- Hunters: It’s Time to Stop Dogging the Houndsmen
Hunters: It’s Time to Stop Dogging the Houndsmen
By: Brad Luttrell, Co-Founder & CEO of GoWild
GoWild has given me so much more than I could have ever dreamed. I’ve been all over the country hunting and fishing. I’ve been to events that people would give their first child’s naming rights to just for a few hours to attend. I’ve met the industry’s highest profile individuals. I don’t toss around the word “blessed” much, but if anyone is blessed, it’s me.
One of the recurring and surprising things that’s happened with this journey has been the number of people who have invited me to come hunting and fishing with them. This community we’ve all built means so much to individuals, it’s not uncommon to wake up to a fresh invite on some new adventure. Unfortunately, I’ve had to turn most of these offers down simply because priority number one is always running and growing the company.
I recently got an offer that I couldn’t turn down, though. Through the community, I’ve become very curious about houndsmen. When Chris and Heath from the Houndsman XP podcast invited a few GoWild folks to join them for a black bear hunt, I jumped at the chance. Getting to a chance at my first bear while seeing some of the best houndsmen in the country work was too good to pass up.
Derek and I set off to Virginia to see what these houndsmen were all about. What I came back with was much more than a bear—although I did get to take a trophy bear, which listeners of the [UNCENSORED] by GoWild podcast know.
I came back with a fresh perspective on hunting with dogs.
First, let’s define it
“Houndsman” is a common term within hunting, but let’s just clarify it for anyone wondering. A houndsman is someone who trains hounds specifically for hunting. How most people think of training is getting a dog to do what you want—sit, heel, fetch, or maybe just stop chewing up your shoes. Comparing that to what these guys do is like comparing a high school quarterback to Tom Brady.
These dogs are in a league of their own—they’re pro athletes.
Houndsmen “run” their dogs multiple times per week for training. They’re calculating their caloric burn and intake down to the calorie. And the body fat on one of these dogs is similar to a professional marathoner. With no exaggeration, they dogs are Olympic-level athletes.
Houndsmen work with dogs for all kinds of hunts. They run hogs, bears, deer, racoons, mountain lions, bobcats, and so on. It amazes me that a dog can have such depth in its training because every single hunt is so different. To add to that, these dogs can fairly easily run 30 miles in a day.
Hunting with hounds is a controversial topic outside of hunting, and it’s disappointing to see hunters even tearing into these guys. Having now been around both bird dogs and hunted with houndsmen for bear, I have to say, most of the critics have no grounds for an argument.
My experience with hounds
Derek had a successful bear hunt back in September, which made for one of our most popular podcasts of the year. That hunt was considerably different, though, as it was Colorado spot and stalk. We were both coming in without any experience with this kind of hunt. We knew it would be different, we just didn’t know exactly how it would be different.
We dealt with some weather coming in. It rained us out the day before, then the temps dropped considerably. We were hunting the Appalachian mountains and with the elevation, all of this moisture froze over, creating some pretty gnarly conditions. Thick ice clung to the trees, laurel and rhododendron. That may seem like a nonfactor if you’re not familiar with our nation’s oldest mountains, but the laurel clings to trails and covers much of the hillside. This comes back around in this story.
On day one, we set off hiking along a trail that was often partially covered by the laurel. The leaves were heavy with the ice blankets as we pushed through. Heath led, breaking through the icy fingers of the trees. Our pace was brisk and much more intense than I anticipated. We were four miles deep when we treed our first bear.
We were 750 yards from the treed bear, and Heath said, “I’m sorry, guys.” Little did Derek and I know why Heath was sorry, but we soon found out. We plowed into the thickest brush I have ever been in, and I grew up in Appalachia. 20 minutes later, I was looking up at a 200 pound black bear. After another 10 minutes of what felt like chaos to me, but was actually a perfectly executed plan for the team, I had a dead bear on the ground.
Those in opposition of hound hunting would say the dogs did all of the work. But really, in order to get dogs to execute on this game plan, Heath and the entire team (we had what I think was about six teams running dogs) train and run their dogs all year long to be able to perform this effectively. Heath would be quick to add that my hunt was especially fortunate, given we had a bear down in two hours.
Whitetail hunting takes planning for success, but truthfully, anyone could sit in the family’s buddy stand during the rut and get a great passerby buck. It’s just the truth—and I love whitetail hunting. You can’t do that with dogs. These guys prep all year for this moment.
Heath coordinated our plan the night before, and the teams came into this valley from four or five different trail heads. We started maybe six miles from one group, which was nearly an hour’s drive away. To me and Derek, this performance was anything but easy. In fact, I watched all of this happen and I still don’t think it’s something I would ever even aspire to do, simply because it’s too much work. These guys and gals are a rare breed of hunters who are the furthest thing from the stereotype of hunters who make hunting too easy.
Day two was quite a bit different and more of what many traditionally think of with hounds. The teams met up at one trail head and “rigged” their dogs, which means driving with a dog standing on the dogbox, sniffing for a bear scent. Derek and I rode with Chris Powell from Houndsman XP, and were once again in awe of the knowledge. Every now and then the dog would let out a howl, and Chris would grumble something about how she wasn’t doing what she needed to do. Then, a few minutes later, the dog would start to yodel out another howl, and Chris would say “that’s a good one.”
It sounded the exact same to me and Derek.
Our dog picked up a scent and the race was on. Chris let her loose to investigate, then another, and another. Trucks were flying by, getting ahead of the race, letting dogs go, monitoring progress on the screens and we were once again in orchestrated chaos. If you’ve seen the movie “Twister,” you know what this looked like. Hound hunting is effectively storm chasing.
More to gain together
I shared a version of this tale on LinkedIn, and someone called me blood thirsty. This is a typical response when talking about bear hunting with anti hunters. We hunters know that’s so far from the truth, but when it comes to hunting with dogs, we’re too often tearing each other down.
I ask anyone who hasn’t hunted with dogs to spare the judgment and especially the constant digs at houndsmen. Our community of hunters is too small and fragile to let it rot with internal toxicity. We need to bond together, and to accept that not everyone hunts like we do. There are levels to all hunting. I grew up squirrel hunting (without dogs), and I have never seen anyone tear into your average squirrel hunting because it’s easy—with or without dogs.
For some reason, many hunters do the exact thing we criticize nonhunters for doing by anthropomorphizing animals. It seems that within hunting, hunters are guilty of thinking killing big game with dogs is different than small. It’s demoralizing to our cause of building a conservation-minded and ethical brand of hunting.
I take the time to share these thoughts and my experience because I know there are more people who haven’t hunted with dogs than those who have. If you’ve never done it, stop criticizing it and go try it. It’s far more challenging than it seems and you just can’t understand the work that goes into it until you’ve seen it in action. Go listen to Chris and Heath’s podcast and hear how much work actually goes into it. And most of all, focus your energy on something that’s going to help us all—that is, all hunters—in our pursuit to share the joy that is being a part of nature.
We’re stronger together.
About the Author
Brad Luttrell is the Cofounder, CEO of GoWild, a social commerce platform for hunting, shooting and fishing enthusiasts. The award-winning writer, photographer and creative director quit his advertising career to become an entrepreneur after being disenchanted with Silicon Valley’s treatment of hunters. Since 2016, he and three cofounders have built and scaled GoWild, a platform GearJunkie called the best social media app for hunters of 2021. Luttrell has made his fight against Silicon Valley public, having boycotted and deleted his personal social profiles and pulled his company’s budget from Facebook and Instagram. Despite all of this, Luttrell’s friends mostly just know him for his Double Smoked Venison Chili.