It’s hard to imagine a life without our hounds. Who we are as people, as a family and as hunters is defined by them. Each one earns their spot in our home, through tireless training and testing. The dedication my husband puts forth to this lifestyle and to them, is truly admirable. Unlike my husband, I didn’t grow up with hounds. I knew nothing of the sport, nor did I understand it or the dedication, time and love that it requires. A hunt that truly is a yearlong endeavor no matter what game you pursue. From raising pups, to feeding every day, ensuring their health is up to par and the countless hours of training before season even begins. I learned very quickly that hound hunting requires a commitment that most just aren’t cut out for.
I feel that we were always destined to have hounds, like my husband’s father and grandfather before him. It wasn’t until we both chose a different career path from the military that we were able to devote the time necessary to having our own. In the beginning, I was a busy mom, raising my 1-year-old and 4-month-old babies. We spent much of their early years camping in the wilderness with our travel trailer for bear season, following the hounds by truck while Daddy followed on foot. It was a balancing act, as I am sure any mom that hunts with children will attest to. An abundance of snacks were had, many days I spent more time driving around to keep the babies sleeping then actually participating in the hunt. But at the end of the day, I will forever have those memories.
I will never forget my first encounter with a bear on a hound hunt. The kids were both peacefully asleep and I welcomed the silence after a long, early morning in the truck. I was sitting on a logging road, watching the gps from the truck when I noticed the dogs were running straight for where we sat. With the windows rolled down, I could hear that they were closing the distance between us. Hearing a pack of hounds run through the bush, is a moment you won’t soon forget and one that cannot be described until experienced first-hand! My heart started to race and I saw the alders rustling in a straight line to where I was. Out popped a black bear not even 5 yards from me. He saw me, pivoted and went straight back into the dogs, only to tree not long after. I was hooked!
From that moment, I knew I had to find a way to get more involved in the hunt. At that point, the kids weren’t ready to deal with the bugs and long walks into the tree. Thankfully, I have the best friend anyone could ask for, and she offered to watch them despite the early wakeup call and the teething babies I would be leaving her with. We would stay the night at our friend's house, and I would tip toe down the stairs at 4 am with little to no sleep, slip the baby monitor into my friend’s room and I would meet my husband and our friends to hunt. I was determined to fill my tag, yet I knew my part, was just to show up. The hunt depended on our friend and his hounds, yet I had no doubt that it would work out.
One October morning, it all aligned. The dogs had a mean bear walking that refused to tree. It was decided that our best bet would be to get in as close as we could and take a shot. Every time we would get close, the bear would bust and go another couple hundred yards. I can’t remember how many times this happened, but it felt like an eternity. Finally, myself and our friend dropped all of our unnecessary gear in attempt to sneak in, which was no easy task through a thick swamp. My husband also stayed behind as we once again trudged through the mucky ground, in an attempt to put eyes on this bear. Finally, we were close enough and we could see the dogs circling and baying the bear under a blow down.
I relied on our friend to make the judgement call on whether it was a shooter or not. Once he gave me the go ahead, instructed me on where to aim through the thick brush, I readied my rifle, waited for a clear shot. BOOM. I shot, he busted and being inexperienced with a bayed up bear, I handed my rifle to our friend. Our priority was and always is the dog's safety and a wounded bear can be incredibly dangerous. A weight, I did not want on my hands. Thankfully the shot was clean and the bear fell not even 80 yards away. My first bear!
Not long after this, we bought our second home only to soon after bring home two treeing x running walker cross puppies. My husband spent countless hours working with them, doing drags and building their drive and confidence. The kids would help, dragging a hide around the yard, puppies running close behind. They were so eager and by 6 months they were following tracks. By 14 months, our first hounds Hooch and Maynard treed their first bear. It was a door that blew wide open and has led us to the life that we live now. When bear season was over, that first winter they ran coyotes and by the following spring, they were back on bear, treeing 64 bear that year.
Hunting with hounds intrigued me right from my first experiences but sharing a bond with them brought the passion to an entirely new level. Although, much of the early years, I didn’t get to be as involved, I have still loved watching the hounds evolve into the hounds that we have now. Unfortunately, we lost Maynard not long before his second birthday but Hooch is still here, proving each day his capabilities are endless. No dog is without flaw, but he is the backbone to everything that we do, from running Mountain Lions out west to bear and coyotes everywhere in between. He is a big game hound through and through but can also cuddle up on the couch with the best of them. Watching the next generation of hounds from him has been equally as remarkable. The first litter, all 4 pups made bear dogs even by my husband's almost unrealistic expectations. With his second litter almost 3 months old, we are excited to evaluate their progress over the next year and get them started this spring. Our hope is that this will be the beginning of a line of dogs that will last generations for our children to carry on.
Our daughter experienced her first treed bear at barely 3 years old. It was an exciting moment having my daughter alongside me while I harvested a bear to fill the freezer, for the long winter ahead. Always advanced beyond her age, she was always inquisitive to the process of the hunt, from field dressing to butchering the game once it was home. We strive to include our children in attempt to connect them with the food that they eat, and how it came to be. It is a lesson most kids don’t experience in our modern world. I hope that by having them participate in every aspect they will be wiser and more capable of self-sustainment down the road. From feeding the hounds, to training, to making bear sausages when the hunt is over, it truly is a family affair in our home.
We have recently moved off the grid, to our small hunting cabin. We live a simple life, surrounded by thousands of acres of crown land in Northern Ontario with our kids, bald eagle and our hounds. Every day is an adventure and my husband can be most often found working with the hounds. If I am not hunting with them, I am most often painting them. Painting stories for others like me that love the outdoors across the continent is another passion that I truly love, especially when it involves our four-legged hunting buddies. It is unclear what the future will hold for us as we are constantly on an adventure but it is absolutely certain that whatever it entails, it will include our hounds.
Find me at www.chelseahanslerart.com