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Conversations: Roland Deane

Author's Note: Hound hunting is a time-honored sporting tradition in Montana and the World. When you hear houndsmen talk of the high number of animals they chase and tree, the vast majority are left to be chased another day. In the case of wild cats, houndsmen do not kill every cat they tree. Quite the contrary. Houndsmen are some of the staunchest advocates for mountain lion and bobcat conservation in North America. For them it is the dogs and the chase that matter, not a dead cat. The lion and bobcat harvest that does occur is based on scientifically sustainable quotas that are tightly regulated. Much of the research that informs the hunting regulations could not be done without the role houndsmen play in wild cat conservation.

MW: When were you born?

RD: 1953

MW: How old were you when you got your first hounds?

RD: I was probably 18 or 20

MW: What got you interested in hound hunting?

RD: Oh, we always had a beagle around. My uncle was a coon hunter. So I just kinda grew up with it.

MW: Now were you born and raised in Montana?

RD: No, I was born in Massachusetts. We lived right where Vermont and New Hampshire come together. Right on the Connecticut River.

MW: Did you hunt anything else besides coons in the Northeast?

RD: I hunted bobcat some. They hunted bears but my Dad would never let me go huntin' bears. He was afraid I'd lose a dog.

MW: When did you get out to Montana?

RD: I come out in '78.

MW: How long after you moved to Montana did you take up hunting cats?

RD: I think I got my first lion dog around '92.

MW: What was it about lions that intrigued you?

RD: Well, it was just big and bad. At that time in my life that was what things were all about.

MW: Did you link up with some local houndsmen to figure it out or did you just start on your own?

RD: Well, houndsmen are kind of all alike. They don't want anybody else around. They don't even wanna tell you where there's a lion. They don't even wanna go with you. I went to some field trials. I joined the Montana state houndsmen association. Then the guys opened up to me, would run with me a little bit.

MW: Whereabouts did you primarily chase cats early on?

RD: When I first started I'd chase cats up around Morgan Cemetery all the way to Little Bear.

MW: What about the first cat you ever treed?

RD: I was looking for cat tracks and had no idea about it. I was coming up from Sedan through the Bridger Bowl area and I cut a female bobcat track. The snow was about 3-4 foot deep and she was going on top. I turned loose on her and caught her within about 4-500 yards in that deep snow.

MW: How many dogs were you running then?

RD: Just one. I don't really remember my first lion. The first one I ever killed was up Bear Canyon.

MW: How many guys were running cats in the Bozeman area around the time you started doing it?

RD: Oh I don't know. Might have been 10 guys.

MW: Did you guys all know each other? Would you respect each other's hunting areas? Or was it just whoever could get there first?

RD: Well, it was kind of whoever could get there first. But if you were in a canyon or if you was working a track you'd run together. You didn't run into other houndsmen a whole lot. A lot of guys would get going at midnight. I'd get going at daylight. That was good enough for me.

MW: So you wouldn't be out there at 3 in the morning looking for tracks?

RD: No. It's always better if you get going early in the morning and you can check a bunch of stuff before daylight and you're right on the cat at daylight. I figured if I got turned loose by noon, I was doing pretty good.

MW: What in your mind is most misunderstood about hound hunting?

RD: Well, with lions it's about the territory of 'em. The magnitude of their range.

MW: What's the longest track you've ever gone on?

RD: A million miles I think (Laughs). That one you never catch. There's a lot of them.

MW: Keeping up with your dogs, talk about that.

RD: You don't have to really keep up with 'em. You just follow them to a tree. A lot of times you go out and don't really know where they're going. Now you can use your GPS and they'll point you right to where they're at. In the old days you had to hear them if you wanted to short cut 'em or just follow 'em.

MW: When you say short cut 'em what does that mean?

RD: If they make a big circle they come right back to you. They come right in on the same track they started on. If they're up at the top of the hill and you hear them on the other side you just cross over to where they're treed.

MW: How many cats would you say you've treed in your lifetime?

RD: Maybe a couple hundred.

MW: Over how many years?

RD: 30. That's not many compared to some of them guys that got started younger.

MW: What would you say a lot is?

RD: Them guys up north were out there catching 45-50 a year. I think the most I ever caught in a season was 23.

MW: So you started out in the Bozeman area. When you moved out to Three Forks did you start running new country?

RD: Yeah. When I moved to Three Forks the hunters really moved in. There was always somebody ahead of you. I'd run a few bobcats. There was a lot more bobcats in the Elkhorns. I almost switched over to bobcats by about 50 percent. A lot of guys just wouldn't run them because they're hard to catch.

MW: What's the difference between bobcat and mountain lion as far as being hard to catch?

RD: Well, bobcat he just likes to play with you. He'll run you around, go into a rock pile. They don't seem to go as far. They don't line out like a lion does.

MW: Do they tree that much?

RD: They'll tree. If you get 'em in deep snow they'll tree a lot better. I've had bobcats sit up on a hill, watch the dogs come up the hill, they'll go around the rock pile and come right back.

MW: How many dogs have you owned over the years?

RD: Around 10 or 15. I used to run a lot more dogs when I was younger. But now I'm down to two.

MW: What's the most dogs you've owned or run at one time?

RD: Oh, maybe 4 dogs at one time. You just can't handle that many dogs.

MW: How did you go about training your dogs for cat hunting?

RD: Oh, turn 'em loose and let 'em go.

MW: Would you say that most of your dogs had strong instinct then?

RD: Yeah, pretty much hounds. What I'd run was English coon hounds.

MW: So you didn't really have to clue them into the fact, 'hey this is a cat, this is what I want you to go after'? Would you just see how things went along the way?

RD: That's kinda what I'd do. The first dog I had I didn't have a clue. She'd run a track, she'd open up pretty good, but she didn't tree very well. I treed a cat. Was right there when she treed it. She didn't know what to do. She's was kind of looking in the trees because she was a natural tree dog. So we finally got her to tree on the cat and every time she did it I'd give her a ride home in the front of the pick-up.

MW: She liked that!

RD: She liked that so she'd tree on 'em after that. Then I had a litter of pups out of her and I had some younger dogs out of that and she just kind of got everything going then everybody knew what to do. She was a real good dog, real solid. She would tree and stay treed.

MW: And you've always stuck with the English coonhounds?

RD: Yeah. I've had a few Plott hounds. I've had three Plotts. Generally an English coonhound is gonna have a pretty cold nose, they can smell a lot. A lot colder tracks. Plott is a hot nose dog. Walker is generally a hot nosed dog. Not long after the wolves came on I ended up with a pup, a Plott, while at a field trial. That dog, she was the best swim dog in Montana. She wouldn't open up on a track near as good as the English dog would. But with wolves on the landscape you kinda gotta get a hot track. I like a cold trailing dog but with wolves around you gotta get the cat and get home. The wolves will come in on ya.

MW: How long did it take after wolf reintroduction that you started to run into problems with that?

RD: There weren't many around at first. I was hunting the Elkhorns and saw two wolf tracks once. This was early in the season. 2 months later I was out one night, I got going on a track late and I followed the dogs. It was two mountain lions and two bobcat tracks I got into just about dark. They took a bobcat track off the lion track. It got to snowing and I missed 'em crossing the road because they crossed above the Crow Creek gate. I kinda knew where this bobcat was going. I had a tracking box at that time. An old telemetry system. I knew where they were and I kinda went in, this was about 10 o'clock at night and they weren't in the drainage I thought they was in.

So, I went back on the road and I could hear them barking a long ways off. They were just one drainage over. The old dog came back. I picked her up that night. It was about midnight I was headed home and I stopped again to check to see if these dogs were still treed and I could hear that they were still treed. I said to myself, 'Well it's okay they'll still be there in the morning or they'll be back to the truck'. You always leave a coat where your truck was. The dogs would come back to it. But the wolves got the Plott dog that night on the tree. I went in the next morning and it looked like a rabbit race around that tree. They chased my dogs around that tree quite a bit. When I stopped on the road, I was listening and working my tracking box and this redtick plumb near mowed me over and jumped right in the truck into the back seat. She was as scared as you could ever imagine a dog could be. Shaking just like she was cold. When I'd hunt her after that if you walked into a tree and stepped on a twig she just left. That was quite an impact for me and the dogs too.

MW: Is that the only dog you've ever lost to a wolf?

RD: Yeah, but I've been a lot more careful since. I don't turn loose if I'm even thinking there's a wolf around and I've been hunting a lot lower.

MW: Have you ever lost a dog to a cat?

RD: No. I always tied my dogs back at the tree. I only ever had one dog beat up by a cat. I had a female with three kittens we turned loose on. I never seen what happened but they treed three or four times. I think I had four dogs with me, it was getting dark. I rounded up the dogs and I saw two of the kittens. I had my dogs rounded up except for this female, she was a bluetick. A cat grabbed her and pulled a half a dollar right out of her side and I didn't even really notice it until the next day. That's the only time I ever had a dog get beat up. I never shot a cat without tying the dogs up. A lot of the old guys will tell you that's where you get into trouble if you don't tie your dogs up. I've been on quite a few jumping cats. You'll get to the tree and that's where they'll jump. A big tom will do that pretty regular.

MW: Is that usually because they've been treed before and know what's going on?

RD: I think so.

MW: You mentioned something earlier about a dog with a cold nose versus a hot nose. Could you elaborate on that?

RD: Generally when a dog can smell a track they'll bark. A cold nose dog will take a two- or three-day old track and just pound it. They'll bark a little bit and work the track, bark a little more. And hot nose or hot track they're just right in it and they're running hard. Barking all the time and running.

MW: How would you say that hound hunting/lion hunting has changed in your mind?

RD: A lot more guys doing it. I don't think there's as many lions. But I don't think I've hunted as many lions as I've hunted the bobcat.

MW: When you were going full steam back in your early days how many days a season would you run dogs?

RD: Oh, everyday. I was bragging about going everyday when I first started. That was from the first of December until...well that was when they used to run until the first of May. I was off all winter. Mabel (wife) done income tax. So after about the middle of December she didn't want me around anyways until the 14th of April because she was so busy. It was kind of paradise for me.

MW: That worked out good!

RD: Yeah. If I run 50-60 days this year I bet its been that many. Ideally you want to go when you can get a fresh track. If you stay the same place all the time you know pretty much whether you got a good track or bad track. The most you can be is a day behind them.

MW: In the off season do you go run your dogs to train them or do they get the summer off?

RD: We used to field trial quite a bit which is artificial drags and swim racing. When we started we used to go down to Powell and Riverton, Wyoming. We'd go to Alberta too. The Alberta houndsman association got a big trial up there. We used to go up there every summer.

MW: What's the most unusual, hair raising, or crazy story you have from chasing lions or bobcat for that matter?

RD: I hit a track one time in the Elkhorns. It was just one track. It looked like a wolf track. I had the dog on the road ahead of me. I was walking. The snow was real deep. I had my snow shoes on. And I couldn't pull the dog off the track. So, I kind of looked it over and figured out it was a lion track. So I turned a couple of more dogs loose. I walked right up underneath a tree with the cat in it. It was a big old gray cat and it kinda scared me. I got to looking around and there were two other little cats, juveniles with spots. The dogs was still quite a ways away from me. I walked ahead not very far and I saw another cat with a kitten in the tree. The dogs finally treed on another kitten. There was six cats all in that bunch in that small area!

MW: So when you were into those six cats in one spot, that's pretty unusual.

RD: Yeah, I've seen it twice. It don't even make any sense to me why they was there. But when you're running cats they kinda come through in waves. You'll have a spell where for a week or two you don't even cut a track. Then you'll cut quite a few for two or three weeks. I don't know why that is. That's what a lot of the older guys will tell ya.

MW: That was fun Roland! Thank you.

RD: You're welcome and Thank You.