A lifetime of working with dogs in many capacities has led me here where you may currently find yourself. Ask most upland game hunters why they hunt and its a fair bet that their answer will have little to do with shooting, and most everything to do with dog work. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shoot. I love to eat the game we acquire. But I don’t enjoy taking life, I just refuse to waste it and I do enjoy the taste and health benefits of upland game.
But what I love, what I truly love, is watching dogs do what they were born and bred to do. Something I never could with any amount of training or practice do myself… To track and find upland game.
Through my lifetime I have been involved heavily in K9 search and rescue, tracking training, obedience, protection sports, Human remains detection, narcotics detection etc. At the heart of all of these things is seeing dogs use their noses. Forming a partnership with them so that they will use those noses on my behalf.
My first exposure to “gun dogs” was 30 years ago when my friend and boss got a springer spaniel and began training it with a canvas dummy for retrieves.
Then I had a neighbor about that time working a beautiful little female Brittany puppy with a pheasant wing on a fishing pole and I saw my first “Point.” I had still never held a gun or ever been hunting but I got to watch that Springer Spaniel “flush” pigeons out of a bird launcher, pigeons I had raised and trained to home to my loft.
It would be many years later before I ever picked up a gun for myself and learned to shoot clay pigeons. Then I had a friend take me hunting for the first time.
We walked ditch banks hoping to scare up a pheasant and we took turns playing “dog” walking through the heavy cover.
I didn’t shoot my gun that day but my friend did get one rooster, and his friend a couple of mallards. We went again the next day and his friend brought a black lab that was doing its best to be a dog without any formal training or specialized breeding. That day turned out more successful for all of us. I had a dog at home and I thought I would invite him to the party the next day. So I brought my doberman while everyone laughed. I didn’t know any better I thought a dog was a dog and I didn’t have any of those specialized dogs I had seen in my youth, I only had my friend and companion in the sleek black coat.
That day woke something inside me that never was fully quenched despite the years I have taken off here and there.
Those were the heydays of wild birds. We had CRP grass everywhere. No ones land was posted and we had wild bird populations of pheasant, Hungarian partridge, sharptail grouse, blue and ruffed grouse, and plenty of Chukar and quail though I hadn’t met them yet. We had habitat, we had birds and those were the days when you could find both guns and shells with no trouble. I quickly learned to reload so I could shoot more affordably.
So me and my Doberman learned to hunt pheasants. Don’t laugh, we were really good at it. Better than most of the other dogs around.
My buddy didn’t know to point, but he had an incredible nose and once he learned what I wanted him to do he was a bird finding machine and there were plenty of birds to get plenty of practice. I was young enough to keep up so it worked out just fine. I started another Doberman as well. This one learned that we only shot the roosters, and I kid you not she never flushed a hen again. These dogs would make retrieves you wouldn’t believe. Mostly because we didn’t know any better. By the third year that first Doberman was so good at the game and so fast he just started catching the birds and bringing them back to me live.
That’s when I discovered the value of “whoa” and a pointing dog. I started working all kinds of dogs, I worked a golden retriever, an Irish setters, a Vizsla, and settled on Gordon Setters since their coloring matched the dogs I loved and they were supposed to point and retrieve. Back then I went through a few of them from Springset kennels.
A move later in life introduced me to my first French Brittany and it was true love. That is the time Hunting with Hank started on the air as well and I made my son watch every episode with me and I swore one day I would have an amazing Setter.
Many more years passed and my son finally finished his hunters safety and saved up for and bought his first shotgun and experienced his first bird hunt with a gun in hand. He had forgotten how many hunts he had been on with me when I was younger and carrying him in a backpack. He was now hooked and we got a few French Brittany’s from Plum creek from Bill and Kathy Dillon before they sold it. Two amazing girls that were daughters of Tattoo. I didn’t yet know how outstanding they were but we were all in love. Then we picked up a few more along the way from Matt Keller in Arizona who also raised outstanding dogs, and luckily became a good friend.
We were all hooked and training dogs all the time and hunting everywhere and every chance we could.
Life took some bumps in the road and I was away from dogs and hunting for way too long.
The depression I went through not having dogs in my life got worse and worse everyday. I was literally saved by a wonderful friend with a cold wet nose who came to me and got me feet back on the path. Radar will forever be my best friend and I will owe him so much more than I can ever repay. I finally had my hearth home and field dog, an English setter who goes everywhere with me and sleeps on the bed.
Another call to an old friend Matt brought beautiful French Brittany’s back into my life. Its good to be back home.
Thank you also to Brett Wonnocott who introduced me to NSTRA a place I am finding my way back to, and for connecting me with Radar.