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Getting to know the squirrel dog man

By Larry Case

Here is a news flash for you. Things ain’t like they used to be. Lately, I am making an effort to purposely not look at the headlines or watch the news on TV. I mean, could things get any crazier in this world of ours? We need some balance, we need some old-fashioned, down-to-earth sanity and backwoods stability injected into our harried lives. We need the squirrel dog man.

Time was when about every small town and community had a squirrel dog man or two. He was the man you went to if you were in the market for a squirrel dog or maybe a rabbit beagle, and he probably had a dog or two that would tree a coon. The squirrel dog man lived out in the country and he had to – he usually had a mess of dogs (that means he had a bunch).

The squirrel dog man lived on a farm of sorts, and sometimes he had a job that required his presence on most days. But when hunting season came around, usually all bets were off. The squirrel dog man was going to be in the woods. He always had several dogs that needed to be hunted, and he usually had some young dogs he needed to work with, he was, after all, the squirrel dog man.

If the squirrel dog man was married, his wife was definitely special to live with this man. Having sometimes dozens of dogs on one homestead is a lot of work. There was often a litter of puppies to make even more work, and who do you think took care of all those dogs when he was out in the wildwoods? It was a simpler time then and people saw work as just part of their everyday life.

Today, there are modern versions of the squirrel dog man, and I will tell you about one that I know.

Bo Wood lives in a place in West Virginia that you would not exactly call a metropolitan area. Bo lives near a little community known as Ramp, W.Va. You could say he lives as far up the holler as you can drive a butcher knife. (That means he lives pretty far out in the woods.) I am sure Mr. Wood would have it no other way. When I asked Bo if he has been a hunter and outdoorsman for all of his life, he smiled and said, “To a fault.” If there is an example of the modern day squirrel dog man, Mr. Wood is it.

Bo lives simply on his mountain farm with his horse Leroy (a character in his own right, but that’s another story), a few beagle hounds and a whole passel of squirrel dogs. I wanted to ask him about his basic philosophy in raising and training a dog to become a partner in the woods for treeing bushytails.

“I believe the first thing you have to do is be around the dog a lot and just basically make friends with him,” he said. “You can’t expect to take a dog out of the pen once a month and become a good tree dog when you ignore him the rest of the time.” Bo explained that all of the things that are important in yard and obedience training are important to develop with your dog before you even think about going to the woods.

“You need to be able to call your dog to you; he needs to be made accustomed to a leash and walking with one, loading in the truck and all of the other things that most hunters take for granted.” Bo said. “The early bonding with the dog, making him your buddy, leads to a dog that wants to hunt with you and for you, so you are not just his ‘ride to the woods’,” he said. “This is very important.”

After much of the groundwork is laid, Bo explained that taking young dogs to the woods as often as possible is vital for their success. “This needs to be done as at every opportunity,” he said. “I think maybe most people nowadays don’t have the time required to train a good dog.” Bo believes in letting young dogs learn for themselves in the woods where there is game (in this case squirrels), and letting their breeding and instincts take over.

“I may live trap a few squirrels for a puppy and let him chase them up a tree,” he said. “But after that, I just take him to the woods and let him learn on his own. Too much of a staged thing can make them think it is always going to be easy, and it is not like that in real world of squirrel doggin’.”

I like the simple, down-to-earth attitude Mr. Wood applies to his dog training, and life, in general. I have talked to you before about squirrel hunting with dogs. It’s a great way to enjoy the fall and winter woods. Kids and older folks alike enjoy watching the dogs scramble through the woods, and their antics when they tree a squirrel. The pace is leisurely and the stress level is where it should be, nil. I have said this before, but it is the best way I know to introduce anyone, young or old, to hunting. If you have never tried it, make arrangements this fall to go with a squirrel dog hunter and see what you’ve been missing.

If you do, you may find yourself wanting to find a squirrel dog man for a dog of your own. Give me shout, I probably can find Mr. Wood up in the holler.




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