Our Competition


Four handlers and a judge stood silently, only katydids and the occasional whippoorwill broke the tranquility of the early morning hillside. The handlers nervously shuffled their feet on the forest floor as they repeatedly cupped their ears in the expectation of hearing that first bark. One of the handlers requested, “Can we tighten up a little”? “We can tighten up just as soon as we have something to tighten up toward, I have no idea where the dogs are”, came the response of the card carrier. Just then a roar was heard in a far off hollow, neither the judge nor the handlers could distinguish which dogs were and were not opening. Three handlers screamed their strike calls in succession, followed by the forth sheepishly contributing, “Strike me too I guess”. Within a split second the tree calls came in the same order and the same fervor, with the judge repeating each call. The scores were written down and as the card was folded away the cast headed toward the hounds with much anticipation and trepidation. None of the five men honestly knew for sure what they would find at or in the tree upon their arrival, all had just made a competitive gamble just as they did when they plunked down their hard earned money on the entry table. This ambiguity put some adrenalin in their bloodstreams and kicked their heart rates up a little as they prepared to witness the results. 

Humans are very competitive and challenge driven by nature and hunters are even more so that way, in my opinion. Even the introverted hunter who escapes to the woods and fields for solitude is competing with his chosen quarry and with Old Mother Nature herself. We as Houndsmen add in another dimension of complexity with our thinking, living and breathing canine companions. Our Treedogs compete with one another in terms of supremacy, speed, accuracy, endurance and many other aspects of the chase regardless if they are cast with others on a pleasure hunt or in Nite Hunt competition. The competitive spirit in our hounds is an extension of ourselves as we attempt to bond into a cohesive team. This solid team effort is required to thoroughly enjoy the pleasure hunting experience or to succeed in reaching significant achievement in the Nite Hunt competition arena. 

Unfortunately in this day and age we as sportsmen are given no choice but to compete with the evolutionary changes within our modern society. The cities and suburbs of yesteryear are being vacated in favor of the “little piece of heaven in the country” idea and the suburbanites are coming out in droves. These urban raised folks don’t really understand hunting and/or hounds and most don’t really have a desire to. Not that these are bad people, they just don’t understand and are thus fearful of such things as lights shining and hounds baying in the darkness of night. Due to this urban sprawl of both residential and commercial property buyouts, the available private hunting grounds large enough to cast hounds are few and far between. Farm land and timber ranges have been chopped up and sectioned off to the point that county plat books have become indecipherable. The public lands managed at the federal and state levels are vast and accessible in some states while sparse and heavily restricted in other states, such as Indiana. Over the last decade this lack of available hunting territory has created a booming market for hunting leases with the price per acre skyrocketing year after year. All of these issues have combined to create a huge deficiency in hunting ground with many types of hunters competing for the same piece of property to hunt on. 

On another front there are many well funded anti-hunting organizations waging war with us on a daily basis. Simply put, their goals include eliminating our rights to hunt, to own and breed dogs and to keep and bear our firearms. The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance estimates over $300 million dollars will have been raised by the top anti-hunting groups in 2007. You can check out these details on the web at http://www.ussportsmen.org/. The five largest of these groups from a monetary standpoint include the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Fund for Animals and the Friends of Animals, Inc. Not to sound as an alarmist, but we as Tree Dog Enthusiasts are dramatically outnumbered and significantly out funded. To put this into perspective, how easy do you think it would be to organize and motivate the nation’s Tree Dog Enthusiasts to the point we could raise $1 million dollars in a single year? Wouldn’t that be a phenomenal effort toward competing against the antis? Yes, absolutely it certainly would, but we would still be a mere $299 million dollars behind them! Think about that! 

Regrettably there are also a few misguided “sporting groups” in every state that would like to eliminate our rights to free cast these hounds. I know it seems unthinkable, but either by way of cloudy perceptions, irrational emotionalism or borderline fanaticism these groups want to end or at the very least heavily restrict our sport. It seems they desire to divide the hunting sports by classes and elevate theirs up on a pedestal as righteous and principled while characterizing our hound sports as unrefined or even unethical. The lucrative commercialization of equipment for these higher and mightier hunting sports in dedicated magazines and on the many cable hunting programs has contributed to this elitist philosophy as well. A large percentage of the “hunters’ with this frightening attitude only pursue one type of game, so they rationalize that they are doing THE right thing, so everything else must be wrong. Contrary to this mindset, most hound people I know hunt and trap many different species of game animals in and outside of their own state and look at other sportsmen in a much more positive light. This entire hunter against hunter movement makes no good, logical sense and therein lies the dilemma; it is extremely difficult to discuss facts and logic with those harboring fanatical viewpoints. 

Yes, the competition out there in the woods for two hours on any given weekend is tough and sometimes our competitive natures get the best of us. Other times it seems the handlers step back and let the hounds do all of the talking and it beco0mes much more enjoyable. Either way when defeated, as strong willed Houndsmen we seem to bounce right back with same dog readjusted or a new one we think is better. We as Tree Dog Enthusiasts are a hearty group, we tend to roll with the punches and keep getting back up no matter what the odds. This “new” competition is something we are all going to need to learn to compete with and win. We must organize and fight the antis on every front with all brothers and sisters within the hunting community. We have the right to hunt, to breed our dogs of choice and to keep and bear arms, let’s keep it that way. We need to educate the non-hunting public, especially landowners about what we do and why we do it to eliminate fear and misunderstanding. We must invite members from other hunting organizations to come with us and our hounds, to learn about the joys of our sport. Our state legislators and DNR officials need to hear from us, we have been silent way too long. This new year, please join and participate in your state’s Houndsmen organization. There is strength in numbers and we as tax payers and voters must let it be known we expect our Grandchildren, Great Grandchildren and Great, Great Grandchildren to be following these Tree Dogs for many years to come. Never take NO for an answer! 

“Competitors take bad breaks and use them to drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up.”- Nancy Lopez