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Precious's Passion

When the leaves fall from the trees, Lecompte hunter David Brodie hits the woods with his mountain cur to bag buchy-tails.

By ANDY CRAWFORD

A good squirrel dog will do all in its power to track its prey down. David Bodie’s Precious scampered into the fork of a tree after trailing a cat squirrel to the location.
A good squirrel dog will do all in its power to track its prey down. David Bodie’s Precious scampered into the fork of a tree after trailing a cat squirrel to the location.

Precious leaped from the truck, nervously yipping and running in circles.

The little mountain cur’s remaining eye was bright, anticipation for the coming hunt evident in that sparkle as she ran around owner David Bodie.

“They love to hunt,” the Lecompte hunter said. “They just can’t wait to get out there and find a squirrel.”

And with that, Bodie, his buddy Jessie Petersen and I set off.

Memories of my last dog hunt for squirrels quickly flooded my mind. I was only 8 or 9, and my late Uncle Layton was encouraging his dogs on to find targets for my older brother Jerry and me to shoot.

I can still hear Uncle Layton laughing at us trying to hit squirrels that were high-tailing it from one tree to the next.

Back in the present, Precious worked the woods like a good bird dog — quietly moving away from her owner and circling back, her nose close to the ground in hopes of catching the faintest scent of her prey.

“That’s what I like about these dogs (mountain curs),” Bodie said. “They don’t take off and get away from you. They constantly check back, so you don’t need to be on a huge piece of property.”

The weather this warm January afternoon concerned the veteran squirrel hunter, however. The wind was blowing, and that sometimes meant tough hunting.

“A squirrel dog hunts with three senses — her ears, her nose and her eyes. Wind affects all of them,” Bodie said.

That’s because the rustling of leaves makes it very difficult to hear or see anything moving, and scent doesn’t hold to the ground very long.

“Cat squirrels don’t have much scent, so that makes it worse,” Bodie said.

Of course, that was the species of squirrels we were hunting; the big fox squirrels that once had thrived here had long since been overwhelmed by their pushy brethren.

But Bodie still had confidence in his dog. And judging from the success the hunter has had, his optimism was warranted.

“We’ve killed well over 300 squirrels over my dogs this year,” he said.

It only took about five minutes for Precious to signal that she had found a squirrel. Her excited yips resounded through the bottoms as Bodie took off at a jog.

What we found was a perfect situation, according to the expert squirrel chaser.

“This is the kind of tree I like,” he said. “You see all those vines? A cat squirrel will hide in those vines and think it’s safe. And it is, from everything but me and a dog.”

There was another reason the tree was perfect for Bodie.

“If the tree had holes in it, the squirrel probably would hide in one of the holes. This doesn’t have any holes, so it’s probably in the vines hiding,” he explained.

Bodie, who didn’t even bring a gun along, situated Petersen and me on opposite sides of the tree, and then he walked up and grabbed a vine.

Precious lost an eye to a racoon, so she has a special hatred of the animals. Her hunting mate Cricket also is not fond of coons. Here, she tracked one into a hole in a tree.
Precious lost an eye to a racoon, so she has a special hatred of the animals. Her hunting mate Cricket also is not fond of coons. Here, she tracked one into a hole in a tree.

A quick shake sent the small, gray cat squirrel scampering up the tree and into the opening.

My gun roared twice, but my shots were behind the squirrel, and the lithe critter scooted higher.

Then it disappeared.

A few minutes later, Bodie spotted it. The squirrel was hugging a limb, only its legs visible from our vantage point.

I backed up until its head and back could be seen, put the bead of my 97-year-old Parker Brothers side-by-side on the squirrel and blasted it to the ground.

Precious streaked to the downed rodent, clamped onto its neck and proudly trotted over to her owner.

As the squirrel was dropped into a vest, Precious darted off.

Bodie said our party size was perfect for effective hunting — not too small, but not too big.

“If you’ve got three, you can have one to shake the vines and one on each side of the tree,” he explained. “One of them can see where it goes.”

We strolled on, talking and laughing, until the underbrush opened up and a beautiful hardwood bottom stretched out before us.

It didn’t take Bodie long to decide this was not where he wanted to hunt.

“In open country, the squirrels won’t come out,” he said. “In those thickets, they think they’re safe.

“You kill more squirrels in the thickets.”

So Bodie and Petersen looked around and headed for the nearest thick area they saw.

Soon, barks sounded again, and hunters were racing through the tangle of vegetation in search of the treed squirrel.

As we approached Precious, the little yellow dog backed away from the tree, looking up intently.

“She’s looking for it,” Bodie said.

He said this is a good characteristic for any squirrel dog.

“If a squirrel runs from one tree to the next, and she sees it, she’ll tell us where it went,” Bodie said.

The frequency of barking also slowed down as we surrounded the tree, and Bodie said the little dog wasn’t losing her confidence that the squirrel was there, but instead was ensuring that her sense of hearing could be brought to bear.

“If she’s barking and the squirrel moves, she can’t hear it,” he explained. “Now she’s listening.

“When I first trained her I couldn’t get her to shut up. Now, she’s learned that sometimes its better to be quiet.”

And sure enough, the little dog was tilting her head slightly to pick up any sounds from above.

David Bodie is a squirrel-hunting fanatic, but what he most wants to do is watch his dogs run. Precious, one of Bodie’s best squirrel dogs, only has one eye, but there’s nothing wrong with her nose.
David Bodie is a squirrel-hunting fanatic, but what he most wants to do is watch his dogs run. Precious, one of Bodie’s best squirrel dogs, only has one eye, but there’s nothing wrong with her nose.

Again, Bodie spotted the squirrel first. It was sitting perfectly still in a fork of the tree.

“A lot of times what I see first are the ears,” he said.

A full-choked load of No. 6 shot sent the squirrel tumbling to the ground.

The one-eyed dog quickly moved on, continuing her circular hunting pattern.

Soon, however, the dog roamed farther from the hunting party and checked back less frequently.

Bodie said the reasons were two-fold.

First, we were ambling along through the woods.

“She’s smart enough that she won’t cover the same ground twice,” he said. “The faster you go, the harder she hunts.”

And, the dog was becoming frustrated.

“She’s like you — if there’s nothing going on, she gets bored,” he said. “If we get into them, she’ll start working harder, though.”

Finally, Bodie decided to return to the truck and switch dogs.

“We’ll take Cricket out and give Precious a break,” he said.

We also enjoyed a few quick blueberry muffins and Cokes.

As we walked away from the truck, however, Precious howled from her cage.

“She hates to be left behind,” Bodie said. “She wants to hunt.”

Cricket worked slower, and Bodie said he wasn’t encouraged by how she was acting.

“She’s been sick. I gave her some medicine, so that might be slowing her down,” he said.

Finally, however, the cur bellowed and we raced to a vine-entangled hardwood at the base of which Cricket was jumping.

Again, Petersen and I spread out.

“There he goes,” Bodie yelled when he pulled on a vine. “Shoot him! Shoot him!”

I searched my side of the tree in vain, as Petersen did the same. We never saw it.

A few minutes later, Bodie called it. The squirrel was nowhere to be seen, so we were set to move on.

Cricket, on the other hand, had a different idea.

She moved to a tree not 10 feet away and began yipping incessantly.

Bodie, left, never has a problem finding a hunting partner. Jessie Petersen joined him this day to work Bodie’s dogs and kill a few Central Louisiana bushytails.
Bodie, left, never has a problem finding a hunting partner. Jessie Petersen joined him this day to work Bodie’s dogs and kill a few Central Louisiana bushytails.

The tree had a huge hole in the bottom of the trunk, and Bodie immediately assessed the situation.

“It’s probably in that hole,” he explained.

Nonetheless, we began searching the upper limbs for telltale signs of a bushy-tail.

Cricket by this time was in a frenzy, jumping up onto the bole of the tree, and actually sticking her head into the hole.

“Yep, that’s where it is,” Bodie said. “Come on, Cricket. It’s in a hole. Come on.”

But she wouldn’t let up. Finally, Cricket rushed into the hole, leaving nothing but her rump and small, wagging tail showing.

“Come on, Cricket!” Bodie yelled. “It’s in a hole! Let’s go!”

Cricket would have none of that, though.

And as we approached the tree to coax her out of the hole, we heard why she was so insistent.

A low, menacing rumble came from the hole.

“A raccoon,” Bodie said. “That’s a raccoon!”

Bodie, who earlier had explained that he loved hunting raccoons with his dogs almost as much has he enjoyed chasing squirrels with them, rushed to the tree trunk and grabbed his dog by the back legs. He extracted her from the tree and dropped her on the ground.

He then began prodding into the lower part of the trunk with a stick in an effort to locate the ring-tailed animal.

No such luck, and as soon as he backed off to figure out what to do, Cricket was right back in the hole, barking madly.

The growl once again sounded.

“It must be up the tree,” Bodie said.

He pulled Cricket out of the way again, and then did something that defied logic — he stuck his hand into the hole in an attempt to grab the coon.

That seemed especially insane, since Precious’ missing eye was compliments of a raccoon with which she tangled.

But this coon was too far up the tree, so Bodie inspected the situation again.

“There’s a hole up here,” he said, pointing to a spot about 3 feet higher up the tree.

So he grabbed a long stick and jabbed it into the hole, eliciting an angered howl from the coon.

“Yep, there it is,” he said. “Give me a shotgun.”

Petersen handed over his Winchester, and Bodie stuck the end of the barrel down the tree and pulled the trigger.

Bodie reached back into the tree from the bottom and yanked a fat coon out of the cavity.

Cricket went nuts. The raccoon was dead as a brick, but the little dog pounced on it to be sure. She sank her teeth into the dead animal’s throat and refused to let go.

“She wants that coon,” Bodie said with a laugh.

He finally had to pry Cricket away from the coon, but it was soon evident that this dog wouldn’t work out.

“She’s just not working like she usually does,” Bodie said. “I hope it’s that medicine I gave her.”

A lot of ground is covered when using dogs to squirrel hunt, but there also can be a lot of action. Here, Bodie and one of his curs show off a mess of cat squirrels a few of Bodie’s buddies killed in a single morning.
A lot of ground is covered when using dogs to squirrel hunt, but there also can be a lot of action. Here, Bodie and one of his curs show off a mess of cat squirrels a few of Bodie’s buddies killed in a single morning.

So back to the truck we went, switching dogs again.

Precious streaked into the woods, frantically searching for the scent of a squirrel.

We prowled through thicket after thicket, but without much success. Precious moved farther and farther afield.

“This is prime time,” Bodie said with a glance at his watch.

The hunter’s experience indicates that late afternoons are best for cat squirrels.

“Fox squirrels will be out all day, but cat squirrels usually move in the early morning or in the afternoon. About 4 p.m. to dark is the best time,” Bodie said.

As the sun dipped closer to the horizon, we were beginning to despair. Precious had indicated she knew squirrels were in several trees, but each time the trees were free of vines and full of holes.

Each time, we had to move on — which seemed to hurt Precious’ feelings more and more.

Finally, we heard a series of loud, insistent yelps coming across a ridge.

Back to the races.

When we arrived, Precious was clawing at the trunk of a tree, so we spread out to get a good vantage point.

“What you want to do is look at a tree and see which way it can run out into the timber,” Bodie said, pointing at several potential escape routes along high-reaching limbs. “That’s where it’s going to go if it runs.”

Bodie snatched at several vines, but nothing happened. Precious, meanwhile, continued to insist that a squirrel was in the limbs above.

As Bodie moved around, pulling various vines like the hunchback of Notre Dame, movement caught my eye.

I quickly drew a bead on a squirrel running up the nearby tree and pulled the trigger, thinking it was the animal that had Precious so excited.

About the time my old shotgun roared, however, another squirrel burst from the vines of the first tree and moved to a fork, where it froze.

Another shot added it to our bag.

As daylight continued to fail, Precious worked feverously to produce the rest of our total afternoon bag of eight squirrels.

But Bodie and Petersen agreed that the social nature of this kind of hunting compensated for times like this.

“I like this because it’s something you can do with a friend,” Petersen said. “When you’re deer hunting, you’re out there by yourself. But with this, you can talk and laugh and have a good time.”

Several times, Precious half-heartedly treed. She would yip once or twice, run around searching and bark again.

More often than not, she would bay the loudest at trees full of holes in which the squirrels were hiding.

A couple of times, the tree was ideal for our purposes, but no squirrels appeared. Bodie said they probably had escaped before we reached the scene.

“Fox squirrels will stay in one place for an hour, but cat squirrels are nervous anyway. They’re not going to stay in one place long,” he said. “If you get there and you don’t see it in a few minutes, you’re probably not going to see it.”

But Bodie recommends giving a tree a thorough inspection before moving on.

“Sometimes it’s there and you can’t see it easily,” he explained.

We had one such experience that day, when a cat squirrel streaked up a tree as shots rang out.

We were walking away when something caught Bodie’s eye.

“I think that’s it way in the top of the tree,” he said. “See that spot up there? Is that a squirrel?”

Finally, Petersen fired a shot, and the squirrel tumbled to the ground.

“Sometimes they’ll get right in the bud of the limb, just like that one did,” Bodie said.

Because the window of opportunity for putting together a sack full of cat squirrels is limited, Bodie recommends moving quickly.

“You don’t have a lot of time to kill a bunch of squirrels, so you have to get where they are,” he explained.

One way to do this is to use a four-wheeler.

“You can just drive down these (logging) roads, and the dog will work in front of you. You should see how quick they can work,” Bodie said.

All a hunter has to do then is hop off the ATV when he hears his dog bark and find the squirrel.

Bodie also said one of the biggest mistakes many hunters make is trying to push as far off the roads as possible. This is especially true when hunting public areas.

“Ninety percent of the people think the good hunting is as far back in there as they can get,” he said. “When they get back there, though, that’s where all the hunters are.”