Though it was decades ago, Doug Boykin can clearly remember the day that Vern Phillips pulled into his family’s ranch with a pack of hounds seeking permission to hunt racoons.
“The back of his pickup was full of hound dogs, and my eyes got really big,” Boykin told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
‘I Wanted A Hound Dog Puppy So Bad’
Phillips was an avid houndsman and local legend. When he invited the young Boykin to tag along on a hunt, he didn’t have to ask twice.
After that, Boykin was hooked.
“When I was 6 years old, I wanted a hound dog so bad. I wanted a hound dog puppy so bad, but my Momma wouldn’t let me,” he said. “I already had a blue heeler pup, so she said ‘no.’
Boykin wasn’t so easily foiled.
“There was some kids at school who had some hound dogs, and one of them brought some puppies to school,” he said. “So I took one and just took it home with me anyway. Momma wasn’t too happy about it.”
She let her son keep his hound dog, and soon the boy and his hound were traipsing the woods, chasing raccoons and other small critters while learning together the art of hound hunting.
“I just took the hound out with me,” he said. “I wasn’t like I was hunting lions back then, but things just took off from there.”
A True Wyoming Heart
After working a variety of trades, Boykin retired in the mid-2010s and moved to Snowflake, Arizona, where he continues to run hounds and guide hunters after mountain lions and bears.
However, his heart will always be in Wyoming. His family ranched in the Saratoga-Encampment area for generations, and the Huston Park Wilderness near Encampment is named for his great-great-grandfather.
“Our family were some of the first settlers in the Platte Valley,” Boykin said.
Paying It Forward In Puppies
This week he traveled north, delivering free hound dog pups to children in Colorado and South Dakota, just because they were kind enough to ask him in writing.
As he sees it, that’s a way to give back in return for all the amazing experiences he’s had running hounds. And, he also hopes to inspire a new generation of hound hunters.
He plans to keep doing it, and hopes to bring puppies to kids in Wyoming as well.
“I’m going to keep doing this every year,” he said. “It turned out so well, seeing those kids’ eyes light up when they finally got their puppies delivered to them.”
Family Of Houndsmen
Boykin’s older son, Beau, lives in Cheyenne. He and his father still run hounds for outfitters taking mountain lion hunters into the Wyoming backcountry. It’s legal to hunt mountain lions with hounds in Wyoming, but hunting bears with them is forbidden here.
In Arizona, Boykin and his younger son, Bear, outfit and guide mountain lion and bear hunters.
“He have about 20 dogs,” he said, and there’s no particular breed of hound that they favor.
“We have red dog hounds, black and town blue tick hounds, and we cross-breed some dogs,” he said. “If they hunt good, then we’ve got ’em.”
He added that it’s tough to describe just what it is about hunting with hounds that’s kept him enthralled over the decades.
“It’s pretty much all about the dogs,” he said. “It’s not like any other type of hunting, it’s totally different. I enjoy working with puppies and see them turn into good hound dogs.”
Houndsmen train their dogs to catch the scent of their quarry and pursue it until it’s cornered, usually up a tree.
Honoring A Veteran
Boykin said he has “hundreds of stories to tell” about his experiences, and he shared one that truly stands out in his memory.
A few years ago, he was helping a hunter check in a bear with Arizona game wardens.
“There was this Cadillac there. This really old man got out of the Cadillac, and he had a World War II veterans’ hat on,” he said. “So, like I do with all veterans, I went over to shake his hand and thank him for the service.”
The elderly man was a local, Walter Craig. He was well into his 90s and still quite active. He wanted to ask the game wardens if he could take the teeth from roadkill elk, because he used the teeth to make jewelry.
He and Boykin got to talking, and Craig decided he wanted to tag along on a mountain lion hunt.
When hunt turned out to be too much for him, Craig asked if a younger friend could go along, and Boykin agreed.
During the hunt, Boykin’s hounds treed a mountain lion, but it was too far back into the woods for Craig to go see in person. So his friend took video of the encounter.
“We didn’t shoot the mountain lion, we just let it go,” he said. “It so great to see when his friend brought the video back to show him how excided Walter was to see it.”
Craig lived for a couple more years before dying at age 98, Boykin said.
“He was 98 years old, and still cutting his own firewood,” he said.
Social Media Savvy Reaches A New Generation
After noticing how “electronically motivated” today’s youngsters are, he came up with a plan to pass the tradition of hound hunting to a new generation.
“I put a deal up on Facebook,” he said. “I thought, ‘You know what? It sure would be good to get some of these kids interested in hound dogs.’”
In his post, he laid out his terms.
“I posted that if there were any kids out there that really wanted a hound dog puppy, and if they were willing to send me a handwritten letter, delivered to my mailbox, I would bring them a puppy,” he said.
He got responses from one youngster in Colorado and another in South Dakota. But he’s sure if he keeps up with his efforts, there will be more puppies to deliver, especially to Wyoming.
“It (hound hunting) is a dying breed, but there are some kids who are still into it,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.