Beaver Hunting With The Dog Whisperer
You have never read a story like this. Promise.
Editor’s Note: This article originally was published in the July 2012 issue of GON, and it was written by the late Glen Solomon.
Scanning chocolate waters of the beaver pond, I saw Burtis Taylor whip the old weathered Ruger 10/22 to his shoulder. Looking in the direction he was aiming, I noticed a trail of darker mud boiling to the surface right beneath a trail of bubbles. Thirty yards away in the deeper end was a redbone hound doggy-paddling. Opposite the bank from Burtis stood two feists cocked and ready, watching his every move as if they were waiting on a whistle to blow. Seconds after the first air bubbles popped, I noticed the redbone amazingly catch the scent from across the water. Ace cut a quick 90 and began paddling frantically in the directions of the mud trail.
Burtis hollered, “He’s coming up!” With barely a ripple, the beaver’s nose popped up followed by a little brown head easing up slowly like a surfacing periscope. Knowing he only had a couple seconds to shoot as the beaver took its quick look, Burtis took a snapshot with the old broken-sighted .22.
Paap! With the thud of the bullet and the slap of a tail, the beaver dove out of sight. The two feists, Blackie and Ginger, dove in immediately at the sound of the shot.
Ace arrived and began paddling tight circles in the churning water and boiling mud where the beaver was now pitching a fit. Ace’s two little backup buddies were orbiting the frenzy like little satellites.
“I think I hit him,” Burtis hollered across the water.
The beaver re-surfaced and slapped the water, hitting the end of Ace’s nose. Boy that really got Ace excited. Back up again, and slap went the tail! The dog tried to bite but missed. In the next few seconds, the beaver porpoised out of the water several times, slapping its tail on the dive back down. Ace was paddling and spinning a circle tighter than a rodeo bull as he tried to grab the beaver’s tail each time it came up. In his fast spin, he got so excited he bit the end of his own tail. You could actually see the determination in the dog’s face each time he lunged out with a bite. I also noticed Ace’s surprised look when twice the beaver got up under him and lifted him halfway out of the water.
Then, the unbelievable happened. After the beaver belly-rubbed the redbone the last time, he came up quickly and torpedoed right back down with a gigantic boat-paddle slap on the water so hard it echoed across the whole swamp. Burtis all the while hollering, “Git ’em boy! Git ’em boy!”
The beaver went down. And right along behind him, Ace left the surface, too, leaving just a few inches of his tail about the water. Wow! Ace popped back up, except for his head. You could tell by his extremely bent neck that he was latched and pulling on something. Losing his grip, Ace’s head popped back to the surface. The beaver made one more weak boil, and the dog went under again. This time, tail and all!
A couple seconds later the water erupted like a geyser showering water in all directions, exposing a red dog riding the wave with his teeth sunk in the thick, slippery hide of a 52-lb. beaver. That was one sight I’ll never forget. With the dog and his hard-earned trophy sinking back into the water, Burtis waded out and started feeling around in the muddy water for the beaver. With his naked fingers, too.
Boy I’m glad I was videoing the scene. Nobody wold believe it. Who ever heard of beaver hunting with dogs? People in Jeff Davis County have. Meet hometown legend and “Dog Whisperer” Burtis Taylor, of Hazlehurst.
Burtis has the reputation of being able to take multiple breeds of hunting dogs and go hunting for any given animal on any given day. Ace, the redbone mentioned earlier, is also his best deer-trailing dog with 29 recoveries last season, one of them mine. Ace is one heck of a bear dog, too. The feists (treeing squirrel/rat terrier crosses) are used for squirrels and baying hogs.
Squirrels, rabbits, beavers, hogs, deer, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, you name it, Burtis has a dog that will hunt it. He even had a dog once that would trail rattlesnakes. One time, he had a dog that made an amazing 200-yard trail after a rattler was spotted slithering across a dry, dusty dirt road several hours earlier by a girl riding a 4-wheeler. There were several witnesses to this, as some had gathered in disbelief after he said he had a dog that would track it.
I asked him, “How do you get these dogs to run whatever when you want them to?”
He simply replied, “I jus tell ’em what I want and put them on the track. They know to mind me.”
Hunting with him occasionally through the years, I’ve noticed he talks to his dogs just like they were a person. Shoot, when he goes hunting the dogs just jump in the open-top Jeep and ride wherever, not even in a dog box. They just sit in the seats like good little hunting buddies.
When I was following behind him in downtown Hazlehurst going to weigh the beaver, he pulled up to a stop sign at a busy intersection. I heard him say something to Blackie after I noticed the dog was fidgeting. Blackie leaped out of the Jeep and went up to the light pole on the corner and hiked his back leg.
I heard Burtis shout, “Hurry up, and get back in!” Finishing up quickly, Blackie bounded in the front seat, and they were on their merry little way. Later when I asked if they normally did that, Burtis replied, “Said he had to pee.”
Not only did I witness a dog going underwater but going underground, way underground. Earlier at another beaver pond, I discovered the true attribute of a bona fide beaver dog, being able to “tunnel dive.”
Most good beaver holes in south Georgia, especially those in smaller creeks, will have a network of tunnels along the banks, some above and some below the waterline. The beavers will have an extensive network of tunnels carved out, some leading away from the water several yards and up into the woods. Most will have a main entrance and exit with smaller ones splitting off to merge again with another or just dead-ending. A beaver can swim in one hole and pop out another, sometimes 30 or more yards farther down the bank. During the summer months, the majority of these spaghetti junctions of holes will be exposed above the waterline.
The dogs will work the holes along the banks or paddle out to the ones that have water entering them. Entering the dark holes fearlessly, sometimes momentarily going underwater at an entrance hole, they’ll run the beavers out by trailing, yipping and baying. Sometimes they’ll be so deep or far up into the woods you can barely hear them, if at all. Even Ace the redbone will squeeze in.
At our first stop the feists entered a hole Ace couldn’t fit in because of a thick jumble of roots at the entrance. No problem, he bit and tore ’em off, slinging them over his shoulder until he got a hole big enough to squeeze in.
On another hide-raking experience, Ace crawled into a hole after swimming under an overhanging bank almost hidden by a drapery of vines and roots. Ten minutes later we heard a howl, barely audible, somewhere. As I walked up a steep, pine ridge, I began to hear him a little better. All of a sudden the pine needle-matted ground swelled under my feet, lifting me a couple of inches in the air. What in the world? It was Ace, squeezing through a tunnel under me, lifting the rootbed and soil between us.
Looking ahead I saw a small hole about the diameter of a quarter. I picked up a stick and cleaned it out. Putting my ear to the ground, I could hear the dog clearly now. Ace was baying, and the beaver was grunting and rumbling and making whatever sounds beavers make. Then the fight started, with echoes of bumping and thumping coming from out of the little airway.
After a couple minutes it sounded like the beaver got by Ace as I heard the muffled howls farther down the hill and returning to the water. Moments later the beaver, under a huge wake of water boiled out from the tunnel half filled with water at the pond’s edge. Then we couldn’t hear Ace anymore. Hopefully he hadn’t got cut by ol’ chisel tooth.
“Reckon I’m going to have to go to town and get a backhoe and dig him up?”
If Jeff Foxworthy could go hunting with Burtis a few times, he’d have enough new redneck literature for a year.
I walked down to the water’s edge near where the beaver had exited. I heard some rustling behind me. Turning around, I suddenly saw a dog’s nose pop out a 10-inch wide hole among a series of smaller ones. Ace’s head appeared. The hole was so tight his legs were straightened flat-out under his belly. Ace forcefully slammed the side of his head on the ground. A little puff of dust and his body slid forward a couple of inches from the momentum of his head toss. Bending his neck to the side and throwing his head a few more times he managed to slide up enough to where he could unfold his front legs and drag himself out. Wow! I reckon I could’ve given him a hand by grabbing him in a headlock and pulling. I was just standing there in a dazed shock. I’ve never seen a hound dog do the worm.
Once the dogs get the beavers chased out of the tunnels and into the open water, they’ll keep swimming around to keep the beaver on the move.
When the beaver exited the watery hole earlier, Burtis said, “In five minutes or so the beaver will come up for air. Watch for when the bubbles speed up and end abruptly. That’s when he just exhaled his last bit of air. He’ll come up soon for more and a look-see. He’ll only be up for two or three seconds.”
This is when a short carbine such as a 10/22 definitely comes in handy. Leave the scope at home. If Burtis notices the beaver moving along the bottom (evidenced by the darker stirred mud rising to the surface) and needs the dogs to move in closer, he will take a pot shot into the water alerting the dogs. And boy, they get there quick!
Using this amazing and efficient never-heard-of-before method of dog hunting, Burtis routinely takes as many as eight beavers out of one hole in one cast. In most counties with beaver problems, people will call on a nuisance trapper, but around here, they call Burtis.
One time a young girl was attacked by a beaver. Two girls were standing in the water along the edge of a pond. The mother saw a beaver swimming directly to the girls. She hollered for them to get out quickly. One did, but the other girl’s boot got stuck in the mud. The beaver bit her on the inside of her thigh, barely missing the femoral artery. Burtis was called, and in quick manner, he and the dogs dispatched a female beaver and three of her young.
“At times, they can be aggressive, especially if they have little ones around,” said Burtis. “I took 53 beavers last year. I didn’t lose any dogs. Some of them got a few cuts, but nothing that couldn’t be sewed back on. Just kidding. In fact in all these years, I’ve only lost one.”
There’s no telling what Burtis will be tracking next. Burtis may be treeing a bear in a giant cypress down by the Okefenokee, trailing a wounded deer on a hunting club or chasing a fox or bobcat across the piney flatwoods. He could be pulling a rabbit out of a thorny briar patch, standing in the ankle-deep leaves of an oak ridge watching a feist run back with a squirrel in its mouth or eyeing the razor tusks of a rank boar hog down by the Altamaha.
Oh did I mention Burtis is 72 years old? You better be in shape if you want to stay up with him. I swear the man is wired for 220 volts in a 110-volt body. The love of hunting and hunting dogs is definitely his fountain of youth.
You know by now that you have never read an article in GON like this one. Hence, GON’s motto: “If it’s going on out there, it is in GON.”
Every day, praise God for everything, especially getting to spend the day in His great outdoors. He’ll be the best hunting partner you’ve ever had.
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