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It All Started With Susie
Jason Woodward of Rag Mountain Plotts
Having been involved in the breed since high school, 36-year-old Jason Woodward of Madison, Virginia has spent his fair share of time following brindle dogs through the woods. After hunting one especially memorable female early on, Jason has remained a diehard Plott guy with an appreciation for good bear dogs.
Tell us about yourself first. How long have you been involved in dogs? When and how did you get started?
I am a brick, block and rock mason and have a small cattle farm. My Father is Joseph B. Woodward, my mother is Alice M. Woodward. I have one brother, Joe Woodward; and one sister, Amanda Hidalgo De La Cruz. I’m engaged to Katie Jenkins. She is a big help to me and loves working with the dogs. She also hunts with me quite a bit.
I have been hunting ever since I was a kid, probably around 12 years old. My dad would take me coon hunting with him. I coon hunted all the way through high school. After I graduated, I decided I wanted to try bear hunting. I still coon hunt quite a bit, but bear hunting is my passion now.
My first Plott was a female I called ‘PR’ Jason’s Black Bear Susie (‘PR’ Schroyer’s Bear Ridge Ace x ‘PR’ Schuder’s Sadie). Her breeding mainly consisted of Leroy Haug’s Swampland strain. I bought her from Jessie Lam when she was about a year old. He had bought her as a pup and wanted to make a coon dog out of her, but she really wasn’t interested in coons. I had heard about the Swampland strain quite a bit and I knew that strain turned out a lot of really good bear dogs so I thought I would try her. I took her coon hunting but all she wanted to do was run rabbits, so I knew she had a pretty good nose and that she loved to run, but a coon just didn’t get her excited.
It wasn’t long before bear season rolled around and I was excited to take her. I can remember that day as if it were yesterday. I turned her loose after a bear was jumped and it wasn’t long before she was leading the race and was there at the tree, chopping every breath. Susie went on to make a pretty good bear dog. She was extremely fast and real gritty. I was hunting her one time in a cornfield. The dogs caught the bear in the cornfield and he just sat down in the middle of the cornfield and fought. He was catching the dogs as they came in to him. We had to go in and catch the dogs off of him. When I got my hands on Susie, I noticed her intestines had been exposed. I took her straight to Dr. H.Q. Tucker’s vet office. He did a really good job with Susie and she recovered well.
After she recovered from her injury, I thought I better breed her. I called Frank Methven of Washington State to see what he would recommend me to breed her to since I was new with the Plott breed. He sent me to the Abell brothers. Frank knew that they had some Swampland breeding from Leroy in the past and that they were pretty close to my neck of the woods. I called them and told them what I was looking for and they were more than happy to help me. I bred Susie, but two weeks later she died. After I got home from work that evening I went to feed Susie in her kennel and I found her lying in a pool of blood. Dr. Tucker said she had ruptured inside and it was probably due to her injuries. She was four years old when she died but she made a believer out of me on the Plott breed and I have not been without one since.
I liked Susie so well that in the fall of 1999 found myself heading to Ferdinand, Indiana to pick up two pups I had ordered from Leroy Haug. I named them ‘PR’ Woodward’s Rag Mtn. Tiger and ‘PR’ Woodward’s Rag Mtn. Lilly. They were out of a cross he had made from dogs named ‘PR’ Haugs Swampland Kelly and ‘PR’ Haug’s Swampland Wicked. The Kelly side of the two pups was of the same line as my Susie dog. Both pups made excellent bear dogs. I probably could write a book on some of the stuff I saw Tiger and Lilly do. I was able to cross Tiger and Susie one time before Susie died, with real good success, and then I crossed Lilly with a Weems-bred male that belonged to the Abell brothers. Both litters turned out really well and were what I was looking for in a bear dog. So I guess you could say that from these three dogs, Susie, Tiger and Lilly, came Rag Mountain Plotts.
Are there any major lessons you’ve learned between when you started and now?
I have learned quite a few lessons since I started. I have learned what it takes to be a bear dog or what I call a bear dog. I have learned not to be afraid to cull. All dogs don’t make the title of being a bear dog. It takes a special dog to come face to face with a mean walking bear and stay after him for hours on end even after being injured. I’ve learned it doesn’t cost any more to feed a good dog than it does to feed a sorry one. Also, I have learned that you must keep your dogs in top shape, free from parasites, and feed the dogs a high quality dog food if you want them to perform well and be consistent in their performance. We can’t go out and work all day, day after day, without good food in our bellies nor should you expect your dogs to.
Who are your current dogs, and what is their lineage?
My current dogs are Ellie, Nellie, Grey Boy, Rusty, Smokey, Pumpkin, Becky, Rascal, Ginger, Tanny, Kizzi, Music, and Mandy.
Ellie and Nelllie are off of my ‘PR’ Woodward’s Rag Mtn. Tiger dog, which is Swampland breeding. Grey Boy (‘PR’ Gosnell’s Trouble x ‘PR’ Gosnell’s Becky) is an awesome bear dog that I purchased from Jerry Gosnell in 2008. He is out of the famed cross that he made between Trouble and Becky, which is Roark, Weems, Cascade, and Crockett breeding. I am having real good success crossing Grey Boy to my Swampland females. This cross seems to produce early starting, aggressive dogs that are very fast and are also good tree dogs. Rusty and Smokey are two and a half years old and are out of the first cross between Grey Boy and Ellie. I also had a female from that cross that I kept. I called her Ruby, but she was killed by a bear last training season. Lawrence Anderson of North Carolina also had a male from that cross that he called Dusty, he was also killed by a bear last October on a hunt that he and I went on with Jerry Gosnell in the Western Mountains of North Carolina. Rascal and Ginger are out of the second cross of Grey Boy and Ellie and are showing real good signs of being as good as the first cross.
Which people have been most important to your program and why?
I would have to say my Dad has been the most important person in my program because he was the one that first introduced me to hunting with hounds and he has been with me every step of the way.
Leroy Haug is a very important person in my program as well because without his efforts in breeding, hunting and culling his strain of Plotts and passing them on to me, I wouldn’t have the genetics I have today nor the foundation stock that I started with.
What does it take for a dog to earn a spot in your kennel?
For a dog to earn a spot at my kennel, I have to like him/her. For me to like them, they must be friendly, not shy or cowardly acting, they must be trainable and respond well to an e-collar to come on command, load on truck on command, and go back to their boxes after I come in from a hunt. They must also show signs of being very gamey at a young age. I have a six-month-old pup I call Mandy running loose at the house now that has been trailing, running, and treeing house cats since she was five months old. She also likes to trail rabbits. She’s always busy doing something, and that is what I look for in a pup. When they act like that and show that much potential, you don’t mind putting the time and shoe leather into finishing them out. It’s a pleasurable experience to see them come to their full potential.
What differences, if any, do you see between a good bear dog and a good coon dog? In your opinion, can the same dog be great at both?
A good bear dog can trail a bear by walking out the bear’s track on the ground (this is called a track straddler) or by twigging. By “twigging,” I mean a dog can trail by scent left on twigs, leaves, tree stump, weeds, or corn stalks as the bear brushes by them, but once a bear is jumped a dog must be able to pick his head up and run by drifting the track using air currents. A bear can probably reach speeds of up to 30 mph for short distances – if a dog doesn’t pick his head up and run, he will never catch him.
I hunt coon with some of the same dogs I bear hunt with. When bear season goes out and it’s time to go back to coon hunting, the dogs are used to running with their heads up and it takes a couple nights of coon hunting in order to get them to slow down and work the track out. A bear puts out a whole lot more scent and they are used to driving the track fast, whereas with a coon they have to slow down, especially with an old feed track where the coon is going up and down a branch looking for crawfish or in the woods feeding on grapes or acorns. So, to answer your question, can the same dog be great at both? In my opinion, the answer is yes; it’s just that some bear hunters don’t want their bear dogs fooling with a coon track while they are trying to bear hunt.
Tell us about the type of hunting you enjoy most and/or what game you hunt most often. What traits do you like to see in a Plott to excel at your preferred type of hunting?
As I said before, I coon hunt quite a bit but my passion is bear hunting with a pack of Plott hounds. The traits I like to see in a Plott are nose, brains, speed, grit, endurance, to stay with their game, and treeing ability. I have seen a lot of cold nosed dogs that just don’t have the brains to move the track, not to mention move it the right way. Speed is also very important; they must be able to catch the “Reebok” bears.
I think one of the biggest things that gets overlooked is having your whole pack running together; in other words, having dogs that run pretty much at the same speed. I have found that if your whole pack catches the bear at the same time, the rates of “treed bears” versus “bayed bears” goes way up in the “treed bears” favor; however, there are some bears that just won’t tree no matter how many or how few dogs are on them, and here is where the sheer grit and endurance comes in to be able to stay after them for countless hours and bark. I expect my dogs to stay and bark and nip the rear end when the opportunity presents itself. There is one thing I can’t stand, and that is for a dog to quit and come out.
One common misconception of the anti-hunters is that they think that a dog can hurt a full grown black bear by biting it. That is the furthest thing from the truth. If you have ever skinned a bear you know they have a thick outside layer of hair, pretty thick skin, and then two to three inches of fat before you ever get to the meat, so all our dogs really do is pester or aggravate them enough to make them want to climb a tree and get out of the way.
When you talk about hunting a pack together, is there an ideal number of hounds and why or why not?
The number of hounds in a pack really doesn’t matter, unless you’re in a state that has restrictions on the number of hounds you can have on a bear race at one time. I just try to hunt the number of hounds that I can handle by myself if they would happen to tree somewhere and I was the only one at the tree.
I think the main thing in a pack is matching their speed up so that they run together. This could mean that in one pack you might have four fast dogs, but in another pack you might have five or six slower dogs. If you match them up to one another you still can be successful with both packs.
How many dogs do you have in the woods at a time usually?
When I go bear hunting I usually have four or five dogs with me, sometimes one or two more depending on the area I’m going to be hunting that day. I generally hunt all my dogs loose and I go to the woods with them. I like to keep all four or five dogs pretty close to me. I don’t like for them to go to deep away from me unless they’re trailing. I put an e-collar on them for a reminder.
Another reason for not letting them get to deep on me is that you don’t have as much trash problems. The further a dog gets from you, the more free he thinks he is. If he’s hunting pretty close to you and a deer jumps up in front of him, he probably won’t run it, but if he’s a long ways from you and a deer jumps up in front of him, you probably are going to have a deer race and your whole bear hunt will be ruined.
In what ways, if any, does the hunting in other states vary from your experiences in Virginia?
I had the opportunity to go to Michigan and North Carolina last year. While in Michigan, I hunted with Brian and Louie Smith and Rick Grunch. The hunting up there is very different from here; the ground is a lot flatter and swampy. It was different for me to get used to but I didn’t see where it affected the dogs’ performance any. While in North Carolina, I hunted with Jerry Gosnell in the western mountains bordering Tennessee. The hunting there is very similar to our hunting here, very mountainous with a lot of mountain laurel and rocks. My pack performed well there too.
If you could do it all over again, what mistakes would you avoid and what advice would you give people just starting out in the sport?
After I had my foundation stock and bred them for a while, I began to look for a good outcross to avoid inbreeding. I tried numerous pups from what I thought would be reputable breeders. I found out the hard way that some breeders just breed for papers - for “old so and so” to line up in both sides - and some breeders just breed dogs that are never actually hunted to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. In both cases, most of the time you end up with a bunch of knot heads that are useless. I believe that dogs should be given a chance to prove themselves before they are bred and still you will probably have a few culls but not near as many.
My advice would be if you’re thinking about getting started in the sport to research the breeder and the dogs before you buy one, make sure the dogs have been hunted and culled as needed and your chances of getting a good one will be greatly increased, don’t buy dogs on papers or pedigree alone because papers will lay still for anything to be put on them. Once you’ve gotten started, be honest with yourself and others and don’t try to make excuses for your dogs to cover up faults.
Where do you see your kennel in the future? Do you have any specific goals you’d like to accomplish?
I just want to be able to maintain our privilege of free casting our hounds. In several states, bear and lion hunting with hounds has been eradicated already. Right now Maine is under attack from HSUS for their right to hunt bear. Unless houndsmen from every state, no matter what game you hunt, band together, hunting with hounds may be a thing of the past. Hound hunting is our heritage and a tradition that has been passed down from many generations, and I think it is a shame that some rich, uninformed people can take that away from us. My thought is, if you don’t like it, don’t participate in it but leave the ones of us that do, alone. As long as I‘m able to hunt, my goal is to produce the best, well-balanced Plott Hounds that I can.
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. What else would you like to share?
First, I want to thank the Lord Jesus Christ for dying on the cross for my sins and raising again the third day so that when my life ends down here it will just be beginning in Heaven. I want to thank my family for all the support and guidance through the years. I want to thank my hunting buddies for all the help with my dogs: my dad Joseph Woodward, my nephew Alex Woodward, my cousins Phillip Woodward, Russ Alger, and Jeremy Woodward, my friends Danny Shotwell, Tony Utz, Moke Anderson, Lawrence Anderson, Brian and Louis Smith, Rick Grunch, Leroy Haug, and Jerry Gosnell. I want to give a special thanks to my mom Alice Woodward for all the good home cooked meals after our hunts in training season. Last, but not least, I want to thank COONHOUND BLOODLINES and UKC for asking me to do this interview.