I’ve been chasing birds for thirty-five plus years now, and while the hunters I’ve known have come from all over and all kinds of backgrounds, 99.999% of them have been white guys (I hunted once with a guy from Puerto Rico).
So the first time I saw Durrell Smith’s work in Project Upland about African American dog trainers and bird hunters and their legacy in the southern quail hunting, I was intrigued.
Durrell has a point of view I haven’t heard before. His stories show me how much more there is to our sport — and how much is missing from my tiny, narrow view of it.
This piece by Durrell is on the Outdoor Life website now.
“There’s a deep, rich history of African American dog trainers in the South. It’s time to face the beauty, and ugliness, of those origins
I’m a diehard bird hunter and dog man. I love everything about it: The discipline and patience it requires, the glorious days in the field, and the long, storied history behind it all. But as an African American dog man living in Georgia, I know that there’s a large hole missing in the history of bird hunting and dog training. That hole is created by stories unheard and untold to the general public…”
From Outdoor Life: Durrell Smith is a 30-year-old native of Atlanta, an author, visual artist, art teacher, bird dog handler/trainer, and most notably, the host and founder of The Gun Dog Notebook Podcast. He writes mainly for Project Upland and is also a member of the Ga-Fla Shooting Dog Handlers Club in Thomasville, Georgia.
I met Craig back two twenty years ago when I started hanging around field trials. Since then, he has been breeding top-notch grouse dogs for hunters throughout the Northeast and bringing home ribbons from field trials throughout the country, including a first-place win at the 2007 Grand National Grouse Championship–the Superbowl of upland-hunting style dog competitions. While doing all this, he has also built a guiding and dog-training business in northern New Hampshire. So when it comes to top-notch bird dogs, Craig knows what he’s talking about. He has walked the walk, and his new book teaches you how to walk down your own path to success.
As it says on the cover, Craig Doherty’s Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer is a how-to, and across its 168 pages, and with dozens of full-color pictures, it covers everything from a pup’s first time out of the whelping box to finishing it up on its second season in the grouse woods and beyond. It suggests what training gear you should own, gives you tips on buying, using and introducing your dog to a GPS e-collar, and even discusses where to hunt Ruffed Grouse, and the gun to carry while doing it.
The lessons it teaches are practical, gimmick-free, and easy to apply to any pointing breed. They’re also kind to the dogs. Some current “alpha dog” training philosophies inspire people to be heavy-handed with their pups. Craig doesn’t practice that nonsense or promote it in his book. Instead, he believes “…you need to work at becoming a hunting partner as opposed to a hunting master” and tells you how to do it.
My favorite parts are the bits of wisdom Craig drops in throughout his book, insights like what the breeder of your next grouse dog should be obsessed with, the best time of year for your new pup to be born, why leather collars are not ideal, and how to deal with bloody tails. I’m sure Craig has spent years gathering this knowledge. Gaining just reading his book feels like cheating — but I’ll take it.
Craig was a writer and educator before he became a full-time dog trainer, and his storytelling skills and ability to break down complex ideas into easy-to-understand lessons are evident throughout his new book. So is his empathy for his students, four- and two-legged. Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer is easy to follow and a joy to read. Best of all, its lessons are easy to apply and it’s full of wisdom anyone interested in gun dogs will benefit from discovering.
Like I said in the beginning, great dog trainers are hard to come by. It’s even harder to find ones who can teach you their skills. Craig Doherty new book Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer does just that, and like true love, it’s something worth experiencing for yourself.
Bob’s a painter and a bird hunter, and he’s always looking for ways to express himself and his talent. I wrote this piece about him and his lanyards for the November/December 2019 edition of Shooting Sportsman magazine: A Hand-Braided Legacy.
What’s that?” my friend Frank said, pointing toward my neck.
“It’s my fancy new lanyard,” I replied, taking it off and handing it over for inspection.
Frank felt the leather strap and admired the braided, crisscross pattern. “Isn’t that something.” he said. He was right. It was something. Sporting artist Bob Bertram had made it for me. Bertram calls his creations Legacy Lanyards, and they are just as beautiful as his paintings. But because they hang around the neck instead of on the wall, sportsmen can admire these works of art anytime they’re in the field.
Legacy Lanyards are custom made and hand-braided with premium kangaroo leather. They come in two types of braids, a variety of color combinations and various styles (one clip, two clips, a magnetic model designed for keys, and a waterfowler model that will hold duck calls). All metal components are stainless steel. Bertram also sells Acme whistles for the lanyards and will embellish them at extra cost.
The braiding on the lanyard Bertram made for me was so tight and consistent that neither Frank nor I could tell where things started and ended. As for its looks, “elegant” and “tasteful” were the words that first came to mind when I saw it. Regarding the lanyard’s design, Bertram said, “It’s kind of a form follows function thing with me. I want them to work, but I don’t want them to be ostentatious. And so mine are kind of simple and clean.”
Starting at $175, Legacy Lanyards aren’t inexpensive. But as the name implies, they are built to last—and to be handed down. According to Bertram: “My lanyards are something you wear when you’re having this great experience. And then you pass them on. My kids will get my lanyards. And, to me, that’s kind of a cool thing.”
I love English Pointers, especially ones from strong Elhew lines. So I was excited to see this litter of pups from Northern California’s Blackney Kennels. These great looking dogs are full of potential. And they’re darn cute, too.
According to the breeder’s About Us page: “Blackney Kennels breeds Elhew English Pointers for hunters and competitors, and their families, who desire an outstanding representative of the finest line of pointing dogs ever developed. Our objective is to produce dogs of the highest quality, conforming to the Elhew standards: high-powered, highly intelligent, highly biddable, conformationally correct and strikingly beautiful, with ideal companion-dog temperaments.”
3 Questions for kennel owner Daniel Riviera
1.) Dogs & Doubles: Why did you pick Brigadoon & Aviatrix? What strengths were you trying to bring together?
Daniel Riviera: First, this is a “pure” Elhew breeding. I have had Elhew pointers for the past 20 years and have been thrilled with them. I agree entirely with, and want for myself, the kind of dog Bob Wehle developed. For the low-volume breeder, who wants the highest quality, consistent litter, I believe breeding within the Elhew family, which is broad and has many lines, is the best route.
Specifically, I like, and want to breed, a high-powered, exceptionally athletic dog, who is exciting, even thrilling at times, to watch work and with whom to partner in the hunt. I want the dog to be highly biddable, meaning responsive and communicative in the field, highly intelligent, beautifully structured and marked, with a handsome, correct head and a straight, cracking tail, and a warm, outgoing, engaged, and expressive personality and temperament. Both Brigadoon and Aviatrix meet this description.
Brigadoon is a powerfully built, beautiful dog, with good bone and substance, and tremendous vitality – excellent qualities in a sire. Aviatrix is finer boned, sharply outlined, with great intensity. I felt they would be a good combination because I did not want to go further in either direction, toward more bone or toward more refinement. It seems to have been a good choice as the pups show both good bone and substance, and beautiful emerging outlines.
Brigadoon and Aviatrix share many desirable traits, so their strengths are compounded in the pups. Just picking one of their strengths, both Brigadoon and Aviatrix are notably tenacious. When we were just beginning to work Brigadoon on birds, when he was still a little tyke, we shot a chukar for him and it unfortunately dropped into the middle of a huge blackberry bush, common in the open fields around here. Before we could stop Brigadoon, he was crawling into the middle of the blackberry bush and was soon crawling back out, pushing through the vines, ignoring the stickers, with the bird. It was quite amazing.
I should add that both Brigadoon and Aviatrix are very healthy dogs, and so far, knock on wood, have not been prone to injury. The pups they produced are very robust.
2.) Dogs & Doubles: What traits are you hoping to see in these pups? What will set them apart?
Daniel Riviera: I want to see a robust, beautiful dog, with a handsome head and cracking tail, forward, engaged, with a warm, loving personality. The ideal hunting-companion dog, who may also be competed successfully in shooting dog and comparable stakes. This is what I am seeing in the pups. I began with pointing dogs nearly 30 years ago, showing Vizslas (a wonderful breed) in conformation. This litter is so uniformly excellent you could finish the championship of every one of these pups. I wish I could keep them all.
3.) Dogs & Doubles: Say I’m a potential customer, what’s your elevator pitch on your pups? Why should consider them, what will I get from them?
Daniel Riviera: The ideal hunting-companion dog, beautiful, thrilling to watch and to hunt, rewarding to own every day of the dog’s life.
In this film, Project Upland’s A.J. DeRosa chronicles his experiences with his first bird dog. According to A.J.:
“If there is one thing I hope that people take from this film it is the true reality of bird dogs. We all start somewhere, whether you are the Creative Director of Project Upland or not. Failure is okay, it is part of the journey. This film is meant to break down the walls of unrealistic expectations, show all of us that no one is perfect no matter what resources they may have in this process or outward projection they give. Even the best dog trainers in the country started from nothing …”
The New England Bird Dog Club’s 2018 field trial is this weekend in Dummer, NH. If you want to see some great hunting dogs do their thing, you’re should make time to attend. This is a low-key, released-quail trial and a great way to spend a send a day and meet other people into gundogs. The trial is held in northern NH, about 25 minutes from Berlin.
The Gun Dog stake on Sunday is great for anyone who has a bird dog and would like to see them compete. Dogs have to hold points, but they don’t have to be steady to wing & shot.
I spend a LOT of time with my dogs–most of my time, really. I work from home, and so Lexi and Sky are my constant companions: A run in early am, in the office together all day, a walk in the PM, repeat.
But not this July and August. Both girls went to Wild Apple Kennel at the end of June for summer training, and they’ll be there through this month.
Only one thing sucks more than planted quail: cold, wet, planted quail.
In the best conditions, planted quail prefer running to flushing. When these birds are cold and wet, they’re as likely to fly as a frog or groundhog.
And cold, wet planted quail, plus a handful of well-trained bird dogs, is what Lexi and I faced off against at the Northern NH Bird Dog Club 2018 Annual Trial.
This trial ran from April 27-29. We were in Sunday’s Amateur Shooting Dog stake. It was a cold, cloudy day. Rain shifted back-and-forth from drizzling to pouring.
Lexi was in the third brace (there were only 4 in the entire stake). She had a great run, stayed in the pocket the whole time, handled perfectly, and, as you can see in the videos, the didn’t let those lousy quail throw her off her game (or make her break point). By the time we finished the course, I thought for sure we would be taking home a yellow ribbon.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. While I was disappointed, Lexi didn’t mind. She just had fun chasing birds.
If you hang around the coverdog field trial circuit at all, you probably know Hifive. Located in Beulah, MI, they’ve been breeding, training, and trialing dogs for 20+ years, and they’ve produced a long list of great dogs.
Shawn Kinkelaar is one of the top bird-dog handlers & trainers in the U.S. He started field trialling in the 1980s, and today he’s one of just two people who have won 100+ Open Horseback Championships–the World Series + Superbowl + Stanley Cup of bird-dog competitions.
He has also won more National Dog of the Year Awards than any other trainer, as well as three English Setter National awards and three National Handler of the Year awards.
For the past 25 years, Shawn has spent his summers training in North Dakota. This year, a local news crew caught up with him and produced this video.
In the video below, you can get a taste for what it’s like training in ND in the summer: Horses, bird dogs, and the space to run both. I’m envious.