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The Future is Looking Bright at Willow Creek

Laura Bell

You might be a coon hunter if … you use your spouse’s wedding ring as collateral to buy a coon dog. Now, the tricky part is whether or not you should tell your spouse about it. Think about it, happy marriage or happy nights of hunting? That’s a tough one, but John Anderson of Plainview, Nebraska is living proof that you can have both, and yes, he’s still married to the same woman who put her ring on the line for an English Coonhound.

Born in ranching country and raised around livestock, it was only natural that John would make his living in the livestock trade. John resides in the northeastern corner of Nebraska, along with his wife Celeste, and they have three children together, two daughters and one son. The family owns and operates Willow Creek Quarter Horses and Cattle Company, which can be found online at http://www.willowcreekquarterhorses.com. They currently stand five stallions to the public, but also show their horses, hold production sales, and sell horses all over the country.

Their farm used to consist of a band of 60 broodmares, but when the drought of 2012 hit, they were forced to sell down. Also due to the drought, they had to trim down their herd of 1,000 head of cattle to approximately 700. They established Willow Creek Kennels in 1981 and have maintained the same line of English Coonhounds for over 30 years.

John’s first taste of coon hunting happened when he was a young boy, and one night the police chief of the town invited his dad to go hunting with him. John, his dad, and his brother all loaded into the truck and spent the night listening to the chief’s Black & Tans track and tree. One night of hunting was enough for John to know that he wanted to continue going, but to do so he needed a dog of his own. A man named Vern Hoscheit said he had just the dog John was looking for and it was only $25. John bought the blue English Coonhound and the dog was a good one, well, good at catching more skunks on the ground than treeing coons, but it was still a dog to take out hunting.

The thought of competing with his dog came to John in 1976 when he attended a nite hunt and competed in a grade dog cast. Being able to compete with a UKC registered dog in the nite hunts would happen when John acquired CH NITE CH Sundowns Blue Wishbone. Sired by ACHA World English Champion CH GR NITE CH Turkey Ridge Racket and out of a female called NITE CH Turkey Ridge Old Queen, Wishbone went from puppy to Dual Champion under John’s ownership, with his biggest win happening when he won Champion of the Nebraska State Show one year. John had intentions to take Wishbone to Dual Grand and took him to a hunt where they competed in their first Nite Champion cast. Sadly, it was their first and last as Wishbone climbed a tree during the hunt and fell out, breaking his diaphragm and ending his life.

Looking for another dog, John got with a man named Lloyd Drent, who owned a place in Nebraska and also in Oklahoma. His line of dogs went back to the popular Coin-bred English dogs. Lloyd was in the process of raising a litter of English pups, but offered John half of the entire litter if he would take them and let them run loose on his farm in Nebraska. It was an offer too good for John to pass up, so he and his new bride, Celeste, hopped in their 1971 Galaxie station wagon and headed for Lloyd’s place in Oklahoma to pick up the litter of pups.

While there, they saw a young male dog prospect that was for sale. John was in the market for another dog and asked to see him go hunting. Bugle, as he was called, put on quite the show in the scarce coon population of Oklahoma, and to top it off he had a good bawl mouth and chop on tree. A quality dog comes at a price and Bugle was listed for sale for $2,000. John departed for home and went to see his banker about getting a loan in order to purchase Bugle. He explained to the loan manager that he needed a loan for $2,000 and of course the manager asked in return what the loan was for. The look on his face was priceless when John said he wanted to buy a coon dog with it. Though the banker thought he was crazy, he agreed to give John the loan as long as he had something to put up for collateral. Being a newlywed, he didn’t have much to offer up, but said he would put his car or some of the home appliances towards it, but the manager refused to take away the necessities that were needed in everyday life. That’s when John said that his wife’s wedding ring would be more than enough to cover the cost of the loan. The banker said okay to that and as long as his wife was fine with it then it was a deal. Celeste had agreed to it and after the ring had been appraised and approved for collateral, John was off to buy Bugle. It took John three years to pay off that loan, but he did it.

GR NITE CH CH ‘PR’ Willow Creek Golden Bugle (NITE CH ‘PR’ Dons Platte Valley Ringo x ‘PR’ Lambs Spring Creek Sis) seemed to have everything that John was looking for to start a line of dogs with. Bugle was bred well, could run a cold track to catch and was a stay put all night tree dog. One of his best skills was that he had an overwhelmingly big mouth that John was sure you could hear for four miles. He was fueled by competing against good dogs, but could fall short if the other dogs didn’t push him.

With Bugle being an outstanding dog, John wanted to start crossing him with females that had more drive and hunt, and made a cross with Svatos’ Cedar Hill Lady, who was a sister to Wishbone. While experimenting with crosses, John was able to get a nice young male dog out of Bugle and Lady called NITE CH Willow Creek Golden Blaze. Blaze was campaigned in the hunts and had four wins towards Grand Nite Champion when John quit pushing him in the hunts and focused on breeding him to good females. Blaze produced 36 pups in his lifetime, most of which showed natural hunting ability.

One pup that was especially nice from Blaze and ‘PR’ Haden’s Kansas Sandy was called GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Nation’s Dancin Demon, who was being studded out in New York for some time. Blaze and Sandy both went back to NITE CH Don’s Platte Valley Ringo. Along with adding in the Platte Valley to his line, John brought in some CH NITE CH ‘PR’ Green Valley Double D, R.F. Dickey’s Blue Boy, Oney-bred hounds, and, most recently, Larry Wilcox’s line. Many of John’s hounds go back to Bugle, some even seven or eight times. John has tried to keep linebreeding on his old blood while branching out to some of the different strains available. We’ll hear more about John’s thoughts on the different lines of English hounds later on.

It’s time to introduce the current dogs of Willow Creek Kennel. The Andersons have a young stud dog they have been selectively breeding, called ‘PR’ Willow Creek Golden Booker. Booker is out of ‘PR’ Willow Creek Golden Preacher, who is heavily linebred on their GR NITE CH GR CH ‘PR’ Willow Creek Golden Bugle dog. The dam to Booker is ‘PR’ Bad Lands Ginger, who carries NITE CH ‘PR’ Perk’s Northern Cujo on her top side and is Gold Coin bred on her bottom side.

Booker is almost six years old and was the only pup to survive from the litter. John described him as a unique, blue collar coon dog that runs to catch, was naturally straight, independent, and throws out one or two locates before settling in to a chop at the tree. Above all, he’s reproducing some of the best acting coonhounds John has seen. Booker has never been competition hunted for two reasons. For one, John got away from the competition side of hunting to focus on his family and horse farm; and reason two, he wanted to use Booker for breeding. Being the only pup from the cross, his breeding and ability is important to the future of Willow Creek dogs. For John, Booker is the type of dog that will make his legacy through his pups and not by the amount of wins he’s accomplished. So far the crosses on Booker have produced great results with the pups proving to have ample accuracy about having a coon and doing it with tremendous track and tree mouths.

Booker’s oldest pups are about four years old. The Andersons have one they call NITE CH ‘PR’ Willow Creek Lightfoot Ike, out of ‘PR’ Light Foot Rose (‘PR’ Light Foot New Breed Hawk x Idaho Light Foot Blitz). They have just started competition hunting Ike and within a month he acquired a first place and third place Registered win. In early May Ike earned his last win to Nite Champion when he racked up a score of 325+. In a total of five hunts Ike has finished to Nite Champion, earned one win to Grand Nite, and placed in an RQE to qualify him to compete in the UKC Zones in hopes of making it to the World Champion semi-finals in Ohio.

‘PR’ Willow Creek Gus is another upcoming male pup the Andersons have out of Booker and a female called ‘PR’ Platt Valley Blue Ice (NITE CH CH ‘PR’ Oakhill’s Blue Missouri Husker x CH ‘PR’ Platte Valley Sugar). Gus is one of the houndiest dogs you’ll lay eyes on. He’s tri-colored, has long ears, built like a dog should be and is a spitting image of Booker. Look for this pup to go places.

While it may seem like Willow Creek Kennels is home to only male dogs, they do also have a few good females running around the farm. One of which, ‘PR’ Willow Creek Daisy, won 7th place Registered on Saturday at the 2013 English Days in Bluffton, Indiana. Daisy racked up a score of 625+ while being handled by John’s son, Keylyn. The pair hunted all three nights at English Days and never once took any minus points. This shows you that if you have a good dog, they can go from only hunting a certain kind of terrain such as the sandy land of Nebraska to big woods and creeks and still tree coon. Daisy was also entered into an RQE event and placed 2nd overall. Unfortunately, Daisy had one deadly flaw and it was that she liked to climb trees. This flaw claimed her life just a few months after her showing at English Days. The Andersons did raise a litter of pups from her and Booker and kept a female called ‘PR’ Willow Creek Ann, who is turning into a nice young prospect.

Speaking of English Days, John said that the 2013 trip there was only his second time to the event. Living in Nebraska makes it hard to attend some of the major events, but it was well worth the 13-hour drive, and he was able to talk about the English breed with numerous people and that is what he missed most about competition hunting, and he has plans to attend again. It’s not just the major events that are a distance away, but local ones as well. The closest local club to Plainview, Nebraska is about a two-hour drive. It’s just not common in the area to have a coon dog tied behind every barn; therefore, there are not a whole lot of people around to run events. The weather also plays a part in why coon hunting isn’t as popular. The summer months are so hot that if you run your dogs you also run the risk of them overheating, especially when they get out in a cornfield and start running hard. Come August though, the Andersons are hitting the woods every chance they get and keep hunting until the snow piles up.

I was able to pick John’s brain about the different lines of English Coonhounds, and John shared that if you just take off the rose-colored glasses and really look at your hounds and their pedigrees you can see what will help build towards a better dog. John calls himself a student of genetics and breeding, and said if you can get past looking only at just titles, then you’ll discover dogs with traits and qualities that could be of benefit to your dog that lacks in those certain areas.

For John, linebreeding has been a key to his successful line of dogs. John explained linebreeding to me like this: If a single cow poops in the river, you only have to go a little ways down the river to find clean water, but if 100 cows poop in the river, you’re going to have to go much further down the river to find clean water. It’s the same with linebreeding; if you want a certain dog and traits in your line, you need to get them in there more than once. His goal to breeding is to keep improving, and while everything is okay in moderation, it can lead to going overboard sometimes. For example, John sees that a lot of the English dogs of today are more tree minded because that’s what a lot of people thought the breed needed, but because they bred solely for tree, they now lack track and hustle ability. Nebraska consists of mostly sandy ground and small patches of timber (a big patch of timber is considered about one acre). The dogs need to have good tracking ability, which is another reason why John has stuck to the old blood because it trees coon in his tough hunting area, now especially since the coon population in Nebraska is down since the drought of 2000 caused an outbreak of distemper.

When John does make what he considers the perfect cross, he likes to keep the entire litter and slowly weed them out until he finds the ones he wants to keep to continue using in his breeding program. Most of the pups sold at Willow Creek go to country pleasure hunters who will put time and effort into making the pup into something. Whether or not they put titles on the dog is up to them.

The future is looking bright at Willow Creek. John’s son Keylyn has been working the dogs with him and has become a full partner. Keylyn graduated college and now lives and works at the farm. For John it’s an unbelievable dream come true to have his son working with him and taking an interest in everything. If it wasn’t for Keylyn’s interest in the dogs, John probably wouldn’t have the dogs he has today. In early 2000 when John started slowing down in the hounds, Keylyn picked it up and continued making crosses and helping run the kennel and hunting the dogs.

John wished to share this last bit of advice to anyone who would like to prosper in the coonhound world. When he was 21 years old, John was able to travel to Bert Oney’s place and talk about dogs. He also met Kelly Stagner and was able to listen and learn what he had to share about dogs, and the same with Roger Preheim, and R. F. Dickey. John couldn’t stress enough about the importance these conversations had on him and how they helped make him and Willow Creek Kennel what it is today. By wrapping yourself around someone successful is to become successful yourself. If you ever have the chance to sit down and talk dogs with someone who has been around and knows their stuff, do it, it will forever help you. John always feels honored when someone calls him up to pick his brain about dogs and genetics and welcomes calls from anyone. As the Andersons start getting back into the world of coon hunting full force again, they have noticed that the camaraderie has increased and the English breed is being filled with people trying to help others and promote good dogs. They find it very unique and refreshing to see this.

Keep your eyes out for the Andersons and their generations-old line of Willow Creek English Coonhounds!

For more articles, click here to order the July 2014 issue of COONHOUND BLOODLINES.

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