Michael Meissner illustration
Describing the typical bear hunt is almost impossible. Conditions, terrain and the behavior of both bears and dogs are ever changing. And that’s what makes the sport so challenging, fun, and often frustrating. Case in point is a November 2009 hunting trip in the Globe Valley.
The day began with a freak thunderstorm. I drove through fog and drizzle to meet my hunting buddies in Blowing Rock, N.C. We had enjoyed perfect conditions the previous week as we hunted the northwestern side of the valley, along Thunderhead Creek. We saw few signs of bear and only turned our dogs loose once, yet it proved to be a day to cherish. We enjoyed a six-hour hike with dogs prancing happily alongside us as if on parade. And though we had seen no bear, we had nonetheless experienced a wonderful day outdoors.
But this week would be different. We crossed the Johns River at daybreak, found some bear sign, and headed up the northeast side of the valley. This is an area appropriately named Headache. Climbing through dense fog, we reached the gap and the scent ended there. Another party was to the left of us across the gorge. They struck a fresh trail and turned their dogs loose. The race was on. We could hear the dogs and bear roaring toward us through the valley below.
Then the monsoon hit. I have never seen it rain so hard, so fast. We could barely hear anything. We had to shout to communicate. Despite the deluge we heard the dogs chase the bear below us—but not close enough to get a shot off.
We packed our dogs on the bruin and charged through the laurel after them. The rain got harder and the brush thicker. After awhile we could hear nothing but pounding rain. Our dogs lost the trail and returned to us. And now we found ourselves in a real mess. We had no other option than to bushwhack out through laurel and dog hobble to the creek.
After about an hour we made it. The question then was do we cross the creek, climb up the other side of the ridge and follow it out, or should we just follow the creek down to the river? We chose climbing out. My buddy made it, but I got to the top and fell all the way back down with my dogs watching in amusement.
I couldn’t get any wetter, so I elected to follow the creek out. And I did. But only after going over a 10-foot waterfall and a treacherous climb down the stream bed. I finally met my friend at the river. I was soaked, but with all limbs intact and my dogs healthy. They seemed to enjoy it—or perhaps they just found me amusing.
The good news was that the sun came out. The bad news was that the temperature plummeted 30 degrees and the wind picked up fast. Clouds quickly regrouped and it began to snow. Soon we had our dogs back in their boxes with warm dry straw and snacks. We headed home.
In less than 15 hours we had experienced thunderstorms, fog, torrential rains, sunshine, a severe temperature drop, high winds and snow. I was bone tired, wet, and my face looked like I had been in a knife fight.
Sound like fun? Not really. But after a near perfect week the previous Saturday, I guess we had it coming. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you—but you always learn from it and treasure the experience.
Bob Plott is a North Carolina native who can trace his family roots in the Old North State back to 1750, when his great-great-great-grandfather Johannes Plott arrived here with five of the family hunting dogs. These dogs would later become renowned as the premier big game hunting dog breed in America—the Plott bear hound.
Bob wrote a history of the breed titled Strike and Stay–The Story of the Plott Hound that was published in late 2007. Strike and Stay was awarded the 2008 Willie Parker Peace N.C. Historical Literary award and it has received outstanding reviews. His second book, A History of Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains was published in late 2008.
He is an accomplished wood-carver, sketch artist, martial artist, and historical re-enactor. Bob conducts programs on the history of the Plott hound, legends of the Plott breed, hunting legends of the Smokies, as well as primitive survival skills for various groups and organizations.
Bob and his family also raise Plott dogs and they occasionally have puppies for sale at their Plott Ridge Kennels.