The story of pointing dogs is full of half truths, distortions, and outright lies. Craig Koshyk has dedicated thousands of hours separating fact from fiction, and he put it all together in his excellent book Pointing Dogs: Volume One, The Continentals.
Here’s the intro:
“The French revolution began in 1789. When it was Over 11 years later, Napoleon was in power and nearly every aspect of French life, including hunting and dog breeding, had changed forever. Some of the changes were positive. The revolution had given the average French citizen the right to hunt. But for the dogs kept in the kennels of aristocrats, the revolution spelled disaster. Many were slaughtered outright and others were stolen, but most were simply released to roam the countryside….”
If you follow this blog, you know how much I love Craig Koshyk’s book Pointing Dogs: Volume One: The Continentals. Here’s a review of it that I wrote a little while ago. It was published in July/August 2012 edition of Shooting Sportsman magazine:
I’m selfish with my time, and the older I grow the worse I get. This makes me reluctant to pick up most new books I come across. I wonder if they’ll be worth the time they’ll take to read.
Pointing Dogs: Volume One: The Continentals by Craig Koshyk is a big book with a big title, and at first this title worried me. It sounds a lot like the other breed bibles out there. Fortunately, Koshyk’s bookisn’t anything like them. Part history lesson, part guide, and part love letter, Pointing Dogs is one of the finest books about hunting dogs that I’ve ever read.
Passion is what makes Pointing Dogs so worthwhile. Early on in the book Koshyk writes “We will always love our pointing dogs, and through them, forever seek a closer connection to the natural world,” and “Hunting over them (pointing dogs) is about pleasing the senses and soothing the soul.” Koshyk loves bird dogs and bird hunting, and his ardor makes this work glows. What follows in the book is as much a tribute to pointing dogs as it is a tribute to all the ways they enrich our lives.
Accuracy is an crucial part of this tribute. Instead of just recycling old breed standards and previously published information (much of which is incorrect), Koshyk spent twelve years doing original research for this book. Crisscrossing Europe with a notebook, camera and credit card, he talked to breeders, attended field trials, and hunted behind the breeds in his book.
Today, Koshyk is probably the only person in the world to have seen every one of the continental pointing breeds in action, in their native lands. This gives Pointing Dogs an impressive authority. When Koshyk writes that the Pachon Navorro (nicknamed the Double-Nosed Spanish Pointer) “…showed a good degree of desire, hunting hard despite the thick, thorny cover,” you know he didn’t just read that on the Web or in some out-of-date field guide. He actually traveled to Guadalajara, Spain, and saw Pachon Navorros in the field. This commitment comes through on every one Pointing Dogs, and it’s a big part of what make the book so special.
The three-hundred-and-sixty-five pages in Pointing Dogs go over a lot. To keep the book readable, Koshyk breaks it into six sections. First is “Pointing Dogs,” which covers the origins and history of these animals. The next two sections – “South and West” and “North and East” – detail current Continental breeds. Next there’s “Outliers,” which is about pointers at the edges of Europe, and then “Lost and Forgotten” discusses extinct breeds. At the end is “Appendices,” which includes everything from how to select a breed and dog to comparisons in sizes, gaits, populations, and more.
In all, Pointing Dogs covers 52 breeds from Europe and into Turkey and Russia. Koshyk writes about each dog’s history, form, function, and character. He also details the pointer’s selection & breeding prospects, and gives his opinion of each dog’s hunting ability.
There’s information about dogs we’ve heard about, like German Wirehair Pointers, and about dogs few people have seen, like the Saint-Usage Spaniel. Koshyk judges each breed with an understanding of how different dogs have been bred to hunt in different ways, while still holding to an objective standard of what it takes to be a good gun dog.
The handiest part of the breed reviews is a synopsis called “At A Glance”. It outlines the breed’s Pros and Cons and includes a useful little blurb called the “Risk Profile”. Buying a hunting dog is a gamble, and when you bet on any of the rarer breeds presented in this book, the odds against getting a good one for the field can really grow. The Risk Profile accounts for this phenomenon. It’s good to see that Koshyk is knowledgeable enough about hunting dogs to include this and responsible enough as a writer to report on it.
Beautiful, full-color pictures are another impressive part of Pointing Dogs. Koshyk is just as talented with a camera as he is with a pen, and page after page of his book come to life with photos of the dogs he writes about. This mean Pointing Dogs is rewarding to study and just plain fun to flip through and admire.
Early on in his book Koshyk explains what drove him to put the time, money, and effort into creating Pointing Dogs: Volume One: The Continentals. “If I wanted to read a book that did not exist,” he says, “I’d have to write it myself.” I’m glad he did, and I’m happy to spend time reading it again and again. If you love bird dogs, you will be, too.