April 29, 2021
When you hunt with a feist, you are carrying on a unique American hunting tradition that most small game hunters have forgotten or never knew about.
Excellent companions to Florida squirrel hunters, these small tree-dwelling dogs are a unique American breed, developed over more than two centuries. One of the earliest references to the feist was made by George Washington around 1770, who referred to it as “a little foist that looks like a yellow dog.” Feist-type dogs have played an important role in the lives of rural Americans, especially in the South.
There are quite a few varieties and types of feists in America today, but the best known is probably the Mountain Feist. This is a terrier-type dog that was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 2015. Today’s Mountain Feist was likely developed in the rural South as a low-maintenance dog for hunting small game and removing vermin, and is used primarily today to hunt squirrels. . The original feists were often crosses between terriers and bloodhounds; the cross gradually stabilized into modern Mountain Feist. However, some of the other lines and fight types have different histories and some breeders have their own crosses and lines. Other names or fighting types include Bench Feist, Pencil Tailed Feist, Flop Eared Feist, and Traditional Feist, with some breeders having their own proprietary names for their specific lines.
Today’s Mountain Feists, as standardized by the United Kennel Club, generally range from 12 to 18 inches in height and 12 to 30 pounds in weight. There is no color standard for Mountain Feists; they can be almost any color or pattern, but albinism is a disqualifying fault in the conformation ring.
As a result of the mixed heritage of feists in general, different lines have different hunting styles; some bark as they follow a squirrel and others are silent. Most of them are good at following a squirrel running through the treetops. Once they have a squirrel in the tree, they bark or bark to let you know where the squirrel is sitting. Although they are not retrievers, they can be trained to retrieve a squirrel after it has been shot down by the hunter. A Mountain Feist or other feist dog is not as easy to find as, say, a Golden Retriever. One source of information is the Mountain Feist Squirrel Dog Kennel Directory, www.mountainfeistsquirreldog.com; another is the National Feist Breeders Association on Facebook. Kennels have such romantic names as Shadowtail Kennels, Swampmusic Mountain Feist, and Coal Mountain Kennels.
Hunting with these dogs is nothing like hunting with a traditional retrieval breed. Your retriever will bring you a squirrel you kill, but one hit will locate the squirrel in the treetops, follow it from tree to tree, tell you where it is, and bring it back to you after you kill it. Owning one requires a commitment to the breed and proper training. These are busy little dogs that need a job, and that job is to find prey for the hunter and keep the farm free of other small vermin.
HUNT The gray squirrel is a time-honored challenge for the new outdoorsy, with many retaining a lifelong passion for it. The modern fascination with wild food causes many to convert; Chipmunks are easy to prepare and delicious fried or stewed.
Gray squirrel season on private land in Florida this year runs from October 8 to March 5. The daily catch limit is 12; possession limit is 24. Fox and squirrel hunting is prohibited.
The state’s public network of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) offer numerous squirrel hunting opportunities, but you’ll need to check the brochures for each WMA. In October, for example, many WMAs are open only to hunters who have obtained deer quota permits. During such periods, general access would be restricted. A large number of WMAs open to general small game hunting (no fee) in mid-November; that would be the time to go to the forest to look for squirrels, rabbits, quail and other game.
The use of pointing, washing and retrieving dogs, including feists, is generally permitted in the WMAs during small game and migratory bird seasons, but again, check the rules at myfwc.com for the specific area. FS
Florida Sportsman magazine published in October 2018