“BEST DARN DOG BELLS” A FAMILY TRADITION (November 14/97)

Wayne Downey just might make what a hunter once called “the best darn dog bells in Nova Scotia.”

Judging from their acceptance by hunters, that observation could be an understatement of the facts. Downey just might make one of the best darn hunting dog bells in Canada and in the United States. For almost two decades bells crafted by Downey and his late father Glen have been worn by bird dogs and hounds from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and across the U.S. border down to California. Downey ships bells to people who use them on dogs to hunt everything from ruffed grouse to wildcats.

“Making dog bells is a family tradition,” Wayne said when I talked with him recently at his Belcher Street shop east of Kentville. “It started with my father in 1978 We ran a lot of big hounds on raccoons and wildcat and used a lot of bells. Dad was unhappy with the quality of the bells that were available at the time, so we decided to do something about it.”

What the Downeys did was apply their skills as autobody mechanics to make a solid steel, welded bell. Other dog bells produced in the province in the 70s were riveted, which dampened their ringing sound and made them useless in some hunting conditions. After a trial and error period, the Downeys discovered a pattern producing a clear tone that carried farther than the old style bells. These bells quickly proved to be invaluable when the Downeys tried them on wide ranging bird dogs and hounds. “When conditions are right,” Wayne Downey says, “you can hear our bells at least half a mile away.”

For the Downeys, discovering an effective bell hunting bell was akin to making the proverbial better mouse trap. Word about the bells quickly spread and soon hunters were literally beating a path to the Downey’s front door. Recollecting those early days of bell making when his father was still alive, Wayne Downey remembers that it was difficult to keep up with the demand at times. Early on the Downeys also made cow and ox bells but most of the bells Wayne produces nowadays are for working dogs.

From etching a pattern on a steel sheet, cutting the bell out with electric shears, and welding it into shape, a Downey bell takes about an hour to complete. The bells are then nickel plated or brass-finished and occasionally left plain, the finish making no difference in the tone. “Hunters want a workable bell and it doesn’t have to be fancied up,” Glen Downey once told me. “The important thing is that they work, that you can hear them when you’re hunting.”

Wayne Downey’s shipping list and the satisfied hunters that come back year after year is proof the bells created by his father and him are effective. Downey bells have been purchased by hunters who use them on rabbit hounds, coon and wildcat hounds and a variety of bird dogs across North America. Most are individually ordered by hunters in twos and threes but some retail outlets in Canada and the U.S. carry the bells as part of their regular stock. A Minnesota sports store sells 75 to 100 every year, for example.

In Nova Scotia, Downey bells are available at Ed’s Guns, Coldbrook, and at Carl’s Store, Tusket.

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