Well the squirrel dog guys out there know that you could go on and on about this, how a good dog can track and find squirrels when you can’t, how really good dogs can find them even when the squirrel hasn’t been on the ground for a while, they can smell them, “wind’ a squirrel high in a tree and will tell you it is there! But you know the real reason why you need a dog to squirrel hunt? Because it is fun!
Unless you are familiar with this time honored practice of taking bushytails, you may question the need for canine help in acquiring the makings for squirrel gravy and biscuits. Many hunters can take their limit of squirrels by still hunting and spot and stalk. Once you have hunted with a good squirrel dog though, you may never be the same.
While it is true that many dogs of mixed ancestry have made great squirrel getters, most squirrel dogs today fall into two groups, curs and fiests. Both of these breeds have their origin in the southern Appalachian Mountains; both of them have a loyal following.
The fiest is the smaller of these two dogs, averaging less than 18 inches at the shoulder and weighing no more than 30 pounds. So if size is a big factor for you in picking a squirrel dog, you may want to go with the smaller fiest. Curs can vary widely in height and weight, everything from maximum fiest size all the way to a 50 pound dog.
The two breeds basically hunt the same with the cur dog generally having more “range” than a fiest. This means a cur is hunting farther away from you than a fiest, and all of this is based on your own preferences and where you hunt. Flat ground makes it easier to hunt a dog that ventures out a little farther. A wide ranging dog in mountainous country is often considered a young man’s game.
I personally want a dog that uses his nose as well as eyes and ears, and the cur is known for usually having more nose power than a fiest. I have also seen some fiests that are wicked good squirrel dogs and have a great nose. It is an argument older than the Ford and the Chevy debate, fiests guys are going to steer you toward their dogs, cur fans towards theirs. Take your time, shop around, and see what suits you best.
If you want something different from a cur or fiest, there are several options available to you. As noted earlier there have been many good squirrel dogs that are really just “mutts”. Some hunters will routinely cross their dogs with “bird dogs” usually a pointer. The Norwegian Elkhound often makes an excellent squirrel dog; look for a breeder that hunts his dogs, more so than just for pets or show.
As in choosing any hunting dog, you want to do your homework and talk to as many breeders and owners as possible. Ask the breeder specific questions, tell him exactly what you expect a dog to reasonably do. You may want to look at young dog that has already been “started”. Many times this is a good option; you can bypass the destructive puppy stage and know that you have a candidate that is already treeing squirrels.
Remember that whatever you choose for your squirrel dog, nothing will take the place of time spent in the woods. Experienced hunters will tell you to put your dog in squirrels and “hunt the fur off of them”. You may notice a young dog that has what it takes getting a little better every time you go to the woods, but he can’t do that if you don’t go.
In essence what a good dog squirrel does for you is find the game. He will range ahead in the woods; find the track of a squirrel, put it to a tree, and then bark “on tree” until you arrive. Unless you think that your nose, eyes and ears are as good as most canines, a trusty dog will find more squirrels than you will on your own.
There may be no better way to introduce youngsters to hunting. Kids love to watch the antics of the dogs as they scramble through the woods, once the squirrel is treed taking the shot can be relaxed and stress free. A cur or a fiest can make a great “buddy dog” for a kid that loves to hunt.
The next time you seek the main ingredient for squirrel gravy and biscuits, try a little canine assistance with that squirrel dog in your future.