There are three basic jobs we have for the dogs. First is sledding. We do a lot of work with dogs and sleds in the winter. Second, is as a basic security system, to alert us to dangers and intruders (be they two or four legged). And finally, the third basic task is assisting us in hunting.
Of the three tasks, I think that the hunting instinct is the most delicate and easily lost if a kennel does not breed carefully. Even if only the best are bred, and the pups have a good hunting drive, they can still be ruined by lack of hunting opportunity or poor training in the field. Frankly, we did not give Ladislaus the training and hunting opportunity we should have. But events arose that conspired to rob us of that early dog training time. In spite of that, his hunting instincts still flourished, though he still has some more training to do.
We had almost given up on him as a hunting dog when he was about 1 year old. He had a bad experience that soured him on hunting when he was young. But a few months later he began to show an interest in grouse and squirrels. He displayed an unusual intelligence and would come to get us when he found a grouse.
I must explain the hunting instinct of a Karelian dog and Laika in general in their hunting methods. As bird dogs they range around pretty far, sometimes out of sight of the hunter. Then when a bird is found, if the hunter has not caught up with the dog, they will retreat to the hunter to lead him back to the bird. Often they will give one or two barks to signal the tardy hunter that they have found a bird. If the hunter does not come to bag the bird, the dog will go get them. They do not point in the way that Western pointers do, but they will show the location by a fixed gaze at the bird in the trees. Both our KB dog, Ladislaus, and our Siberian Laika will do this sort of work.
Where the two breeds differ to some degree is in how they find game. Although both breeds have a keen sense of smell, the Laika tends to be a very visual/auditory hunter, and strides onward with head held up . The KB dog tends to be more scent oriented, and will intensely hound tracks and scent. It is more common for our Karelian dog to have his head down while traveling, scenting for game sign. They can be both hot nosed and cold nosed, picking up the faintest scent, but breaking away to the freshest scent they find.
This fall, on a whim, I took a stroll in the muskeg and bogs in search of a moose. I did not expect to find one, for the forest fires of the past had ravaged the moose habitat and destroyed their willow patches that they depended on. So my confidence was not high. I took Ladislaus to scent trail. This is called blood tracking work (BTW). If a moose is shot mortally, sometimes they retreat to deep, thick patches of brush, and it is uncommon for them to leave blood spore to track visually. Most moose shots are high in the chest, and blood tends to drain into the lower portion of the chest cavity rather than drip on the ground. That means that if the hunter does not have visual indicators of location such as tracks or broken branches, the only means of tracking a lost moose is by scent.
The moose hoof has a gland between the toes that leave a musk in every step. You can observe this gland by parting the toes, and you will see a green stain in the web of skin there. Northern hunting dogs are naturally inclined to pick up on this scent, and that is exactly what Ladislaus is good at. I have observed that he can even follow such track on wet ground at the edges of bogs and marshes. He rarely looks up while tracking, and when he does it is only when he bumps into the dead moose he has been trailing. Though he does not look like a hound, he can do the work. Even as a three month old pup he had a fetish for moose tracks, and joyfully followed them.
After a very short trek of less than an hour, Ladislaus and I picked up on the scent of some recent moose track. In Alaska the law does not allow the use of dogs to pursue, harass, or hold at bay moose and other big game. But they are allowed for retrieving mortally wounded game that are lost. Soon I saw a young bull about 200 yards away across a large marsh. The marsh weeds were too tall for my dog to be able to see over, so he was unaware of the moose on the other side of the marsh. I took the shot, it turned and then disappeared. I knew it was a mortal shot for it stumbled and lurched before it vanished. So we went to work slowly traveling through the jungle of willows, fallen burnt trees and alder patches.
Travel in the muskeg and bogs is difficult. Walking a mile on such ground is like walking ten on good ground. Marshes often have enough weed growth from the water that the mat of weeds can support human weight, but occasionally a boot punches through and a leg sinks into the water underneath. It is like walking upon a water bed... one that is hundreds of yards wide.
The muskeg also has treacherously uneven ground, as the cotton sedge growths create lumps of earth, with unseen depressions between them. It is not uncommon for people to twist an ankle on such ground. Slowly and methodically we made our way around the marsh through brush, muskeg and bogs. I was unsure exactly where the moose went so I approached the general area I thought the moose went and let Ladislaus do his job. I watched him thread through the brush and grasses until he stopped and circled an area. I knew he had caught the scent and would soon find the moose. When I caught up with him he was sniffing the moose carcass and wagging his tail. The entire time he was completely silent and never barked. He operated with complete stealth.
I took out my butcher tools, which consisted of two knives and one folding pocket saw made by Stihl.
As I began to skin and section the moose carcass, he assumed guard duty and stood with his back turned to me, surveying the surroundings. This part of the job is crucial for a dog to perform. With bears in the area, a dog must stand guard. I once had two wolves confront me from some alder thickets while I was butchering a moose years ago. Having a dog to do sentry duty is important. At one point he stiffened up, raised the bristles on his neck and gave out some deep growls and a quiet bark or two. Something was moving through the area to investigate the smell of the gut pile. I heard nothing, but his keen senses knew something was near. The brush did not allow visual inspection past about 50 feet, so I reach for my rifle, in case what ever it was got too close.
The dog then began to circle the area to investigate. He returned when he was satisfied that the threat was gone. I returned to butchering and gave him some bits of scrap to reinforce in his mind the benefits of hunting with me.
I don't like hunting in places with a lot of hunting pressure. If I wanted to be in crowds I would go to the mall, but one of the great joys of hunting is taking a break from modern civilization and getting in touch with nature. I strive to have the experience that my stone age ancestors did. So I am reclusive in my hunting habits.
The tranquility and calming surroundings were invaded by gunfire about a mile away. Someone also had gotten a moose, but didn't have confidence in the first shot. They fired about 5 shots. Ladislaus again returned to guard duty. He looked in the direction of the gun fire and growled. He listened to them for an hour as their machine whined, buzzed and their trailer bounced noisily in the distance.
The advantage of hunting with boots instead of some gas powered machine, is that the forest and marshes are quiet. One becomes just another member of the wilderness community of moose, wolves, ducks and bears. With our machines and high tech conveniences we loose that direct connection to the environment we are hunting in. We become something alien and intrusive, rather than participants in the environment. At some point, technology in hunting is going to make hunting as boring and mundane as pushing a cart at the grocery store, rather than a communion with God's beautiful creation.
The whole experience made me feel like I was somehow time traveling, going back to a time when my ancestors lived off the land and the creatures that dwelt there. It was a moment of continuity, connecting with those many generations that had gone before us, and staring in wonder at the immense splendor of Alaska. But all good things eventually come to an end, and we had to return to modern life with our prize. Soon the meat was in the freezer, the hide was stretched on the frame to begin tanning, and I returned to the stresses of modern life.
I can't endure the tedious wait for next year's hunt. My only consolation is that I know Ladislaus and I will be able to go ski trekking and sledding this winter, and perhaps do some trapping on the side. I am pleased with his performance, and hope to give him more experience to expand his hunting skills (as well as mine).
My son Kendric and daughter Deirdre helped me pack out the meat and hide, as Ladislaus tagged along as our military escort. After we were done, we went to look at the Tanana flats from the hills over looking the river. We pondered why the Almighty blessed us with so much, and wondered if it will always remain this way in our little patch of paradise.
This fall we are expecting to have a litter of pups sired by Ladislaus with Ursa, our female Huskita. We are hoping to continue to enhance the hunting, guarding, and sledding instincts by this cross breeding, in order to work towards our goal of a BPD (Boreal Prepper Dog). If you are interested in taking a pup home for your own Alaskan adventures, then check back with us in late October 2017.
I am very pleased with Ladislaus in his diverse skills. He has proven to be loyal, protective, a keen hunting companion, and sharp witted sled dog. Hopefully we can capture his genetic potential for future breeding plans.