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John Davis and His Blackwater Black & Tans

Laura Bell

Nothing brings back more memories for a hunter than a gun, a family heirloom that is passed down from generation to generation. The look, the feel, the nicks and scratches, all triggers our senses into remembering family and hunts of yesteryear. When John W. Davis Jr. of Kingsville, Missouri, pulls out his grandpa’s old pump-action .22 with a crudely repaired stock, he’s reminded of all the times his grandpa carried the gun through the woods and of how many game animals he took with it.

His grandpa would tell tales of his hunts to John, and one story that sticks in John’s mind is the one about how the stock became broken on the .22. His grandpa was coon hunting with his sandy-haired, grade Redbone called Perp when the hound was battling a coon in deep water and the coon was getting the upper hand. Doing the only thing he could think of to save his hound from drowning, he waded into the water and struck the coon with the rifle stock. The dog survived, but the .22 stock was broken. He repaired it the best he could, and years later the gun was passed down to John. Fueled by many other tales like this one and a Black and Tan puppy that wandered into the yard overnight, John was destined to become a coon hunter like the one his grandpa was in his stories.

John grew up on his family’s farm and worked the same land that both of his grandfathers, and at least two great grandfathers, farmed. Farming was the sole source of income for his family, where they made money from their cattle, hogs and grain. “We worked hard, and didn’t always have much to show for it. My parents raised me and my three sisters to be honest, Christian, compassionate towards those less fortunate, and not to just run with the crowd. I was in FFA in high school and got as far as the State Farmer degree. I took about every Vo-Ag class my school had to offer. I learned about breeding livestock and was able to see transformations in our own cattle and hogs through selective breeding. We kept the top five to ten percent of our females for adding back to the herds, and bought the best bulls and boars we could afford. These breeding principles are well proven and just common sense in livestock breeding. I later found out they can be adapted to work in coonhound breeding as well.”

Like many farms, there was always a dog running around the farmyard and, no matter the breed, it always seemed to be John’s buddy. John’s grandpa had coon hunted many years before John was born and when John’s dad was a teenager, he wanted him to experience coon hunting like he had. He bought a registered Black & Tan from out of state. Being out of registered stock, they thought they had a good one, but the dog never panned out. This was the end of coon hunting for the elder Davis’s, but the stories continued to flow about the good times John’s grandpa had in the nighttime woods.

In 1980, John walked out of the house to tend to farm chores when he spotted a small Black & Tan puppy by the door. “He ran under a car to hide from me. I tried coaxing him out but wasn’t successful until I retrieved a piece of sausage left over from breakfast and lured him out. He was my new buddy. In the next few days, a B&T female that was obviously his mother came and went from our house. She had no collar, but she was a nice looking B&T by today’s standards and probably from registered stock. Most dogs ran loose at that time and we frequently saw strays and dogs that were dumped, so it was no big deal to have a strange dog running around. The mother disappeared but the pup stayed at our house. Nobody came looking for either one so the pup became mine. I named him Pete. I haven’t been without a B&T coonhound since.

“I just never gave any serious consideration to owning another breed of coonhound. I spent a lot of time playing with Pete when he was young. I soaked up whatever knowledge I could about training a dog from magazines and Grandpa. When Pete was several months old, we went ‘hunting at night’, just the two of us. I can’t really call it coon hunting. It was the first time either one of us had hunted at night, and we were both spooked. Pete and I walked a circle about 200 yards out into the woods and back. After many years it seems a little unusual that someone would go hunting at night by themselves, for the first time. I’ve always been a little stubborn and independent, I guess. Pete kept busy that night but didn’t get much further than my 7 cell flashlight could shine. We both had a long ways to go.”

“Over the next several years I tried to make a coon dog out of Pete. I got acquainted with some other teenage boys who had an assortment of dogs, and we had some interesting hunts. We turned as many as seven dogs loose at a time and I doubt any one of them had a realistic chance to tree a coon. With a group of teenage boys, the coon hunting wasn’t taken very seriously, anyway. I really didn’t enjoy hunting that way. I made a lot of training mistakes, but Pete did get to where he would tree a few coons for me. Those ‘Dual Grand Champions’ in the magazines sure got my interest. The grade hunts were tapering off about that time and a dog had to be UKC registered to do much competition hunting. I checked into it and I got Pete single registered with UKC in 1982. Carl Minehart was the breed coordinator and Don Bonar was the inspector. I distinctly remember both Carl and Don emphasizing the rules, especially the rule about ‘no white elsewhere’. They were going to look at pictures, inspect my dog and Don was to go hunting with my dog. I remember thinking this single registration stuff was serious business. Pete had some white on his chest, but after looking it over, Don said it was okay.

“We went hunting, Pete treed one time and Don passed him. I got a set of yellow registration papers in the mail a few weeks later. As far as I knew then, and now, Pete’s single registration was done by the book. Now I had a UKC registered dog and I could go to nite hunts. I wanted to see what some good dogs would do in the woods and how Pete would measure up. That is the true value of nite hunts, to showcase a hound’s ability. I went to a few nite hunts and Pete couldn’t win a cast, but in all fairness I went to several hunts before I even saw a plus-point scored. Apparently, few others had a good dog, either. Pete and I weren’t out of place. Don Bonar and I stayed in touch and I went to a couple B&T Days with him in the 80’s. I never saw so many B&T dogs in one place.”

Pete never won a nite hunt cast for John, but he was always the loudest dog on the cast and to this day he’s probably the loudest Black & Tan John has ever heard. As a result of hunting Pete, mouth and hunt means little to John, without ability. Treeing coons became his priority.

As the 1980’s flashed by, John graduated college, got a job as an engineering technician for an aluminum foundry, got married, moved an hour away from where he was born and I didn’t coon hunt a lot during that time. Around 1990 he finally was in a position to keep dogs and to hunt more. “Pete was 10 years old and done for and I was done hunting him. He lived to be 15 when I had him put to sleep. I’d lived through the deaths of grandparents and others close to me but having a pal of 15 years lay his head on my arms and die touched a different place in my heart. I have to say that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. I buried him on the banks of Big Creek not far from where a famous hound from 150 years ago by the name of Old Drum is buried.”

John was ready to take the next step, and after reading the book, Walk With Wick, he noticed several of the B&T’s featured in the book were owned by Art Hunziker, and he took this to mean that John Wick endorsed these dogs. John bought a pup from Art in 1991 and named him Sam. Tim Kern, a local coon hunter, was getting out of hunting and lent John a Grand Nite Champion to use for a few months to get Sam going. It worked and John finally had a dog that he could take to the woods and tree coon with.

“I also had another thought from Walk With Wick on my mind. John Wick suggested a way for a guy to get into the sport was go buy a well-started, well-bred young female. She would tree coons, produce some nice pups and keep a guy in dogs for years. That made sense to me. My goal was to come up with a good young female so I wouldn’t have to go buy pups I didn’t know much about. I’d seen enough B&T pups that I felt I could produce as good a pups as anyone. I started keeping my eyes open to find that female.” Sam became a Nite Champion and earned a couple wins towards Grand, but he just didn’t have the speed needed to compete, so John started looking for an upgrade.

Around this time, Doug Glen moved to John’s area to be the local Vo-Ag teacher and they became friends and hunted together. “Doug had a Nite Champion female and wanted to breed her to NITE CH ‘PR’ Markham’s Smokey, so I travelled with him to Bill Markham’s house. We both wanted to see Smokey go, so Bill took us hunting. Bill turned Smokey loose by himself to what seemed like the north and he trotted off. A few minutes went by and there was one chop a long ways to the south, behind us. Then there was this weird sounding bark and even I could tell he was treed. Smokey redefined ‘chop on tree’ for me. He was a different kind of B&T than I had seen or heard. That was the only turnout we made and it really didn’t sink in to me what I was seeing at the time. Doug was my friend, but I have to admit I didn’t see why he wanted to breed to Markham’s Smokey. I was aware that Smokey’s parents, GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Combs & Smith’s Smokey and CH GR NTIE CH ‘PR’ Scaggs’ Black Queen, had won a lot but I didn’t think too much more about it. After all, I had a dog that could tree a coon.”

On the lookout for a better dog, John started hearing from other hunters about a Black & Tan female in Mack’s Creek, Missouri called NITE CH CH ‘PR’ Collins’ Smokin Queen. He tracked her down and it turned out that she was out of Markham’s Smokey, a coincidence, he thought. John called her owner, Keith Collins, and arranged a hunt with her, and Queen made Sam look like a puppy in training. “Keith had bred Queen one time, to GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Chenoweth’s Smokey II. He still had a female pup out of that litter and he told me about how he didn’t have time to hunt her and priced her to me. She was nine months old. I had to go home and think about it a couple days, but I soon made a trip down to Keith’s and brought who would become NITE CH ‘PR’ Smokey’s Ragin’ Ruby home with me.”

Ruby possessed traits that John liked so he researched her line and found out most of the other dogs descended from Combs and Smith’s Smokey had similar traits. He decided that those traits were what he wanted in his dogs and the best way to keep them was through linebreeding, but still using outcrosses to improve as needed. “I was worried to death something would happen to Ruby and I’d be back to square one. For insurance, I bred Ruby to Sam. I will admit, it was Handy to Ready, a total outcross. She had two male pups and one was supposedly doing something when it got ran over. I felt like Sam and Ruby were just too different style of dogs to mix well. I sold Sam, and Ruby became my main dog.

“The search for the next dog to breed Ruby to was short. Through an ad in the yearbook, I got ahold of Bill George in Iowa, who owned NITE CH ‘PR’ B and B’s Black Hoss (NITE CH ‘PR’ Markham’s Black Smokey x ‘PR’ Markham’s Ragin Starr), a full uncle to Ruby. I made a trip up there to go hunting with Bill and Hoss. We had a decent hunt, made several trees, coons seen, and split once. I could see a lot of similarity between Hoss and Queen. I was able to breed Ruby to Hoss and from that litter came GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Hoss’ Smokin’ Lizzy.”

Since that night, John makes it a priority to hunt with potential stud dogs for his females. He feels it’s very important on a breeder’s part to see the stud dog hunt, and that you can tell a lot about the dog when you see it, even on just a couple turnouts. John has even hopped on a plane to go hunting with a stud dog that is out of driving range.

Lizzy was seven months old when John took her to the woods for the first time. She treed with her mother on the first turnout. “She had the natural ability and the desire to tree coons that I was looking for. My son Tyler was going hunting with me a lot at that time so I let him handle her in some youth hunts. He won the Missouri State Youth Hunt one year, and missed first place on a tie-breaker another year.” Lizzy had a good nite hunt career, getting some wins against some top dogs and handlers.

Ruby was then bred to GR CH GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Rocky’s Ragin Buck (G NITE CH ‘PR’ Myers’ Screaming Rocky x ‘PR’ Williamson’s Black Hills Rain), owned by Paul Lewis, and had five pups. Three of the pups earned nite hunt titles. Besides Spin and Razor, John bought back a female from this litter and then sold her to Paul. She became known as GR NITE CH CH ‘PR’ Bullcreek Badnews Kate. Paul and Kate won all over the area in UKC and PKC, racking up scores that reached 1,400-plus.

“Ruby’s last cross was to NITE CH ‘PR’ Myers’ Mighty Hoss in 2002. I kept pups from all of Ruby’s crosses to start, myself. I’ve always felt a breeder should be proving his own stock in the same way a farmer keeps his own gilts and heifers.

“In the early 2000’s, UKC came out with the Top Producers List. Up to this point you only knew if a dog was a top reproducer if his owner said so. I believe, if done honestly, the TPL recognizes above average consistency in what a dog produces. Without really trying or working any angles, Lizzy, Kate and Razor were titled and Ruby was now among the Top 10 current producing females in the breed. I wondered how that could happen; I was a nobody just trying to produce a pup I could tree a coon with. I figured the B&T breed must really be hurting for good breeders if someone like me could land a female among the Top 10 without trying. Ruby ended up with five hunt titled pups (three Grand Nite Champions and two Nite Champions) from 22 pups. She got as high as third place on the Current Top Producers List.”

After weaning her last litter, John took Ruby and a pup of hers hunting. Ruby treed, but didn’t sound right. She later developed breathing problems and a week later she died. The local veterinarian said it was cancer. Though Ruby was gone, she left John with four of her daughters, two of which went on to make Grand Nite Champion and land on the Top Producers List. One of the pups, GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Blackwater Ruby Too, was out of Ruby’s last litter and was as high as first on the Top Producers List and lacks one titled pup to be on the Historical Producers List.

John bred Ruby Too for the first time to GR NITE CH GR CH ‘PR’ Dylans Duelin Dan (NITE CH ‘PR’ B AND B’s Black Hoss x ‘PR’ Phoebe’s Ragin Belle), a half-brother to Lizzy. The whole litter sold and John found himself bringing three of the pups to Autumn Oaks to deliver to buyers. Things didn’t work out, however, and two of the pups became available. Many potential buyers at Richmond looked at the pups, but passed on them. “Some folks made a mistake since these pups came to be known as GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Famous Dave, GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Haydens Duelin Dixie Gem, and NITE CH ‘PR’ Tolliver’s Party Queen. Dixie Gem is owned by Scott Rodden and on the Current Top Producers List. Party Queen was raised, trained and titled by James Tolliver and she became the dam of his current dog, GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Smokey 7.” Another successful cross was made to GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Kansas Hayes, Lizzy’s son, sired by GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Bauer’s Kansas Junior. Several dogs from this cross titled, including CH GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Basteans MO Black Smokey, owned by David Bastean.

Lizzy’s first cross was linebred to NITE CH ‘PR’ Moonlite Magic Smokin Hoss (GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Combs & Smith’s Smokey x NITE CH ‘PR’ Moonlite Magic Trash), owned by Mike Brueggen. Magic, a pup from this cross, won the first Pup Hunt at B&T Days. Lizzy’s next cross was to GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Bauer’s Kansas Junior and produced a top coon dog and top reproducer in GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Kansas Hayes. Lizzy’s other crosses all produced one or more titled pups. She was on the Current Top Producers List, as high as first, and is now on the Historical Top Producers List. John felt that if he made good choices breeding Lizzy and Ruby Too they could help keep him, and others, in coon dogs for years, and that’s what has happened.

In 2009, Scott bred Gem to Kansas Hayes, and Scott gave John a female pup from the cross. He calls her Daze and she proved she had the speed, drive, and natural treeing ability at a young age that John was looking for. GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Blackwater Daze HTX Daze finished to Grand Nite Champion with wins at RQE’s and a 1ST place finish at the big Missouri Coon Hunters Federation event. John is a coon hunter first and a competition hunter second, so while he competes in the nite hunts, he is proud of Daze’s HTX title because he feels these hunts brings coon hunting back to what it really is, a man and a dog versus the coon.

Daze was crossed with GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Smokey 7 in 2013 and whelped two male pups. John kept one and called him Streak, but sold him after he got him started; the other pup was culled. John has just bred Daze to CH GR NITE CH ‘PR’ KY River Batman, and she should have pups in April. He plans to see if she can keep up the family tradition and produce the next generation, but if she can’t then John will reload with another dog in her family tree and keep going forward.

“I currently own Daze and a pup I call Kizzy, ‘PR’ Blackwater Kizzy Too, Too from Smokey 7 and NITE CH ‘PR’ Kansas Smokin Lizzy (GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Bauer’s Kansas Junior x GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Hoss’ Smokin’ Lizzy). Kansas Lizzy is a littermate sister to Kansas Hayes. James Tolliver got Kanas Lizzy going and I took her and titled her. She had some nice tools, but at the time I didn’t need her so I sold her. Ron Maggart made the cross between Lizzy and Smokey 7 and fixed me up with this pup. This is a good place to point out I’ve never kept many dogs. I want to keep just enough to have one to tree a coon with and one, maybe two, in training and almost never have had more than four. That’s it. I go for quality over quantity and my dog food bill is low, compared to some.

“I feel fortunate that I no longer have to worry about being out of coon dogs if something happens to my female. I’ve got quite a list of folks and friends who like the same thing in a dog, have some of the same breeding, who I can get a pup from in a pinch. Keith Collins, Scott Rodden, James Tolliver, Ron Maggart are a few that come to mind who’ve helped me out with a pup the last few years. There are others whose opinions I feel like I can trust when it comes to dogs. I’d surely forget someone if I named names, but if I’ve ever called or asked them questions about dogs, then they know I value their opinion. I’ve learned a few things over the years. I’ve had to cull a few and have differing opinions from others on many dogs in this breed. But we all aren’t looking for the exact same thing. I was influenced by my first dog, Pete. As a result of hunting Pete, I don’t care how big a mouth or how deep they hunt. If they don’t want to tree coons and do it fairly naturally at a young age, they won’t last with me. That’s my preference.”

I asked John to share his method on raising and training pups and here’s a look into his method of placing pups in the rights hands and unleashing their potential. “I’ve tried to get pups in good hands. I want to make my pups a really good deal for someone that will hunt them and a bad deal for someone who won’t. I’ve guaranteed most of my pups to a year of age and put it in writing. If someone hunts a pup right and it doesn’t make it, as a breeder I need to know about it and be responsible for it. If someone doesn’t hunt it right and wants to get their money back anyway, then there is a good chance I can hunt the pup a month and sell it for twice as much, anyway. I also reward those who do a good job with pups they get from me, with a written incentive. Most breeders give pups away, at some point. I’d give all my pups away if that meant they’d get hunted right. But no free pup will ever make someone hunt that wouldn’t hunt, anyway. Those coon hunters who perform should be the ones that get rewarded. For that reason, I’ve offered a purchase price back, written incentive to those who make their pups a Nite Champion.

“As far as starting pups, I have a basic game plan I like to go through with them. I like to let them run loose quite a bit. At three to four months old I will take a coon tail, tie it to ten feet or so of strong cord, and tie that to a ten-foot pole, so I have something like a fishing pole with a coon tail on it. I can let the pup find it and then jerk it away. I have never seen a pup that didn’t develop a serious interest in something that was getting away.

“The next step would be a live cage at six to seven months old. Again, jerking it away is the key. Hounds chase game and game running away gives pups confidence. I have a wire tube, one foot square, about 50 feet long, and at the end it makes an “L” and goes up a tree about six feet. Being able to trail a live coon through this tube without any physical contact and seeing it go up a tree will fire a lot of pups up. They see the coon climb and smell the scent cone behind the coon. I also like to teach them to come to their name and jump in the truck and lead properly. At this point they are six to eight months old and are ready to go to the woods with an old dog.”

John wanted to share the following words. “I’ve made some good friends all over the country because of a coonhound. I couldn’t begin to name them all. I also want to thank my wife Linda for her support over the last 28 years and the Christian home she’s helped provide for our three children. I’ve travelled to many states because of a coonhound, and been out countless nights by myself where she didn’t know where I was or where to look if I didn’t come back. She’s fed dogs and cleaned pens when I’ve been gone, made trips to the veterinarian and nursed one dog back to health after it got hit by a car, when I probably would have put it down. I also feel blessed to have raised three kids with her. Tyler has a BS degree in Agronomy and is working on a farm where he has the opportunity to be the owner someday. Cory has one semester left in college and should get a BS degree in Electrical Engineering in May. He has a job waiting for him with an international engineering firm. Kelsey is a sophomore in college. All three will be getting married in 2015, and I will be gaining two daughters-in-law who’ve both graduated college and a son-in-law who is serving in the U.S. Army in the 1st Infantry Division. I feel more blessed for the family I have and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ than anything related to a B&T Coonhound. Thank you for reading, and God Bless you.”

There’s nothing John loves more than just being in a creek bottom with one young hound, just the two of them, hunting the land like his grandpa did, many years ago. You can keep up with John by checking out his website at www.blackwater

bt.com. Best of luck to John and his Blackwater Black & Tans!

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