Devotion — 1a : religious fervor: piety b: a religious exercise or practice other than the regular worship c: ardent love or affection.
I’d been on a duck hunt in North Carolina’s Currituck Sound area with Charlie Sager and his uncle, Alton Whitehouse. During the week, Charlie asked me if I’d like to shoot a big black hog that was “screwing up the bear baits.”
Who goes to North Carolina for ducks and comes home instead with a cooler full of hog meat? I got a sense of what bear hunting must be like while we waited for the hog – even just a few feet from the dirt road, you could be easily lost. There’s not an offensive line in football that could link arms and push through the dense, thorn-laden cover. It would fling them back like high-tensile fencing.
That’s when Charlie warmed to the subject of North Carolina bear hunting and I learned about the Pulling Brothers and the huge bear Steve Selerno got. It wasn’t hard to imagine the labor that went into cutting the trails to improve the bear hunting. Even after hours and hours with several people working, Charlie said, you’d have cleared a trail for only maybe 50 yards.
“This is devotion,” I said. Charlie said that was a good choice of words. Preacher Man and Flat Top are devoted to Jesus Christ and hounds. “You’ll never meet anyone else like them,” Charlie said.
I made a point to find them that winter at the Sportsman’s Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The first things you notice about the two are their lengthy beards. I quickly learn that the beards aren’t for any hunting reason, such as extra warmth; the two play Apostle’s in an annual Christmas nativity scene.
They are devoted to two religions: Jesus Christ and hunting with hounds. Their path to both devotions was varied, but they never lost the trail.
Their grandfather, Edwin “Diggs” Gregory, was a hounds man. Growing up in Thomasdale, Virginia, they were aware of it, but weren’t part of it.
“Sports was our passion, football and baseball, and something that filled a gap for us,” Greg Pulling said. “But after high school, our careers ended.”Jim Pulling was recruited to play football for the University of Mississippi, but had a career-ending knee injury. Greg, who is five years younger, later attended the same school. After Jim’s football hopes came to an end, both focused on their studies.“I was paired at the U of Miss with two Christian roommates, and found the Lord,” Greg said. “After college, I went to Liberty University (Jerry Falwell’s alma mater).”
Greg’s sole focus was seminary studies, at least until the day he watched nine Plott hounds trailing a black bear in the snow.
“The bear was walking and they were walking behind him,” he said. “Although it was all happening slowly, I felt an adrenaline rush like nothing I’ve ever felt.”
Both brothers after college became high school teachers, working with special education students and coaching football. Both were very involved with their local churches, and both were becoming increasingly disillusioned with being unable to make any mention of religion in the public school system.
During those years, they started acquiring hounds.
“When I got my first teaching job, in New Kent (Virginia), I bought two high-powered bear dogs,” Greg said. “I didn’t think anything about driving three hours to hunt bears.”Those first two dogs were a red-tick and a red-tick/blue-tick mix. The next purchase was three blue-tick puppies. The brothers steadily got more and more involved with the hounds and hunting bears.
“We worked so hard, hunted so much and also began to breed our dogs with other (bear hunters’) dogs,” Greg said. “Your quest for the perfect dog never ends; you’re always trying to get a better one.”
They travel with their hounds to the Carolina swamps, Virginia and Maine, usually taking along 10 hounds and two puppies in training. They leave in mid-September for Maine, return to Virginia for a short season then North Carolina for the second week of November and two weeks in December. They squeeze in the Virginia “mountain season” somewhere in that schedule. They hunt bears and hogs with their hounds.“Nose and grits,” Greg said. “A lot of our hunting is around water, so we need dogs with really good noses; and hunting hogs and bears, you definitely need dogs with grit.
“We’re getting our biggest bears in eastern North Carolina, although that’s probably not the place most people would think of if they wanted to go on a hunting trip for big bear. I think that’s because of the abundance of food and the short hibernation.”
Both brothers are married, and they give thanks daily for wives that understand their obsession with hounds and the accompanying lifestyle.
“We have five passions; Jesus, our wives, our kids, our church and the hounds, in that order,” Greg said. “And, well, coffee – I’m kind of a coffee snob.”
Both Greg and Jim preach at Journey Christian Fellowship; their churches are just 30 minutes apart. Each church has a Safari Coffee Gormet stand.