I was 8 the year Jack was born to Queen, a mostly black-and-tan female with just enough Airedale to give her an attitude. Jack’s pappy was an honest old bloodhound we called Tucker. Both of Jack’s parents were proven lion and bear dogs, two of the best we had. Jack was the pick of the litter and my dad, Gene Pyle, asked me to help him train Jack. “He will make a natural lion and bear dog. All we have to do is break him from running deer and elk, but I want to teach him to trail anything we set him on.” Dad went on to explain to me that we needed a dog around that would trail up a person. “You never know when a little kid might walk away from a camp or car and get lost,” he explained to me.
I was more than pleased that I was going to help train Jack. When Jack was 4 months old, I went with Dad as he led the pup down to the edge of the meadow. I had a choice chunk of beef liver and Dad sent me about a hundred yards into the meadow while he waited with Jack. When I had gone the proper distance I called Jack and Dad slipped the chain from his collar. Jack wasn’t sure what he wanted to do at first. He was torn between staying with Dad, going back to the other dogs, but finally my calls won him over and he got his reward.
The next day we repeated the procedure and Jack was eager to come to me. Soon, I was going greater distances and after a week, I didn’t have to call Jack. He was excited to take my trail. Then Dad and I switched roles, and Jack would find Dad who was going as much as a mile from where he left me with the pup. To get Jack used to trailing different people we enlisted the help of my mom, Dorothy. Later anyone stopping by the ranch to visit would get sent across the meadow. We would give Jack a smell of their hat or shoe and he would find them and get his reward. Jack never missed a beat, and soon, one of us could leave on horseback and he would trail us up hours later. Jack relished the game until we could put him on cattle and finally on any trail we wanted, man or beast.
Jack proved his value time and again over the years. His first act of notoriety was when he trailed up a little boy and his sister that had gotten lost when they left Mill’s Store up at Christopher Creek. A couple of years later, he found a lost hunter on the south side of Horse Mountain. Jack was the lead dog on countless lion and bear hunts and several times we put him on the trail of a deer or elk that some hunter had wounded and couldn’t find. Jack died in 1970 and we never trained another dog to take his place, but when I moved to New Mexico in 1997, I got to thinking about Jack.
I had a Catahoula I called Billy. He was making a good cow dog, trailing up cattle and barking at them until I came to him. I had Mom help me and we started teaching him to find people using the same methods that Dad and I had used to train Jack almost 50 years before.
My New Mexico ranch was on Canyon Creek near the headwaters of the Gila River in some of the best elk country in the U.S., and I made a little back pocket money picking up elk sheds each spring. I got the bright idea to teach Billy to find the sheds for me. I knew this was going to be no easy chore, because I had broken Billy of chasing elk. I was right. It wasn’t easy, and it took over a year, but with persistence and some resourceful cowboy thinking I finally had Billy sniffing out antlers. This increased my antler business tenfold, but I came back to Payson two years later and left Billy with some good folks in New Mexico. There is a reason they call dogs man’s best friend. Spend a little time with one and they can learn almost anything. They can also be pretty good teachers.
Como Siempré, Jinx