Feists and curs, known as all-purpose hunting dogs for generations in the South, took center stage Saturday during the first annual Wilkes County Squirrel Dog Challenge.
About a dozen dogs and their owners competed in this event, hosted by the Creston Coon Club in Ashe County and sanctioned by the World Tree Dog Association (WTDA), based in Lisbon, Ohio.
The competition was based on how fast a dog could find a squirrel and the dog’s ability to keep it treed long enough for a hunter to arrive and spot the squirrel after hearing the dog bark.
Dogs and their handlers were scored and either earned or lost points, with “plus points” assigned for good performance and “minus points” for infractions, in morning and afternoon contests.
Dogs and handlers were divided into “casts,” with three dogs and their handlers per cast. Each cast was taken by a guide to a different large tract of timber in McGrady and other areas of Wilkes.
The dogs at each site were released simultaneously and had two hours to find squirrels.
The first dog to find a squirrel at each site got points. If two dogs found the same squirrel at about the same time, the dog’s handler who “called it” first got the points.
Dogs also got points for chasing a squirrel up a tree and keeping it “treed” by barking up the tree for at least three minutes. Points were also awarded if the handler saw the squirrel in the tree within five minutes.
Unless the tree had a squirrel nest or the tree was hollow and had an entrance hole, minus points were given if no squirrel was seen within five minutes.
Minus points were given if a dog treed a squirrel but left the tree before the handler and guide arrived.
Daniel Osborne’s “Three Top Stryker,” a mountain cur, won the morning contest. Osborne lives in West Jefferson.
A treeing feist named “Gizmo,” belonging to Keith Peeples of Stokesdale, won the afternoon contest. Gizmo is a world champion in a different registry. Now, based on points earned Saturday, he is a squirrel champion in the WTDA.
Winners were announced at Vernon Wagoner’s hunting and dog products business, Specialty Outdoors, near his home on N.C. 18 North in the Fairplains community. Wagoner and Adam Wyatt of McGrady organized the event.
Wyatt entered his squirrel champion dog, a treeing cur named “Stylish Big Gun,” which was the overall highest scoring dog of the day. Stylish Big Gun now must win five sanctioned events to be a grand champion.
Wyatt, a math teacher at North Wilkes Middle School, has started a local kennel named Creek Bottom Curs and plans to sell treeing cur puppies.
Original mountain curs, treeing curs and mountain feists were also entered Saturday. People from as far away as West Virginia entered dogs in the event.
Although curs and feists dominate squirrel dog events, Wyatt said, “You can bring anything you want as long as it will tree a squirrel.”
Interest in feists and curs has increased in recent years, resulting in more events like the Wilkes County Squirrel Dog Challenge.
Writer T. Edward Nickens described the increased interest in hunting squirrels with dogs as a “squirrel dog revival” in a February 2012 “Field & Stream” article.
Appearance standards are flexible for curs and feists and they’re more often described as types of dogs rather than breeds.
Feists originated in the United States and are celebrated as a dog from the Southern Appalachians.
They’re sometimes cited as a cross between hounds and terriers and don’t have as well defined a history as their larger cousins, the curs. Feists generally weigh less than 30 pounds.
George Washington made one of the first recorded references to feists in his diary in 1770 when he wrote, “A small foist looking yellow cur.” Abraham Lincoln paid tribute to feists in a poem and Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite dog was a feist he got during a 1905 bear hunt.
Curs have a long history of usefulness in the British Empire and elsewhere in Europe and came to America with early settlers. They became known for hunting everything from squirrels to bears in the Southern Appalachians and elsewhere in the South.
Most sources say it was a black mouth cur that played the role of “Old Yeller” in the famous Disney movie about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas.
The Original Mountain Cur Breeders Association, organized in 1957, helped bring about renewed interest in curs. The mountain cur has been registered with the United Kennel Club since 1998.