Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine
That dog will hunt
Steve Schlichting's Dandy Sandy
has a nose for coons

by Jim McCarty

Steve and Sandy, also known as “Grand Nite Champion Grand Champion PR Banjos Dandy Sandy,” share some loving behind Steve’s house on the banks of the Osage River. While Sandy is a loving dog, on the hunt she is all business. In September she made Steve proud by winning the prestigious Canadian Autumn Open Nite Hunt held in Ontario.

On a moonlit night, Steve Schlichting stops on a gravel road not far from his home at Taberville. Where he stops open fields end at a small creek lined with majestic oak trees.

Steve slips to the back of his truck, where an aluminum box takes up most of the pickup’s bed. He fits a battery-powered light to a hard hat and turns it on. The brilliant yellow light overpowers the silvery moon and reveals the eyes and nose of a coonhound patiently waiting for Steve to release her from the box.

When Steve opens the door, his dog, Sandy, is out with a rush. She jumps the barbed wire fence and heads into the dark woods, on the track of the coon both she and Steve know is in there.

The night grows silent, save for the far-off whine of cars on the highway. Occasionally, the rustle of leaves signals Sandy is at work. Steve lights a cigarette and patiently waits for something to happen.

Suddenly, a deep bass bawl, long and drawn out, echoes across the clearing. Seconds later, another bawl sounds in a different place.

Sandy quarters the field, searching, her nose pressed to the trail. Without warning, her voice is heard again, this time sounding over and over again in the ancient chop, a short, intense bark that means she has treed her quarry. Sandy has found the coon and won’t give up until Steve pulls her away from the tree.

“I can tell you exactly what she’s doing when she’s doing it,” Steve says of his hunting companion, Sandy. “When she’s tracking, when she starts to tree. I can tell you when she’s locating up on a tree. Her bark is completely different.”

While Sandy works the fields, Steve stays by his truck and enjoys the music of the hound’s bark. “If the wind isn’t blowing, you can hear a dog a mile or better. I can hear her two miles away,” he says.

Sandy is as quick to get into the truck as she is to get out when it’s time to hunt. Steve’s dogs beg for a chance to hunt and seem to really appreciate when they are chosen.

Most nights, Steve, a member of Sac Osage Electric Co-op, will let his dogs tree two or three coons and then head for home. He rarely shoots the coons, preferring just to hunt for pleasure. Dogs can be run year-round, though the hunting season runs from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15. For Steve and many others like him, the thrill is the chase.

For centuries, man has hunted with the help of hounds. This tradition is alive and well in southwest Missouri where Steve and his wife, Sharon, call home. On any given night, you can see lights flashing through the woods and hear the distant bark of a hound tracking or treeing a coon.

Those too old to hunt will often sit in their trucks with the windows down just to hear the dogs at work.

“There’s a hunt you can go to every weekend if you want to drive 70 or 80 miles,” Steve says. These hunts are competitions that let hunters add titles like grand champion or grand nite champion to the dog’s name.

Whenever Sandy is out of her kennel she is sniffing the ground, ready for any sign of her archrival, the racoon. She is a Treeing Walker hound.

Sandy’s full name — Grand Champion Grand Nite Champion PR Banjo’s Dandy Sandy — attests to her skills on the hunt. In September, Steve and Sharon took Sandy to visit a friend in Canada who had invited the couple to experience a Canadian hunt. While in Ontario, Steve entered Sandy in the Canadian Autumn Open.

“That friend of mine, Murray Lapard, he’s a nice guy. He invited me to go out hunting and see how big the coon are up there,” Steve says. “We hunted those soft maple swamps. And we treed tons of coon up there.”

After four nights of pleasure hunting, Sandy took her place in the competition. When the hunts were all complete and the scores tallied, Sandy was the overall winner.

“On six coons that first night and a possible score of 1,350, she had 1,288. That’s the most points she’s ever scored.”

The win made Sandy, a Treeing Walker hound, the Canadian Autumn Open champion.
“You’ve got to have a good guide and that guide we had that night, he knew where the coon were at,” Steve says of the Canadian hunt. “I don’t think we ever spent more than 15 or 20 minutes at a drop before we had one treed and were moving on to another spot.”

Steve started hunting when he was around 10 years old. He says some men from Carthage planted the bug by taking him along on one of their hunts near Lamar, where he grew up. “They learned right quick to come on a Friday or Saturday night so I didn’t get in trouble with my folks,” says Steve, who would have let his grades suffer hunting on a school night.

Gone are the days when coonhunters took to the woods armed with little more than a Coleman lantern or a carbide light. Modern coonhunters have a variety of high-tech tools to help them keep track of their dogs while on the hunt. Steve uses this radio direction finder to tell where his dog is heading when it’s not barking. The dog’s collar sends out a radio signal that is picked up by the receiver.

He begged his parents for a dog, but didn’t get one until his parents planted sweet corn one summer. “The coons demolished it that year,” he recalls. “So I decided it was probably a good time to hint about a coonhound. I was 13 or 14 when I got a dog of my own.”

Since that time, Steve’s almost always had a coonhound, save for a stretch when he drove over-the-road trucks for a living. During that period, he sold or gave away his hounds because he couldn’t give them the attention they needed.

“If you have dogs, you need to hunt them,” Steve says. “But when I came off driving the truck, there were guys I knew who had a dog, and I’d go hunt with them.”
Over the years, Steve has had some good dogs and some that weren’t good for anything.

“A good dog is worth a lot of money, and a worthless one ain’t worth much,” Steve likes to say.

Once Sandy has found the track of a coon she won’t give up. Here she trees a coon found not far from Steve’s house near Taberville.

Steve says a good dog is one that can find the coon’s trail, stay with it and tree the coon, never leaving the tree no matter what. “And actually have a coon there,” he adds. “A lot of them will tree blank trees. They get in a hurry. The coon might have gone up it a ways and left. If they don’t check themselves, they’ll get treed and not have it.”

Steve bought a dog named Buck from a man down in Arkansas. The dog had a big bare spot on its hip. “I always thought a hog got hold of him down in Arkansas,” Steve says. “He made an exceptionally good dog.”

Steve had another dog he calls a “rig dog.” This dog would stand on a little platform Steve had built on the passenger side of his truck. As Steve drove down backroads, the dog would sniff the air for signs of a coon.

“He would stand with his front feet out there and his head up, sniffing the air. When he’d bark I’d stop and he’d bail out. He’d strike anything, any varmint. If it wasn’t a coon, he’d hike his leg and then get back in the truck. That was a lot of fun, just driving around the country listening to music and that old dog going owoooo.”

Steve had one Black and Tan hound and one Bluetick, but the rest have been Treeing Walkers like Sandy. Of all his dogs, he says Sandy may be the best he’s hunted with. Steve actually sold Sandy when she was a pup. Then he bought her back without knowing firsthand how well she could hunt.

“They kept telling me how good she was,” he says. “So I bought a pig in a poke. I just took another guy’s word for it and I seldom do that.”

Steve says he’s turned down several offers for Sandy, knowing she was worth far more than that for the pups she would bear.

Ranger, one of Dandy Sandy's pups, anxiously awaits his turn to go hunting.

While coonhunters and breeders like Steve always hope to get top dollar for their pups, Steve’s been known to give pups away to young people to help them get started in the sport. No doubt he remembers his humble beginnings and the people who got him started.

Most of the time Steve hunts alone, although Sharon likes to go with him if she can. If he does have a companion with him, chances are it’s his granddaughter, Christine. “If she has her way, she is going to be a coonhunter,” Steve says.

Christine, who is 6, claims half ownership in another one of Steve’s dogs, Candy. When Candy won a best of breed trophy, Christine ended up with the award to display.

Steve’s dogs love to hunt, and when he gets ready to head to the woods, they clamor for his attention in a way that can only mean, “take me.” His Walkers are affectionate animals, often wrapping their front paws around his waist with a loving thank you for the opportunity to hunt.

Steve, in turn, is quick with the praise when his dogs find their quarry. It’s hard to tell whether man or animal enjoys the hunt more.

“I love to watch a good dog work,” Steve says of coonhunting. “I guess it’s kind of addictive, like people playing golf, people bowling or playing baseball.”

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