A pickup truck skidded to a stop, scattering gravel across a rain-dampened timber road. The door opened and the driver checked his tires to make sure the vehicle would not mire in the soggy sand of the shoulder.
He put on a blaze orange cap then slid his arms through a hunting vest. The vest had small front pockets for ammo, a leash and water bottle. The large rear pocket was for holding game.
“I hope to fill my new vest with a couple of squirrels,” said Bruce Trujillo, 64, a semi-retired machinist from Castle Hayne. “Poncho was itching to go, today. When I was loading up, he was bouncing all around the house.”
Now, the dog was now bouncing around the pickup cab, attentive to Trujillo’s every move. Trujillo slid a 20-gauge over-under shotgun from its case. Shouldering it, he freed Poncho to roam the hardwood forest.
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Before Trujillo covered the short distance to the woods, Poncho was already barking on the scent of a squirrel. By the time he made his way a few yards into the woods, Poncho’s barking picked up its tempo.
“He’s barking at one spot,” Trujillo said. “He treed a squirrel.”
Trujillo walked through the forest, where the going was easy along an oak and hickory ridge. However, when he slid down a bank of a creek, the vegetation changed.
“The briers and cane will scratch your face,” he said. “If I wasn’t wearing glasses, I would worry about getting poked in the eye.”
Trujillo stopped suddenly, frozen in place. The dog was moving.
“The squirrel is running through the trees,” he said. “Let’s go!”
What had been a leisurely walk turned into a wild scramble as Trujillo pushed his way through vines and low-hanging limbs. Every so often, he stopped to listen. The dog appeared to be getting farther away.
“The reason his barking is not as loud is because he is in a cypress swamp,” he said. “The big trunks mute the sound. He is only 100 yards away.”
When Trujillo got to the tree, Poncho was looking aloft and barking. Sometimes he jumped at the tree, almost climbing it.
“Poncho says a squirrel is up there,” he said. “Let’s see if we can spot him.”
Working his way around the tree, he shook saplings, attempting to startle the squirrel into moving. Eventually he saw it.
“I see his tail,” he said. “A squirrel hides so well that sometimes you can’t see it. But, his tail moving usually gives him away.”
Trujillo fired his shotgun. The squirrel ran around the tree. Trujillo fired again. The squirrel ran down the tree, hit the ground and bounded through the woods before running up another tree with Poncho in hot pursuit. Reloading, Trujillo downed the squirrel before it could escape. Poncho was on it in an instant.
“Give it!” Trujillo commanded.
Poncho begrudgingly released the squirrel. Trujillo put it inside his game pocket. Poncho was already running through the woods again. Trujillo cocked his head to one side.
“Listen!” he said. “He already treed another squirrel.”
Trujillo worked his way to the tree, saw the squirrel and downed it with a load of No. 6 shot. Before the morning was over, Poncho treed five times, but the other three squirrels had hidden inside tree cavities.
“Anytime we get two squirrels for supper, it’s been a good hunt,” Trujillo said. “When I semi-retired, I had time to train a dog again. When I was young, I had pointing dogs, but there are not enough quail and grouse anymore to train them. A friend in Haywood County had one of Parnell’s dogs and liked it so much he convinced me to investigate them. I talked to people who had Mountain Curs who said they are big running dogs and I did not want a big running dog. So, I went straight to the source and got the first male puppy available.”
Poncho is the nickname of Bruce’s Bandit, a Parnell’s Carolina Cur, a breed recognized by the National Kennel Club and United States Dog Registry. In a telephone interview, James Parnell said developed the breed by accident 20 years ago.
“If I had these dogs when I was a young man, I would have been the toughest thing that ever walked in the squirrel world,” said Parnell, 70, who lives in Hartsville, S.C., and is retired. “Treeing is bred into them. They start early and only a very few don’t turn out. They also make good pets.”
Parnell had raised Stephen’s Stock Mountain Curs for years and still raises a few. He said the first Parnell’s Carolina Cur was sired by a tiny feist named Pee Wee and a Stephens’ Stock Mountain Cur named Kate.
“I gave them to my friends because I was raising the two other breeds,” he said. “A few years later, I found out they were better dogs than the feists or the Steven’s dogs. Eventually, the National Kennel Club and the United States Dog Registry asked me to register the breed because they were winning so many trials.”