There's much to see and do at the Wildlife Expo. There are more than 50 seminars on topics ranging from mules and Texas horned lizards to bats and bluebirds.
There are also dogs: bird dogs, squirrel dogs, retrievers, coon hounds. No beagles this year, however, which is a little disappointing. It's a hoot watching beagles chase rabbits.
The dog seminars and demonstrations are perhaps the most popular of all at the Wildlife Expo, because who doesn't love dogs? Hunters do for sure.
Oh, they aggravate us. They cost us thousands of dollars in vet bills and dog food, but they are our hunting companions. When the tailgate is dropped, they are always excited and eager to go.
Just take a few minutes and talk to some of the dog men who will be showcasing their breeds at the upcoming Wildlife Expo. You will quickly understand that for them, the hunts are not about the quail or the ducks or the coons, but about the dogs.
There is a line in Old Yeller about one good dog being worth several good men. Michael Bergin of Yukon loves the dog like the one described in Old Yeller because that mongrel was the kind of dog from which mountain curs were born.
Mountain curs are great squirrel dogs. They are an American breed that developed out of necessity on the American frontier and in the South.
These medium-sized, stocky mountain dogs were an all-purpose dog, used to tree game for fur and meat, work and round up livestock and guard the homestead and gardens.
“It really wasn't a ‘breed' of dog,” said Bergin, who is conducting a seminar on squirrel dogs at the Wildlife Expo. “It was more of a ‘type' of dog that happened to excel on these homesteads. These were the dogs the poor people had, the mountain people had. They were dogs that could hunt and guard and survive whatever conditions they faced.”
In the late ‘50s, about the same time Old Yeller was published, a group of men who cared about these historic dogs began working to preserve them. They wrangled up about 200 of these types of working dogs and formed the mountain cur registry.
Today, mountain curs are primarily used by sportsmen for hunting small game like squirrels and raccoons.
“You can really tree a lot of game with a good cur, because they are natural hunters that adapt well to hunting the type of game you want them to hunt,” Bergin said. “They are often silent on track, meaning they don't bark until they are right under the game animal in a tree, and that may give them some element of surprise.”
“I have seen thousands of dogs on point,” said Wade Free, owner of Gun Dog Kennels in Sharon. “To this day, every point is still like the first one. It never gets old.”
Free loves all dogs. He owns a Chihuahua, a Jack Russell and Labradors. But it is his bird dogs, English Pointers and German Shorthairs, that he is most passionate about. He was hooked at an early age on quail hunting.
“I have been messing with bird dogs since I was a kid,” Free said. “Find out what a bird dog can do and why they do it is 80 percent of the reason you like the sport. I guess what intrigues me is the ability of a dog to smell where a quail has been 30 minutes ago when there is no visible sign of that.”
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OKLAHOMA WILDLIFE EXPO
When: Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29-30. Friday is school day only at the Wildlife Expo.
Where: Lazy E Ranch and Arena in Guthrie.
What: The Wildlife Expo features more than 150 activities and seminars, including kayaking, archery, sampling wild game, mountain biking, shotgun shooting, fishing, falconry, dog training, duck calling, horse and mule packing, deer management, bird watching, basket weaving and more. For a complete schedule, visit www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
WILDLIFE EXPO BY THE NUMBERS
59,100 — People who attended the Expo in 2011
122 — Number of Oklahoma schools that took field trips to the Expo
242 — Miles traveled by Swink Public Schools, the school that traveled the greatest distance
25,000 — Worms used at the fishing pond
220 — Gallons of buffalo chili served at the Taste of the Wild booth
2,500 — Pounds of catfish stocked in the Lazy E Ranch pond for the Expo
60,000 — Pellets fried on the rifle range
1,325 — Number of Wildlife Department employees and volunteers who work at the Expo
27,945 — Clay targets that were shot on the shotgun range
375 — Number of bluebird boxes made at the Expo
7,000 — Number of Dutch oven samples eaten