dedicated dogs! Connor and I still kept up with them. Everywhere we went there were cat tracks and dog tracks in the snow. Step for step these hounds were trailing this cat hard!
The sun was sinking lower and lower. We’ve been right with the dogs for a long time now. I wonder to myself, even if they do catch or tree this cat, will we be able to get the hunter in here before dark? We are so deep in the woods, where will they even come from…? It’s a long hike in from any direction and the snow defiantly makes walking more of a chore than you would think. Well, not to put the horse before the cart I guess, we’ll just have to take it one step at a time.
Connor and I were having a good time listening and watching the dogs do their work. There are so many things you see when you are right in there with the action rather than sitting in the truck. Here is a spot the cat had stopped to take a little break. You could see the cat track going into this hole in the tree roots and coming back out. The dog tracks were all around it.
It is truly amazing how bobcats can give the dogs a slip sometimes. They are sure masters of deception. I’ve seen it before when the cat will run around and around and when the dogs are finally getting close the cat will jump in a hole just like this or squat down under some blowdown, let the dogs get just past it, then jump up and run 20 steps in the opposite direction, and the dogs lose it, just like that!
Our hearts were still racing with anticipation that the dogs would catch up to this cat before dark! We could hear something in the brush near by us, then the dogs would come running through, but we never saw the cat! We could surely tell they were close though. The cat must have known it was in trouble now!
All of a sudden we heard it! Jr let out a loud long locate bark! We knew time was of the essence and we had to get to the dogs as quick as we could! They were only 150 yards away from us! We ran to the sound of their bawling barks! They were treed! There was only one thing stopping us….the river!! There were no down logs in sight now and we needed to get across! Connor was lucky enough to have his Baffin rubber boots on. I on the other hand just had leather boots and wool bigs on. Connor yelled, “I’ll just run across and get to the dogs!!” Well, I thought to myself. I’ve come too far to chicken out now! It was getting towards the end of today’s hunt regardless of the outcome. I knew if I just jumped in and ran across the river that the water would go over my boots and I would be soaked, but within a few hours I could be in a warm truck. I didn’t waste one more second. I knew Connor could outrun me any day, but I had to get to my dogs! So I took a big leap to jump into the river, and of course with one swift jump I tripped on a stick and pretty much fell into the river bank!! “Oh Gosh! I’m such a putz!” I grumbled to myself. Then I jumped to my feet and ran across the water as fast as I could. It took me a good 6 leaps and I was across. When I got to the bank on the other side I could feel the ice cold water of the Flagg River starting to run into my boots. My focus was on the hounds though, I hit the hard ground and started running. It wasn’t too far now. I was almost to the dogs and catching up to Connor. Suddenly I saw him put on the breaks! We had reached another bend in the river and the dogs were bayed up on the other side. We had to cross it again. We quickly assessed the situation from the bank. There was a large pine tree coming out from where the river made a 90 degree bend. The dogs were treeing there.
We looked up in the pine tree, but we couldn’t make out anything that resembled a bobcat. So, feet wet, we jumped through the river again to get to the side the hounds were on. Jr jumped up the bank and was pawing and biting at the ground like he was trying to dig into the frozen rock hard clay to get to the cat. That’s when we knew we weren’t treed. This cat was caught up in a hole.
Hatchet was down below at the waters level barking into a ball of roots that made a hole going into the bank of the river. I went up by Jr to see if there was a hole there the cat could’ve came out of, but I couldn’t find one. Jr ran back down by Hatchet and started treeing at the hole with him. Jr showed me what was up. He showed me where the cat was and he wanted in!
Connor and I leashed the dogs up before anything further could happen. Then we radioed to the crew what was going on. It wasn’t shortly after that Wayne and our friend Ryan showed up out of nowhere! They had walked in from the far side (which was now closer and easier walking than the way Connor and I came in from) Wayne had the dogs on gps and knew they were getting close to the cat, so they decided to make the trek into us. Let me tell ya, it was a relief to see someone who I hoped had brought a flashlight! They got across the river to us and we investigated. This was a well used home for the bobcat.
There was a game trail on the ice shelf of the river that was solely cat tracks coming to and going from that hole in the bank side. I think we all kind of knew at this point…we had been defeated. Wayne had a decent flashlight with, and Connor stuck his head in the hole with the light to see if he could see anything. The cave had turns all about it. “Rawllllr!!” Connor jumped back almost winding up in the river! The cat had let out a loud growl for all of us to hear! It sounded like it was a ways inside there though! It would be too dark for the hunter to come in now and we couldn’t see any way to humanely get this cat out of its hold up. Chalk one up for bad timing, the bobcat would win today.
This was a depressing moment, but not every chase, not every fight, not every track, can end up with a win. It just wouldn’t be hunting otherwise. They would call it killing. There was more to the battle than that for us. The dogs did their part, they did an amazing job. This would be expected from Jr. Hatchet however is just a youngin’ and he sure is showing some great potential! He has great ambition and stamina. He will surely make a fine hound one day.
Well, we radioed to the rest of the crew that the cat won this chase and we were heading out of the woods. The hunter was waiting for us at the truck. I was really excited about this hunt, as this was our first female bobcat hunter. Her name was Tracy, and although this was her first bobcat hunt, she showed that she was no stranger to the game. I had really high hopes of showing her a bobcat today, but as luck would have it, the bobcat had other plans. I also felt really bad for leaving her for what turned out to be the better part of the day, but I guaranteed her she wouldn’t have wanted any part in trudging through the Flag River Valley with me and Connor and the hounds. It was a pretty rough go and we hiked a long ways. 4 miles as crow flies, many more as a hound chases a bobcat!
I had a hard time getting out of the woods. I had realized I was having a hard time remembering things. Even from the race we just had. I asked Wayne…where did we start this chase?? He kind of looked at me like I was crazy. It had been a long day and I put on a ton of miles with the dogs this week. My legs started to cramp up and I was having a hard time walking all of a sudden. I became aware at that point that the only thing I had to drink since I woke up that day was a cup of coffee in the morning. I knew then that I was dehydrated. I had to stop to take a break and catch my breath. The dogs had to keep moving or their feet would freeze up. Ryan and Connor took Jr and Hatchet out to the truck and Wayne waited with me. I had a bottle of water in my pack so I guzzled it down. I instantly started feeling better. It’s amazing how in the cold you can go all day without fluids or feeling thirsty and not really realize how much harm you could be getting yourself into.
Wayne and I finished our trek out. Everyone was there waiting for us. Tracy immediately thanked us for taking that hike through the woods to try and get her that bobcat. I knew we were defeated though, but I also knew we had tomorrow. I know we have some amazing hounds and in the right conditions, they would make it happen, but it was hard to feel positive after running so hard and coming out empty handed.
Well, as luck would have it, the next day ended much more prosperous! There were no god awful freezing hikes through the woods, but Tracy did end up getting her first bobcat! Roger, Copper and Jagger got it done for her and treed one just before she had to leave to go home, but that’s another story for another day. Sometimes all the stars just seem to line up when you least expect it! We had a lot of fun with Tracey and I hope I get the opportunity to hunt with her again someday!