Curling, for these of you unfamiliar with it, is an arcane winter sport of Scottish origin by which one participant slides a 42-pound disc of polished granite down a sheet of ice towards a type of bullseye goal. This disc, known as a “stone,” strikes at a glacially sluggish charge of velocity, and because it’s doing so the opposite gamers furiously sweep the ice forward of it with brooms in an effort to affect its velocity and route of journey.

This curious spectacle impressed Frank Deford, the legendary Sports activities Illustrated author, to tartly observe “Curling is definitely the one sport in all of the world by which the gamers themselves transfer sooner than the article they put into play.”

John Rucker can relate to that. A 74-year-old retired English instructor who lives off-the-grid in japanese Montana, within the fall he and his pack of homebred Boykin spaniels hunt regulation, which is to say fast-moving, recreation: pheasants, Huns, sharptails. However for three-to-four months each spring and summer season, Rucker and his canine head east to hunt—look forward to it—turtles.

Land-dwelling field turtles, to be extra particular, that are more and more threatened, in lots of areas, by illness and/or habitat loss. Varied entities with a vested curiosity in turtle conservation, together with universities and state departments of pure sources, make use of the Rucker “group” to assist them get a deal with on numbers, distribution, age demographics, and the incidence of illness within the turtle populations underneath their purview. Relying on the placement, these may be Japanese field turtles, Ornate field turtles, or Three-toed field turtles.

Whatever the species or the placement, although, they’re nonetheless turtles. On a very good day, they will do the quarter-mile in an hour. The purpose being that in the event that they’re not the slowest issues ever hunted with canine, I don’t know what’s. On second thought, let’s make that the slowest residing issues, simply to eradicate antler sheds from rivalry. Therefore the relevance, skinny although it might be, of the Deford remark.


Spectators usually present as much as watch the turtle-hunting present and, in Rucker’s telling, “They completely freak out once they see these high-powered canine searching turtles on the identical velocity they hunt rooster pheasants. They anticipate to see them tip-toeing alongside not a lot sooner than the turtles, I assume.”

The Boykins reply the identical solution to turtle scent as they do to pheasant scent. “It’s precisely the identical as once they get birdy on a rooster,” Rucker says, noting that he leaves the tails of his Boykins undocked in an effort to see them higher within the knee- to waist-high grass they’re usually searching in.

“I’m seen as a renegade by the Boykin spaniel ‘institution,’” he laughs, “as a result of I don’t dock the tails. That’s heresy to these South Carolina bluebloods.” (FYI, the Boykin spaniel is the state canine of South Carolina.)

And what do the Boykins do once they discover a turtle? They promptly scoop it up and retrieve it to Rucker, after all. He, in flip, palms it over to a technician, educated in reptile biology, who takes blood and saliva samples (to check for illness), checks for parasites, and in some circumstances could affix a tiny radio transmitter in order that its actions may be tracked. The turtle, unhurt and by all appearances unfazed, is then launched again into the wild.

Should you’ve ever questioned how catch-and-release searching would work, that’s a reasonably good template. In 2022 Rucker and his canine hunted in 5 states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Tennessee—and tallied nicely over 500 turtles. Most field turtles are six-to-eight inches lengthy and weigh a few pound, in keeping with Rucker, though his canine have discovered Japanese field turtles in Michigan weighing twice that a lot.


Considered one of Rucker’s Boykins with a profitable discover (picture courtesy: John Rucker).

Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Matt Allender of the College of Illinois, who oversees the world’s largest field turtle well being research and has labored carefully with Rucker since he started his turtle-hunting profession some 20 years in the past, calculates {that a} Boykin searching in good habitat will discover, on common, 2.5 turtles per hour. A pointy-eyed human, in distinction, will discover about .25 turtles per hour.

In Rucker’s phrases, “The canine will let you know extra in regards to the standing of a field turtle inhabitants in sooner or later that people alone may study in weeks.”

Little surprise, then, that his providers are in excessive demand. He travels in a industrial van with customized canine bins built-in and a specialised air-conditioning system powered by an exterior generator.

“If my automobile dies,” he explains, “the A/C nonetheless works.” His canine might be OK, in different phrases.

When he’s on the highway throughout turtle “season,” he sleeps in a tent pitched in a state or county park campground. “In a pinch,” he admits, “I’ll keep in a Wal-Mart parking zone. However it’s not very poetic.”


A local of Greensboro, North Carolina, Rucker got here of age throughout what he describes as “the tail finish of the golden age of the bobwhite quail tradition within the Carolinas.”

He provides, “I grew up a chook hunter, and the first love of my adolescence was watching canine work. Right here I’m at age 74 and, frankly, nothing has modified.”

Rucker’s father all the time had pointers and English setters—however Rucker skilled an epiphany, early in his profession as a chook hunter, that made him a flushing canine particular person for all times. When he acquired sufficiently old to hold a shotgun, his dad would generally drop him off at a neighborhood farm that they had permission to hunt. Rucker’s associate was a cocker spaniel bought at a pet retailer and, nicely, let’s let him take it from there:

“I found that that pet retailer cocker spaniel would work the hell out of bobwhite quail. I’d usually kill as many quail on a given weekend as my dad would searching along with his high-powered pointers and setters. I used to be killing wild birds over a flushing spaniel once I was only a wee lad, in order that’s an enormous cause I went within the route of flushers as an alternative of pointers.”

Rucker hunted over springer spaniels for a lot of years, however after he “stumbled into Boykins within the Nineteen Nineties,” as he places it, he fell for the breed hook, line, and sinker. Just a few years later, whereas residing in japanese Tennessee, his canine “spontaneously” started bringing field turtles to him. Somebody on the College of Tennessee in Knoxville caught wind of this, recruited Rucker and his canine to assist with a field turtle survival research on a property scheduled for clearcutting … and the remaining, you possibly can say, is historical past.

“That’s how the door opened,” he says, “to the economic strength-level turtle searching program. To hunt turtles, you want a pure retriever that doesn’t thoughts rooting within the thickets like a hog, and the Boykin fills that invoice completely.”


An ornate box turtle from Iowa

An ornate field turtle from Iowa (picture courtesy: John Rucker).

Rucker’s now on his 5th technology of homebred Boykin turtle-hunters. “I solely hold the ‘superdogs,’” he explains. “I put turtle shells within the whelping field with the pups earlier than they’ve opened their eyes; then, once they’re slightly older, I put fiberglass ‘fake turtles’ smeared with bacon grease out within the weeds for them to seek out. I additionally let the pups hunt with older canine to allow them to see the way it’s executed and study by their instance—type of the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ precept.

“The pups that present probably the most drive and curiosity are those I hold. Whether or not it flies or crawls, I need them to carry all of them to Dad and never fear about whether or not it’s a chook or a reptile.”

Whether or not they’re searching turtles or birds, Rucker likes his canine to remain inside vary of the improved-cylinder barrel of his Winchester Mannequin 21—30 yards, more-or-less. He emphasizes, too, that regardless of their prowess as turtle hunters his Boykins view it as one thing of a sideshow.

“They know that what they’re bred for ain’t to hunt turtles,” he says. “They’re pheasant canine—extraordinarily pushed pheasant canine—who hunt turtles for me in the summertime as a private favor.”

The association appears to be working. And by selling their conservation, the turtles themselves are the last word beneficiaries.

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