Dog, Friend and I headed for Deadman’s Canyon one day last week. We chose that particular canyon because it runs north/south and the wind, predicted to gust up to 30mph, was coming out of the west; we would be protected down in the canyon yet treated to the sound of the wind through the tops of the Ponderosas over our heads.
There was more snow and ice than we had anticipated, the days over the last week having reached 60°. The warm temps and brilliant sun had left only a few residual patches of white around home or in town. But snowy the trail was in long stretches, iced in the footsteps of humans and dogs passing through. There were recent horse tracks, causing me to wonder how the horse got up the little rock fall that we scrambled over going in and out of the canyon.
We were enjoying our hike, Dog racing here and there, pausing to stick her nose in the snow after some elusive evidence.
Until, that is, two dogs bounded down the trail from up ahead, skidded to a stop a few feet away from Dog, lifted their noses to her scent then turned and dashed back up the trail. But not before I noticed the heavy collars, small boxes attached under the chin and a foot of stiff wire sticking up in the air.
We hiked on, more observant of what might be ahead. In another quarter mile, I spied a horse tied to a tree a couple of hundred yards uptrail and a milling of dogs around the horse. They dashed up the hill, down into the streambed, around the horse, too many dogs to count. Then the dogs spied us.
By now, I had pulled my little canister of dog-strength mace (less toxic that human mace or bear spray) from my pack and had it ready in my hand. Dog is always on leash; one dog leashed and others not leashed can be a dangerous mix, particularly for the tethered one. The pack of dogs – eight in all – were down the trail and surrounding us. While they were not acting aggressively, they were definitely making Dog uncomfortable by sheer numbers but I had no intention of pressing the button on the canister unless a confrontation developed. Every one of those dogs was wired. Every one, a hunting breed.
Finally, the hunters appeared uptrail where their horses were tied. We hailed them and asked them to call off their dogs, which they did. Fortunately, six of eight immediately obeyed; two continued to sniff around Dog and me. Dog sat down to protect her tail, the object of all that attention. I stomped and commanded those last two to go away.
Many families in this part of the country hunt for subsistence. Many others hunt for food because they enjoy a good elk steak. Hunters are sometimes employed in the Gila to reduce the plague of feral cattle. And I admire the effort a hunter on foot in the wildlands expends to get out and track or wait for that deer, elk, bear.
Wired dogs are used to run down prey until they are exhausted and cannot run further or defend themselves. Or the dogs tree the cougar or bear and hold them up there until the hunter catches up. The wires allow the dogs to range far beyond the actual control of the hunter, who tracks their location by radio transmission. My values are that that is not a fair hunt, and typically, the hunter is not hunting to eat in any event.
At home, I searched to find out what critters a wired pack of dogs might be employed to hunt, and the list included feral hogs, javalina (collard peccary), cougar or bear. All but feral hogs are protected and require tags and permits during hunting season. We don’t have feral hogs in the Gila. And we aren’t in hunting season for any of those species right now.
Reporting these hunters in a non-hunting season would be an exercise in frustration. After all, I took no pictures, and what would I shoot anyway – a bunch of brownandwhite dogs with wires standing behind an ear and two camo men and one visible horse some distance away. Nothing else to tie to them after the fact, such as a vehicle parked at the trailhead. Just left me feeling sad for whatever target they had in mind up a beautiful canyon on a mild winter day.
UPDATE: A friend who read this blog story has corrected me that javelina are in season for hunting this month. Wasn’t clear on the NM Game and Fish website.