By Kevin Tate/Special to the NEMS Daily Journal
The spark of curiosity that formed when Paul Beam read an article about squirrel dogs in a magazine 20 years ago has developed into a passion that’s become a major part of his life.
From a state of simple interest, Beam’s journey has led him through the stages from apprentice to journeyman and now to master on the trail of squirrel hunting with a breed of dog recognized by the United Kennel Club as the original Mountain Cur.
Wikipedia describes the breed as having been descended from European lines traceable to the 13th century. The Mountain Cur emerged as a distinct breed during the settlement of the lower ranges of the Appalachians and the Tennessee River Valley.
Though the strain became rare after the industrialization of the South allowed subsistence hunting to become a thing of the past, afficionados kept it alive and it was officially recognized by the UKC as a registered breed in 1998.
Neither vicious nor shy, naturally curious and hard working, the description of the dog fits the typical owner just as well, and the two work well together doing something they both instinctively love.
Beam’s work with the breed has brought him recognition and championships within the squirrel dog competition community, but the opportunity to work with and refine dogs that naturally love what they do remains at the heart of the matter for him.
Polishing dogs’ style
Training the dogs, as it turns out, means working with their form or correcting faults, Beam says, not teaching them how to hunt squirrels.
“They’ve got to have that natural instinct bred in,” he says. “You can help them with their style, but you can’t teach them how to smell a squirrel.
“They’re going to do what they’re bred to do. You’ll get good results if you’re working with a dog (that has a good pedigree).”
Beyond the profession and the competition, though, Beam says the main joy comes simply from the time spent associating with the dogs.
“I’ve always been amazed by what the dogs could do on instinct,” he says, “that they could find and tree game so that you could walk up to the tree and shoot the game out.
“An effective dog needs to be able to use all of his senses, nose, ears and eyes, to make a good, solid, all-around squirrel dog. He needs to be able to use every tool he has.”
That’s something Beam has seen a lot of in his years working with the original Mountain Cur, and something he hopes to encounter a lot more in years to come.
“I don’t keep a lot of dogs right now to raise and train because of lack of space, as much as anything else,” he says. “I hope to get a larger place someday to breed and kennel the dogs. Still, even though I train and sell dogs (as a business), I always try to keep one really good dog all the time for myself, just for the pleasure of hunting as much as anything.”
It is the joy of hunting, after all, that brought him here.
“Winning competitions,” he said, “are just icing on the cake.”
Kevin Tate serves as Creative Director for Mossy Oak Productions, in West Point.