James Graham

It’s About the Dogs

The wind whistles through the trees overhead as I wade through mid-calf deep snow. A thicket of pricker bushes engulfs me, and with every move I make, hundreds of thorns scratch, scrape, and even puncture the exposed skin on my hands. I clutch my camera closely, attempting to spare the lens from the wrath of the thorns while at the same time trying to record what is happening. Ahead of me Barry forges a pathway through the thicket, giving me a track in which to walk, while his dog, Queenie, follows slightly behind him. Barry turns to look at me, a smile spreading across his face. “Having fun yet?” he says with a chuckle. He then turns and charges onwards, dog leash in one hand, and his 12 gauge, camouflage print, shotgun slung over his right shoulder.  I’m on the adventure of a lifetime; my guide is Veteran Hunter and local Vermonter Barry Forbes, and our goal is to catch the illusive Linux Rufus, better know as a Bobcat.

Born and raised in the majestic Green Mountains of Vermont, Barry Forbes, age sixty-four, can always be found sporting his signature green flannel overalls, red-checkered shirt, rubber waders, and “Bow Tech” Camo hat. Despite his age, and seemingly small stature, Barry’s extremely spry, something required of a grizzled Bobcat hunter, especially one who’s been doing it since he was only twelve years old.

Barry has spent his entire life living at the base of the Green Mountains in Middlebury Vermont. His current house, situated off of the scenic I-116, sit only a few yards away from the house he was raised in, even sharing the same driveway with one another. He lives with his wife, as well his mother in-law, while his son and his family own the house behind Barry’s.

The tale behind his birth is rather interesting. Barry and his twin brother were born at Porter Hospital, one on the way into the ER, and one on the way out. Barry was the one born on the way out, what he describes as a “Blue Baby.” He was placed in the only incubator in the county at the time, but Barry was still given slim odds of surviving. At one point his odds were so slim that the nurses removed him from the incubator, replacing him with another Baby, one who had been given better odds of surviving. Barry managed to overcome the odds and surprised everyone; he survived and has many more years left on his life. He has since raised a family of skilled hunters; his grandchildren have been featured on the cover of local hunting magazines, while his daughter has taken the silver medal in past Olympic shooting events.

Barry himself has racked up a rather impressive resume over his lifetime.  He serves as Animal Control for Addison Country and is the Rabies Hotline contact, but these bring in very little income. He does it mainly because he cares for the well being of animals, loves working with them, and simply because its an extension of his true passion, Hunting.  His most prestigious position though is the director of the largest trapping association in Vermont, the Addison Country chapter he chairs numbers over seven hundred. Through the Trapping Association Barry is able to share his passion with others; as a director one of Barry’s duties is teaching free classes about trapping, something he is more than happy to do. These position only serve as funding for Barry’s passion for Hunting. Turns out the spoils of Hunting won’t pay the bills, at all. Barry explained, “You can get anywhere from $50 to $250 for a Bobcat Pelt, The market’s always changing.” This is quite shocking given the exquisite beauty of Bobcat Pelts. Bobcat on average stand around one to two feet tall, ranging from a little over a foot to four feet in length, and can weight from only a few pounds up to an astonishing seventy or so pounds. Their fur is prized for its beauty; being of a tan base, with a white belly speckled with black flecks, quite a sight to behold and extremely soft to boot. Barry’s fur’s in particular gets sent up to Canada where they are auctioned off to the public to be used in Coats, Hats, rugs, and anything you could possibly imagine them using fur for.

Lawrence Pyne, a Wildlife Biologist, Addison County Local, and writer for the Burlington Free Press, wrote an article in 2010 on Bobcats in Vermont, specifically in Addison County. In his article he goes to explain that on average only seventy or so of these rare beauties are caught and skinned each year in Vermont. This number seems rather low when the estimated population of Bobcat in Vermont given by a State Wildlife Biologist in Pynes’ article ranges from 2,500 to 3,500. But the truth is that just twenty or so years ago that number was much smaller, numbering only twenty or so Bobcat per season. In the past the Bobcat population seemed as though it was on the decline. The dwindling deer herd and increased competition for food in their harsh mountain habitat drove Bobcat down from the mountains, taking instead to the valleys in search of food. For a while their population dipped as they struggled to adjust to their new home. As time progressed though, they adapted, and their population has since increased dramatically. Barry noted that, “This season, I’ve seen more cats out there than I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and that’s saying something.” Barry has already bagged four or five pelts this year, and the season only just recently opened. Barry doesn’t hunt Bobcat though simply for the thrill, and defiantly not for the money.

The money that Barry makes from these pelts simply covers his expenses from hunting the animals in the first place. Barry devotes his life to hunting Bobcat not for personal gain, but in order to do what he really truly loves, raising and training hunting dogs. He has been using dogs to hunt Bobcat ever since he first learned to hunt with his Uncle when he was twelve. His Uncle, a big man about the town of Middlebury having constructed many of the large houses that still stand today, took young Barry under his wing and taught him the art of hunting. When Barry wasn’t helping his Uncle build the said mansions, or out shoveling snow from around trees so that loggers could cut them down, he was out in the woods doing what he loves with the dogs he considers family. Through his experiences as a child Barry has developed a strong connection with dogs, a connection only strengthened through the teachings of his Uncle with regards to how to train a dog.

At the moment Barry has five beautiful, brown Plott Hounds, most around two years of age. The two boys are named Guy and Haus, their brothers, while the three ladies’ are named Lady, Blaze and Queenie, the mother to all of the dogs. Barry has raised all of them from birth, and spent countless hours out in the woods training them on raccoon in order to one day run them on Bobcat. He starts training them at a very young age, starting by teaching them to track Raccoon only shortly after they are born. Once he has trained a dog to the point where it can pick up not only fresh tracks but old tracks, also know as how “cold” a dogs nose is, its then time to set them on cat.  Recently though Barry hasn’t been finding the time to train all of his dogs, at the moment only Guy and Queenie can “run cat” as he says. While he has been training Blaze on raccoons, he hasn’t been able to take Lady or Haus out very much this season, he’s even begun considering selling them. “Do I want to get rid of any of the dogs, defiantly not” he explained, “I’d like to hang onto then and bring em up to what I want em to be. But being realistic…that’s not gonna happen.” Barry explained that the low raccoon population and the fact that they can only be hunted of at night has made it difficult for him to train his dogs. With low raccoons, and little free time, Barry has been left with little options, and there’s not much he can do to alter his predicament. The scarcity of animals for him to train his dogs on is the least of his worries though.

While Vermont normally receives decent snowfall throughout its winters, the past two years have been rather brown, and as a result Barry hasn’t been able to go hunting as much. You see, in order to track a Bobcat, you first need Bobcat tracks, and for Bobcat Tracks you need snow. It’s that simple, no snow, no tracks, no path to follow. Even when there is snow there are still complications sometimes that keep Barry from hunting. A few inches of frozen snow underneath a light dusting of fresh snow spells disaster for dog’s feet. “I’ve taken a dog out when there’s frozen snow underneath before. After a few hours tracking, you’re deep in the woods and the dog can’t walk. I’ve had to carry a dog in my arms down a mountain before.” If it’s to cold Barry won’t go out either, recently temperatures have been either near or bellow zero. While Barry isn’t afraid of the cold temperatures, it makes a miserable experience for all, especially the dogs, so it’s simply better to wait for it to warm up.

Although the weather has been unfavorable recently, Barry has been able to take his dogs out on a few occasions, sometimes coming back with a cat or two.  I was lucky enough to be able to shadow Barry on one of his outings at the start of the season, sadly though we were unable to find any cats. We set out bright and early at eight am on a frigid January morning, snow had fallen a few days prior so there was good cover. Barry had settled on a Bog just east of town, a place he had previously found rather large cats. When we reached our destination, Barry quickly stepped out of the car, slung his shotgun over his shoulder, grabbed Quinine’s leash, and set off at a quick pace down the trail. I struggled to keep up with the sixty-four year young hunter as he gracefully glided across the deep snow. Every now and then Queenie would pause to sniff out a suspicious looking track in the snow. Barry would then crouch down beside her, pushing her nose away as he felt the track with his fingers. He would rise saying, “This track’s week old,” or, “Cat came through here bout two day’s ago.” I tried a few times to determine if the track in question was a cat track or not, only to always be told that the track was simply from a Coyote. Bobcat paws are more spread out leaving a wider but narrower print, while Coyote paws are more streamline, leaving a long but narrow track. Both are somewhat comparable to a dog track, more so in the case of a Bobcat though.

Watching Barry in his element, one can easily see that he is at home in the forests of Vermont. He prances through the most difficult of obstacles, obstacles that I struggled with, such as a frozen river that violated my right boot and sock. We were just finishing up our day and heading home when suddenly we came across a rather large frozen river covered in snow. Barry set off across it, towing Queenie and myself behind. Suddenly the ice cracked underneath Barry’s right boot and it was plunged into the cold-water bellow. Luckily for Barry, his knee high rubber wader left his foot high and dry. I on the other hand decided to stray from Barry’s path in search of stronger ice. I quickly encountered a weaker patch of ice though, and my right foot plunged into the river, I wasn’t wearing knee high waders. At the end of the day Barry and I emerged from the woods, tired, cold, soaking wet in my case, and with no Bobcat. While I was somewhat discouraged, Barry was beaming from ear to ear, just happy to be out in the woods. “I’m an outdoors kind of guy I guess,” he explained.

This is the person Barry truly is, a selfless hunter who loves his dogs, and loves life. He could go out any given day, track a “big tom” for miles only to have it run into a hole, rendering his efforts futile. Any normal person would give up after this happens a few times; and trust me it happens more than a “few”. Barry on the other hand wakes up every day bright and early, checks the snow condition, and sets out to see what he can find. If he comes back with nothing, he’ll be out the next day tracking another cat, trying his luck yet again. It became increasing frustrating when every morning I would rise at eight am, extremely early for a college student, to call Barry to see if he was going hunting, only to always hear him say, “Conditions aren’t really right today. Call again tomorrow at the same time.”  Although this was frustrating this is just the kind of person Barry is, nothing bothers him. He is constantly looking forward to the next hunt, whenever it may be.

His anticipation doesn’t stem from his thirst for the thrill that comes with hunting though. Barry explained, “To me, it’s kind of a high, going out there with a dog that you’ve trained, and hunting something that there’s a pretty high chance your not going to take that day.” Barry has devoted his life to raising his dogs, they are his passion. He loves them as if they were his own children, and it clearly shows in his interactions with them. They are obedient to his commands and his love for them is returned tenfold. The second he is within view the dogs begin barking, clamoring around the bars of their cage, like small school children around an cream truck at recess, all just hoping for a little bit of their masters attention. Barry will continue to hunt for a very long time, but he will always only do it for one reason, “This is either something you love, or you just don’t do it. You take a day when it’s cold and nasty outside, and there’s a lot of other things you’d rather be doing, but it’s like well time to take the dogs out and let them do their thing. But it’s like I said, it’s more about the dogs than it is about me.”

Sources:

http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/vtcritters/animals.cfm?cat=mammals&species=Eastern%20Bobcat

http://bigcatrescue.blogspot.com/2010/01/vermont-hunting-ultimate-hunter-bobcat.html

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