I coon hunted with my father-in-law Willie Davis. Now Willie was about the best dog man that Iíd ever known. Come to think of it, I didnít know any dog men until I met Willie. But, it was obvious he was the best at what he did. We competition hunted. That is to say we went to some part of the country every weekend for a contest of hunting dogs to get trophies and accolades from people that were dumb enough to tramp the woods at night following a dog. Another reason for going to these competition events and win trophies was the fact that people would pay good money to be able to breed their female dogs to a great hunting dog or buy puppies from the bloodline of one of these high powered champion dogs. Willie had just what they were looking for. Willie had some of the best dogs in the country and the competition hunts he won proved it. This was a business to Willie as well as a way of life and sport. (He just loved to breed dogs.) Thatís a joke; older people that lived around Indianapolis in the seventies and eighties will get that.
Willie and I lived in Blacksburg, Virginia. It was mountainous and it took a lot of stamina to hunt coon dogs in that part of the country. It wasnít like it was in Indiana and Ohio where any pussle-gutted idiot could drive up to a patch of woods and turn his dogs in and never leave the truck. It was hard times hunting in Virginia, you had to be a man to hunt in Virginia. (Donít you feel sorry for me?) The coon you caught was different than the coon you caught in Indiana and Ohio also. The coons in Virginia were lean and fast. There wasnít any fat on those coons, not like the coon from Indiana or Ohio that fed on corn. A thirteen pound coon in Virginia was considered a big coon. There were less of them too. You had to hunt hard back in those days.
Willieís rise to stardom in the coon hunting world started with a dog named Little River Rawhide. He was a single registered English dog that Willie won the Virginia State Championship with. Rawhide was the smartest dog Iíd ever seen, and in the three years I hunted him, he only treed one possum, and that was because weíd hunted for three hours without locating a coon track. He didnít run deer or fox either. No off game, Willie had trained him good. Willie used to say that in this life God only gives you one good dog and one good wife. Well, Rawhide had to be the one God gave Willie. Trouble was, Rawhide didnít throw a pup that ever looked up, at least not well enough to brag about. So Willie fell out of love pretty quick with Rawhide, especially since he felt he was in the dog breeding business.
Through the years Willie acquired some really good dogs. His second dog that he competition hunted was called Midnight Thunder. He showed him as well as hunted him and all in all he was a damned good dog. The only thing about Thunder was on foot that had been snake bit. That foot was flatter than hell but the other three were knuckle footed. That didnít bother the show judges. He also was too tall; you had to let him down on his feet when the judges put a tape measure on him. For a Black and Tan he was a great coon dog. He werenít a kill dog but a great coon dog. Iíve seen coon grab Thunder by the ear and lead him to another tree and scamper up without Thunder laying a glove on it. Damndest thing you ever saw.
I campaigned a dog by the name Thunder Jr. I made him a Grand Bench Show Champion when he was one year old to the day. I took him out that night on a cast and won the cast because I had three Walkers in the cast that treed on bushes no higher than your head without anything in them. For some reason Thunder Jr. just milled around without opening his mouth. Back then you could win a hunt without plus points. I won the registered class with the fewest minus points. Everyone had a bad night except me and I didnít have a dog that could tree a coon. Go figure, it looked good in the books though.
Back in the early seventies I got to hunt with some really high powered dogs. I didnít have a dog to hunt in the Champion class (the class just before the Grand Champion class that enabled you to get the stud fees and sell puppies class) so theyíd let me take Rawhide with Willie and the guys he hunted with. That made it a five dog cast but Rawhide was scored separately from the other four dogs. The nice thing about doing this was the education I got. Weíd be standing in the woods and the men would be talking a mile a minute. Then, out of the blue a man would stop in the middle of a sentence and say; strike my dog. Each man in the class Willie hunted in had that capability. Sometimes the dogs would be so far off you could barely hear them and Willie or another in the cast would say: tree my dog separate. These men knew if their dog stumped its toe by the way it barked. It was awesome. These guys were good. The people in the casts werenít randomly chosen either. These castsí members were deliberately chosen because Willie and the guys like him didnít drive two hundred miles to be turned out with just anybody. The other participants at the hunt should have figured that out.
I remember on more than one occasion weíd be in a cast and the dogs would strike, start running the coon and Iíd hear Rawhide going in the opposite direction of the other four dogs. One of the dogs in Willies cast would give out a locating bark and the guy that owned him would be biting his lip not to yell; tree my dog. If the men started walking in the direction of the four dogs Willie would say; boys we might as well just wait here. Theyíve got the back end and theyíll be headed back toward Rawhide in just a minute. Sure enough, theyíd be back. Rawhide would be treed ten minutes before the other dogs even got there. After the first hour or so these men werenít so quick to jump on that one hundred tree points if Rawhide wasnít there.
A lot of the people out there hunt Walker dogs. A walkerís a good dog, good kill dog, a bit tree happy, theyíre inclined to face bark and a lot of them have green tails but all in all they come into looking up early and make good hunting dogs. For those people Iíd like to ask them if they remember Joe House or the name Nance. Iíve met them both. I watched their rise to stardom in the coon hunting world. Iíve marveled at their accomplishments. Houses Chief was one of the dogs Rawhide could send back to the registered class at any time. Pains you, doesnít it. Joe House had good dogs; there were a lot of good dogs back then. I got to hunt with the guys that started most of the bloodlines you want on your dogís papers today.
Another good dog Willie had and was successful in campaigning was the Screaming Eagle dogs. Although Eagle was a self made dog Willie reaped the benefits of that bloodline. Eagle threw pups, which was the important thing. Eagles pups looked up from the time they were born it seemed like. Willie was successful with this bloodline and itís probably still considered one of the best Black and Tan dogs ever to run through the woods. And, it seemed like they started as quick as an English or Walker. That was unusual back in the day. It seemed a Black and Tan didnít get the silliness out of him until he was five years old.
One day a man called from Tennessee to ask if he could see Eagle in the woods and breed his gype to him. Willie said yes and the man arrived the next night. Now by this time Eagle was old and tired. I told Willie the man had to be crazy to want to see Eagle in the woods. Hadnít his pups proved him already to be a good dog? Wasnít Eagles credentials enough for this guy? Willie just shook his head and said; lets load up Eagle. The man had brought a buddy and the buddiesí son with him. We turned Eagle out at the side of the mountain and waited. Eagle struck and ran it for about a half mile. When we got there it was the tree that the mama sow had put her cubs up and she had gone on. But Eagle hadnít been drawn and there he set barking every breath. There were three baby coons in the tree and the guy from Tennessee said; could you catch one for me so I can use it as a lead coon. Willie said OK and got out his coon squawker to walk one of the baby coons out. One of the coons walked out on the edge of a limb and Willie yelled at me to take off my hunting coat and throw it on the coon when it jumped out. I positioned myself under the coon and Willie was going nuts with the squawker. I kept my wheat light trained on the coon but it moved and I lost sight of him. Willie kept yelling; heís getting ready to jump, heís getting ready to jump. About that time I was looking up trying to see the coon when all of a sudden I saw it coming straight for my head. It was going to land right on top of me. I threw my coat up in the air trying to ward off the blow and when I did the coon landed in my coat. The force of the landing closed my arms and captured the coon in my coat. I hadnít moved one inch and the coon had never gotten below my beltline. I gathered the ends of the coat and stood there with the coon ready to take out of the woods. The guy from Tennessee said; Well I be damned, Iím down there in Tennessee lucky to ever see a coon and you son of a bitches are up here in Virginia catching them like baseballs. I handed my hunting coat to the guy from Tennessee and said: here, you can carry the equipment. The guy from Tennessee left his gype there to be bred. Willie had given this man a story to tell. A story about Willie Davis.
Willie was a hard man. Anything he went to do he made a job of it. If it seemed like fun to you, Willie could make you wish youíd never thought about doing it. But, Willie would say: If itís worth doing, itís worth doing right, and Willie Davis did it right. I learned to respect that quality in Willie. Starting the bloodlines of a hunting dog is hard work. You sissysí today probably donít realize the time and effort it took to campaign a dog back then. It took hard men to get the breeds to where they are today. It took work. The nose youíve got on your dog didnít come from sitting in an armchair with your feet propped up. The reason it looks up so early isnít an accident either. Iíll let you guys know something else. Your papers donít include the animals that were crossbred just to get what these hard men of yesterday were trying to achieve, any of them. Iíve watched pups with double eyelids be whisked off to their death plenty of times. What Iím saying is, be thankful to the men that made the breeds. They worked hard for you.
Me and Willie didnít agree with one another all the time. Weíd have our ups and downs. But, there was never any lack of respect on my part for Willie Davis. Heís one of the Guys that made the Black and Tan what it is today. I miss Willie, Iíd like to go hunting with him again. Maybe someday I will.