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Let the Dogs Run


The tradition continues. All along the coastal plain of South Carolina the sound of dogs barking, howling and running can be heard. The music is sweet to the ears of many gentlemen who line old logging roads and field edges. For as long as South Carolina has allowed the hunting of whitetail deer, men and their dogs have pursued this wary game animal.

For some, the sound of dogs running deer is anything but music. It is a nuisance. A plague on the value of hunting. An antiquated approach to an art of stealth and pursuit. But to others, it is the only way real deer hunting should take place.

Running dogs for deer is different, no other way to say it. It is different. For those whose love for hounds and venison it is a marriage made in heaven. For those who have never hunted the palmetto maritime forest or the jungle swamps of the PeeDee, it is an anathema. Regardless of where you fall, the truth of the matter is that dogs and deer are a long tradition that in my opinion should remain.

I have hunted deer with dogs and while my trip was successful, I learned it was not for me. But the joy on the faces of the men and boys whose dogs were a major part of the success was genuine and deeply felt. For many of these men, the joy of hunting deer with dogs is not about the killing of the deer. On the contrary, it is on the well trained dogs that enable others to kill deer. It is on breeding, training, running and barking with precision.

Some hunts contain fast running, long legged hounds that push deer at warp speed where making a killing shot is high skill as the deer run through the woods at a a blur. Others prefer the slow running short hounds that push deer at a lope and shots are determined and well executed.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the social context. For stand hunters, pursuing deer is more of a solitary affair. Where the dog drive is anything but solitary. It is a social gathering. Where generations of families and friends gather weekly to banter and barter over dogs, guns, shells, and an occasional adult beverage.

Plans are made by the hunt master who determines which block of woods will be run. Stands are assigned and the beds of pickup trucks are filled with anxious hunters who will stand guard watching for deer trying to escape the entangled swamps and brambles they call home.

After all standers are placed CB radios and Walkie Talkie radios are filled with static and unintelligible murmuring of when drivers will release the dogs. Almost immediately shots begin to ring out as deer bound for escape. Two hours later the hunt master calls an end to the barrage. Drivers are dispatched and standers and their deer are picked up and brought back to the camp.

Deer are logged into ledgers, pictures are taken, memories are made and meat divided evenly among the participants.

Another tradition continues. I hope as the clubs who run get smaller and smaller, and generations of houndsmen begin to fade into the obscurity of time. Those opposed will at least not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you haven’t tried hunting deer with dogs, you owe it to yourself to give it a try a time or two before you say blindly that it isn’t for you.

As hunters, we owe it to our sport to support all legal methods of hunting. Whether it is a style you personally enjoy or not is irrelevant to the big picture of supporting ones privilege and right to participate. For the next four months the dogs will run across the coastal plain  of South Carolina, and if you are fortunate enough to join in on this ancient tradition consider yourself blessed to be counted in the few and the proud.