It seems simple, but the definition isn’t clear-cut. It’s often an issue of preference and style. However, the specific tools needed by a bear dog differ by region. Topography, forest type, hunting pressure, and the population dynamics of bears all effect what skills are the limiting factors to consistently catch bruins. Ultimately, that’s what we’re identifying – the limiting factors of hounds catching a bear in the different regions. Another way to say it is, “If a hound doesn’t have enough of (insert trait here), then it won’t catch bears consistently here.”
However, foundational traits of any bear dog remain consistent. Most houndsmen agree that any bear dog worth his salt has got to have loads of desire, a good nose, and the stickto-it-ness to stay with tough bruins whether they’re runners or fighters. Though the differences may be nuanced, let’s explore the differences and limiting factors of hounds in the East and West. We interviewed two houndsman, one from Maine and the other from Idaho, to hear what they look for in a bonafide bear dog.
Bear Dogs in Northern Maine
Mark Dufresne has hunted with hounds all over the country, but he primarily hunts and guides in Northern Maine with Maine Trophy Outfitters. He began by describing the landscape he hunts, “Logging is a big industry in Maine and the forest is in a regeneration phase. We’ve got a lot of spruce and fir. Depending on its age, it can be so thick that a man can’t push through it.” He went on, “We’ve also got a lot of water and thickets, and it’s some of the toughest terrain in the state. I find it harder to tree bears here than many places. A different style of dog prevails in Northern Maine.” When guiding, Mark is targeting the older mature male bears. “I find that an older bear usually won’t tree here, no matter how much dog pressure or grit you have.” He said, “When a big bear is in regenerated spruce he’s comfortable on the ground. The dog pressure doesn’t affect them, and they’ll typically bay on the ground.”
Mark went on to describe the type of hound he’s looking for. “I’m not concerned with a hound’s speed in these thickets. These larger bears are prone to stay on the ground and fight. I seek out small bears in training season to get dogs in shape, but I’m targeting the big ones in hunting season. In Northern Maine, this is usually not a fast race. Once the bear is caught he usually just walks.” There seems to be a correlation between the openness of the terrain and a bear’s response to climb a tree when trailed by hounds. In Mark’s experience, hunting the open hardwoods of Southern Maine, Central Vermont and New Hampshire, the bears are more likely to be treed and the races are also much faster. In this type of environment, a fast dog with a head-up trailing style is key. In the thickets of Northern Maine, speed isn’t the limiting factor for catching bears.
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