Training started right the moment you gathered that little ball of fur up in your arms for the first time, and it will never end. It’s a continuum of more and bigger distractions your dog must learn to ignore while executing your commands, and “finished dog” is always a relative term.
You can’t go wrong with a few basics: Rick Smith, son of legendary trainer Delmar Smith, says your dog should stop, go away from you, and come back to you when you want.
Every dog progresses at his own pace, but here are some rough guidelines to follow on your first year (or so) together.
AGE 2 to 4 MONTHS
Acquaint your buddy with people,grooming, places, doctoring, and once vaccinations are complete other friendly dogs. This is the time for housebreaking, crate training, teaching your pup to respond to his name, and the meaning of “no.” Mild exercise only—his joints’ growth plates aren’t ready for sustained running or jumping. Acquaint him with a leash and collar , but no yanking; you get more cooperation with praise than with punishment.
AGE 5 to 7 MONTHS
Obedience is the main goal, getting the dog to come when you called and yield to a leash are the first success. Brave puppies can explore the field on a check-cord, learning the windshield-wiper pattern you’ll want them to employ in the field. When your pup sits on his own, overlay the command “hup.” Start gently holding your pointer while introducing “whoa,” on a training table if you have one.
Introducing dead birds during this age window will kindle the dog’s prey drive, and if you can keep up, you might check-cord your pup into the scent cone of hard-flushing live birds. Pointers might flash point, and with a firm grip on the cord they will start learning steadiness to wing. Spaniels and retrievers that know “hup” can be encouraged to sit on flush, but this exercise is really about getting them fired up about bird contact, not performance.
Have fun times in warm, shallow water are also important, but let pup decide when to swim. Introduce gunfire, starting at a distance with cap guns and then moving to blank pistols and small-gauge shotguns, always while pup is reveling in bird contact.
AGE 8 to 11 MONTHS
Introduce the electronic training collar, only using it when you are certain he fully understands a command. Pointing instincts are becoming prominent now. Retrievers and versatile dogs should bring retrieving bumpers back, at least most of the way. If he’s been properly introduced to guns, take pup hunting for short stints. Field dogs should be patterning back and forth (check-cord attached), close for the spaniels and retrievers, at natural range for pointing breeds.
AGE 12 to 16 MONTHS
Your buddy should have most obedience commands down pat. Pointers should stand a bird until it flies. Flushers should “hup” on the flush. Learning “blind manners”—sitting in silence and still while hunters call ducks—can now be a priority for any dog expected to work the marsh. Ditto for easy marks (watching falling birds to ensure accurate retrieves).
Dog training is a lifetime of devotion, fun, effort, heartaches and headaches, and occasional triumphs for each of you. It’s a series of baby steps and quantum leaps, plateaus and regression. Even the best pup will go off the rails, so plan on frequent remedial work. But when he points his first ringneck or churns toward a downed pintail, you’ll know it was worth every minute.
Far from the skyline, the wings of 30,000 migrating fowl turn a clear blue sky with specks of black. Dots hover around a cyclone of geese that carry the mass from the wintry South Dakota landscape all the way to the stratosphere. But the problem is here: The birds are not sharing the same field with us.
Those first frustrating hours spent tucked inside a ground blind next to 1,200 decoys were the exception. The norm was wave after wave of geese that offered shots until our shoulders ached. The best part? Anyone with a shotgun and a little extra money can get in on the action.
Getting snow geese to drop in on your spread means finding the flocks and getting as many decoys as you can on the ground before they come back. You will need help if you don’t use an outfitter so bring a dog who is willing to knock on doors and spend the better part of normal sleeping hours setting up a spread that will fool birds who have seen it all.
A simple rule, spread as many decoys as you can. But no matter how you set it up, there is a good chance that the lowest flying geese will be over the area of your spread with the most movement. Battery powered bouncers are a best choice but other non- motorized moving decoys can work effectively. The point is to get movement in your spread and place your portable blinds within 10 yards. Don’t forget that birds like to land with their wings into the wind but also remember to position yourself to shoot when geese are close.
When it comes to calling, nothing can beats amplified callers although when you are laying under thousands circling geese it is hard to hear anything. Do it yourselfers need to bring as much gear as possible and plan to spend few days locating flocks of geese in fields before setting up. Land owners, especially the ones with crops are normally happy to let you hunt. This holds true all throughout the migration routes of these birds that have reached nuisance status in much of the country.
Movable lay out blinds that blend in are necessary. With thousands of eyes looking at you it won’t be too hard to flare a few hundred birds with glare from the ground. One important you should know that geese will start flying north in late winter and you’ve got to intercept them on their way.
“Geese follow the snow line, where ever that is” says Dan Hogfoss, Owner of Goosehog Outdoors. And Dan should know, for over ten years he has followed the snow goose migration from Arkansas to the Canadian border and back every year.
If you and all your friends are too lazy, a reputable outfitter like Dan is the way to go. There are many outfitters who can put you on birds when they come through their area and then there are guides who will get you in front of geese all season long no matter which state they are in. If you’re dreaming of watching the sky rain geese affordable hunts are available but buyers beware, find an outfitter who is willing and able to follow the migration from state to state and has a reputation for keeping hunters in front of birds.
Good outfitters will have a reputation in the business and have a long list of references for you to call. If you can’t find references on the websites and the outfitter can’t or won’t give you some phone numbers I suggest calling a different outfitter. While you can’t always rely on photos as accurate depictions, one thing I look for is a good number of photos on the outfitters webpage. Those photos should have one or two guides who always seem to be in the mix with different hunters.
Even in this day and age of social media and video feeds nothing can beats a phone call to the outfitter. Ask your questions, hear the voice of a real person and develop a relationship with them. This is one of the most important aspects of choosing a guide that we are losing as sportsmen and that is a huge mistake. Pick up the phone.
All good hunts start with good spreads made where birds will see them. The real advantages to a guided hunt are apparent when all the scouting is done before you get there and expensive decoys covering an acre or two of real estate are set up right where they need to be. And if you’re lucky guides will be accompanied by eager dogs.
Whether you are a die-hard do it yourselfer with one thousand white garbage bags and stakes or a willing customer to a quality outfitter, laying under thousands of honking geese is an absolute rush. If you’ve never experienced it there’s never been a better time than right now to “call”.
We have rounded up the best field and training tips from some of the best gun dog trainers out there. These quick simple guidelines will help hunters navigate everything from basic training principles to coaching a flock-busting turkey dog.
Not all retrievers are made for big water. “Your dog has to be very confident in his abilities and have a high prey drive, because what you’re asking for is far above and beyond normal duties.”
Even if your dog has what it takes but you should start with short bumper retrieves in a big, but calm, lake. Then, increase retrieve distances using a dummy launcher or a buddy in a boat.
Have the dog swim in big waves before the real hunt. Remember, his eyes will only be 4 inches above the surface, so the bumper will keep disappearing from his line of sight as he swims through the chop. Your dog needs to learn to stick with the retrieve even when he can not see the bumper.
Check out Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer, by John Jeanneney. This is essential reading for anyone who interested in tracking dogs. But also make sure that blood-tracking big game is legal in your area.
There’re tracking-dog clubs all across the country that offer training days and seminars. It is way easier to learn from a veteran trainer than to figure it out on your own.
You will need these from your next deer to get your dog keyed in to deer scent.
Once your dog is a trained tracker, he will need real-world assignments each fall to improve his skill. Fifteen to twenty tracking jobs per season is ideal.
You are the one who decide the range that your dog hunts, not the other way around. Usually, the faster you walk, the farther your dog will range. If you slow down, it is easier to bring him in closer.
Sometimes you will want the dog to range way out, but you do not want to be yelling across the prairie for him to come back. So train your hard-charging dog to return on a whistle (which is easier for him to hear than hollering) or to the buzz of his e-collar.
Fall turkey dogging bears little resemblance to spring gobbler hunts. In fall, turkeys are usually found in gobbler groups or flocks made up of multiple adult hens and poults. Dogs are used to disperse the flocking birds, which are keen to remain together. Once turkeys have been scattered, they’ll attempt to re-call and often gather at the precise point of the flock break. And this is where hunters should be waiting. By matching the tone and cadence of the first re-calling bird, you can often bring the entire flock in.
Boykin spaniels may be historically bred specifically for fall turkey hunting, modern breeding has given rise to specialized lines such as the late John Byrne’s Appalachian turkey dog, which is a mix of pointer, English setter, and Plott hound. These are by no means the only dogs capable of breaking up a fall flock of wild turkeys. Renegade flushers are regularly re-trained to hunt turkeys.
“Remember, a good turkey dog is basically a bass-ackwards bird dog,” Byrne said. “They range too far, chase birds clear out of your sight most of the time, and then bark when they do it.”
Steve Hickoff has successfully trained two English setters to become fall flock busters. “The basic Particularity to look for in a potential turkey dog are a strong prey drive, the ability to run big, a desire to check back regularly, and the capability of smelling or tracking flocks,” says Hickoff. “Ideally, the dog should bark or be taught to bark on the flock break, which will helps you find that break site, where you need to set up. Finally, the dog needs to be trained to sit silently and calmly in a dog blind during the re-call.”
Sit, come, stay, heel. If your dog has not mastered these commands, he doesn’t ready to hunt.
You should expose the dog to the smells, sounds, and gear he will experience in the field. That means decoys, boats, dog blinds, gunfire, duck calls and waders.
Your dog needs to have some experience with game before the hunt. Work a bird dog on pigeons or at least feathered bumpers.
By Andrew McKean
We’ve been here for many times, you and me, hunting the old slough behind the line of rattle-branch cottonwoods. We stay away during deer season, but only partly because we both know a big old Milk River buck could show up someday and we don’t want to scare him off. The main reason is that the pheasants won’t pile into the slough until it starts getting cold, in December. After the black water get freeze, the roosters tuck into the cat-tails, try to keep warm and digest crops full of barley and wheat, and that is where we find them on afternoons like this, the wind cutting through our coats and fresh tracks in the new snow.
We know where the roosters are holding, and we don’t have to trade looks or commands as we round the willow stand and go toward the swamp. We’re going to the same place we have hunted together many times a year over a dozen seasons, and we walk side-by-side, taking our time. The long-spurred cocks are tunneled into the thickest cat-tails in the rotten heart of the slough, where they can hear us now, crunching on the just-frozen ground.
They are nervous, like the phalanx of twitchy hens in the orchard grass that skirts the slough, but instead of coiling to flush when we approach, the cagy cocks resist the urge to fly and instead go lower, crouching into the murk to hide their gaudiness in a shadowy maze of standing stalks.
Their location will be revealed, as usual, by their putrescence, and we will follow intensifying hits of tangy scent to its source. If we each do our job, the roosters will flush at the very last possible second, shattering cattails as they tower and cackle into the pewter sky. If we each do our job, the shot will be good, the retrieval uncomplicated, and when the sundown another limit will be cleaned on the frosty tailgate of the old pickup.
We know some hunts are not straightforward. Sometimes the ice is not good and we can not reach the best spots. The rooster sometimes runs instead of flies, the shot sometimes isn’t good, and birds with ruined wings but uninjured legs sometimes get away. Those are the times we trade sideways looks at one another, blaming each other for the lost rooster in silently. A disgusted glance says more than a shout or a growl ever could.
Every day we have hunted this slough over the past 12 years has been different, and today is different, too. The ice is so new that the stringy old roosters may not all be concentrated in that half acre of matted cattails. There may be some easier ones today, in the thinner cover. And today the wind is out of the east, so we circle wide in the alfalfa before entering the slough’s west edge. This never changes: We’re both nearly freezing with expectation as we stop and assess the conditions.
You do not spend 12 years with a hunting partner and not know their abilities as well as their shortcomings. We’re both smarter hunters than we once were, but we’re also stiffer and slower, expectant but cautious, a counterbalanced helix of thrill and apprehension. We’re both nervous about the thickness of that ice, which is why we do not chase right into the slough.
Just two weeks ago, in South Dakota, we hunted a different, unfamiliar type of cover. Grainy milo fields and waving bluestem hid the scent of a different kind of bird. Prairie chickens look and smell like sharp-tails, but they flush wild like Hungarian partridges, in coveys, with one or two stragglers that hold too long, and those are the birds we carry in our mouth and game bag. The mid-November days in Dakota were different from our home in Montana, the weather is hot and dusty, and we both hunting at our best in the first and last hours of the day, when the scent hung like honey from the grass and the long light somehow made the shooting easier.
We camped on that trip, sharing our space with Otis and her Alex, who drove in from Minnesota. Our dogs Mark and Bill traveled with us in a motor home, which had a bed in back and, up front, our bearskin rug, brought from its place in front of the fireplace at home. In Pierre, we met up with Uncle Ken and his two trip-wire Griffs, Cooper and Cider. We flushed pheasants and grouse around abandoned homesteads that smelled like cats. We slept out on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, under the purple Dakota sky, and cooked the birds that came from the prairie all around us.
That trip was one we had promised each other for years, a week of hunting in the crucible of America’s upland country for ringnecks and grouse and maybe even ducks. Those other birds are fine, but it is pheasants that have always quickened our blood. Maybe it is because we live so closely with them on our place in Montana. Either of us could walk out from the house and flush at least one rooster almost any time we wanted in the brushy ditches and grassy fence lines around the fields. But we do not. We hunt together, because a bird we team up for counts for more than one that we get on our own. A bird from the slough counts for even more, maybe because we have hunted here together so often that it seems like the very source of our bond. It is where we learned each other’s talents and limitations, commands and responses, and where we have lain together in the cured grass, watching the autumn sky change as a limit of birds cools between us.
In Dakota, we were both younger. Maybe it was hunting new country, with new company. Or maybe it was the painkillers—ibuprofen and Rimadyl—that loosened our limbs and opened our gait. Or maybe it was playing with our younger companions during breaks for water and shade. But now, after a long day in the office and low clouds bringing another winter, both of us are creaky. So we wait on the edge of the slough, sniffing the wind and deciding whether to trust the ice.
A bird makes the decision for us. A rooster can not stand the gathering suspense and flushes wild.
So I go, like I always go, nose down on a hot scent that reels me into the reeds. I am close—so close—to a bird I can almost grab with my mouth when my feet stop working. Suddenly I am wet and cold, looking up at the sky through the spiky cattails, broken ice all around.
A rooster explodes ahead just as I break through the ice. Cold water pours over my boots, but I am just a few feet into the slough, and I stagger backward to solid ground. I can not see Willow in the cattails, but I hear her, snuffing, filling her nose with the heavy wet smell of a huddled rooster. Just as I realize that the ice is too thin for her, I hear her break through, too.
I hear myself whine a little. I can not keep my head up, but maybe if I swim under the ice I will find her. I always find her.
I hear a feeble whine from Willow. I throw down my vest and gun, calling her name, and charge into the slough, breaking ice as I go.
When I finally find her, she is just a couple of feet from shore, trapped under ice so thick I have to hammer it with my shotgun stock to break through. I pull her up, through the rotten cattails and icy water into the weak light, but she is already gone. I hold her yellow head. For the first time in a dozen years together, I am the only one who is trembling.
By Tom Dokken, as told by Tony Peterson
There was only one female chocolate Lab in the small litter of six pups, and she was a runt. But not just any runt. She was the weakest runt I have ever seen. Not only was she about three-quarters the size of the other pups, she also had an underdeveloped back leg. But my wife, Tina, wanted her anyway. I was sure that even if the little runt survived, she was not going to be a hunting dog. The decision, however, was not mine to make. We named her Sage.
The other puppies bullied Sage, so we pulled her from the litter and bottle-fed her. With special care and attention, Sage survived, and soon it was time to start training.
Training any puppy is a gentle process. With Sage, it required more patience than usual. It took her a year to get through the training that most of our puppies accomplish in months. But slowly her leg healed, and we coaxed her out of her shell.
Against all odds, Sage went from being the weakest puppy I had handled in decades of dog training to an all-out bird-hunting machine. I have a lot of good memories of Sage, but one stands out as the greatest big-water retrieve I have ever witnessed.
Tina and I were hunting in a 2,000-acre lake in South Dakota during the late season. It was chilly (probably in the mid-30s), and the wind was whipping at 35 mph from the north. The main part of the lake was rolling with 3-foot whitecaps, so we set up in a small bay.
Before long, Tina shot a drake wigeon and she sent Sage out for what we thought could be a routine retrieve. But when Sage was just about to reach the duck, the drake sprang to life. Sage was too close for us to swat the duck, so we just watched as the drake swam out and then dove. He popped up farther away, and then he dove again. And again. The crippled drake led Sage out of the bay and into the big rollers on the main lake. We could see Sage for a second through the whitecaps and then she’d disappear behind the crest of another wave.
At that point Sage was a few hundred yards out, with the wind blowing her and the duck even farther to the middle of the lake. She could not hear our whistles over the wind, and our concern switched from losing the duck to possibly losing our buddy. I took off running in my chest waders for our boat, which was a few hundred yards away. But when I reached the boat, I heard Tina yelling and saw her waving wildly at me from back in the blind. I looked way out into that gray, rolling water to see the white belly of a wigeon in Sage’s mouth as she paddled back toward us against the chop. Somehow I had underestimated Sage yet again.
By Alex Robinson
By the time Sean Timmens got his Bavarian mountain hound, Kieler, to the hit site, it had been 41 hours since the bowhunter had put an arrow in the buck.
At age 6, the hound was a veteran tracker who had successfully recovered more than 100 deer, but everything was working against him in this case. The shooter, Wisconsin bowhunter Justin Peak, had arrowed a nice buck during the afternoon of November 8. Peak tried to blood-trail the deer that evening but called it off later that night. The next morning, he went back with buddies and they searched for seven hours, running extensive grids across the property. Then they called Timmens, who runs Kieler after mortally wounded deer for $100 a pop.
This was a worst-case scenario for a blood-tracking dog. Generally, 48 hours is the maximum amount of time in which a dog can pick up a scent trail, Timmens says. And the hunters had tromped all over the property, unknowingly spreading tiny blood spores and scent from the deer’s trail to the vegetation around it.
But if there was any dog in the area that could find the buck, it was Kieler. Timmens, a veteran bird dog trainer, brought the hound from Poland as a puppy, specifically to be a blood-tracker. Right away he was amazed by Kieler’s combination of easy-going personality and impressive athletic ability.
“He is the most laid-back people dog I have ever had,” Timmens says. “But, he is also 52 pounds of pure muscle and surprisingly agile. Out in the yard, he outruns my shorthairs.”
Kieler wears a harness that attaches to a 30-foot lead that Timmens holds as they work through the woods. When Timmens gets to a hit site, he gives Kieler a single command: “Let’s go to work.”
When he is hot on a track, Kieler keeps hard, steady pressure on the lead, his nose vacuums the ground, and he snorts the whole way like a pig.
So when Kieler pulled Timmens from the hit site down a steep ridge, through a mixed hardwoods, and then toward a big draw, keeping his nose to the ground the entire time, Timmens knew his dog was nailing the track. Instead of going up the draw, Kieler veered right and headed into a thicket of chest-high briars and honeysuckle. The hound disappeared into the tangle, and seconds later Timmens could hear him thrashing around and chewing the dead buck’s hind legs.
They had traveled 600 yards and found the buck in just 15 minutes.
“I called back to the hunter, who was about 20 yards behind us: ‘You want to see your buck?’ ” Timmens says. “And he was just in total awe.”
By Scott Linden
Scratch hunts as if every day were his last, perhaps because he has already faced off with the Grim Reaper—twice.
The massive German shorthaired pointer weighs 75 pounds and can easily rest his head on the dining room table. His lanky, long legs are always reaching as he runs all-out, to hell with trees, briars, barbed wire, or other dogs. Scratch’s owner, Nancy
Anisfield is the polar opposite of her dog—calm, level-headed, and a careful hunter. But she lets Scratch run big. He is a three-ring circus of trips, stumbles, cuts, and head bumps.
On his very first quail hunt, the 11-month-old Scratch was run over by a Jeep. It was one of those fancy big rigs that some quail plantations use, with platforms for hunters and boxes for the dogs. But Scratch was too big to fit in the dog box, so Anisfield had him riding up front. He slipped off the Jeep platform and fell beneath the wheel. He was degloved—the skin was peeled off his entire leg.
Scratch underwent a major surgery and five days of hospitalization. Some might argue that the surgery was not worth it, and the dog should have been put down because, even if he did recover, he would never be the same. But Anisfield never entertained that notion.
One hundred stitches and six weeks later, Scratch was in the hunt again. As soon as he was let out, he peed on a truck tire and bolted toward a scrubby patch of loblolly pine, where he came to a quivering point. Then, finding his footing, Scratch leapt skyward, flying higher than a dog should be able to, stretching for a chittering bobwhite as it flushed. In one incredible leap, muscle, bone, and heart functioned at maximum capacity. This was not the move of a finished pointing dog, but it made a bold statement: Scratch was back.
The pointer found himself in trouble again just weeks before the 2013 North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association test (a highly esteemed invitational hunt test). While retrieving a bumper, Scratch’s stomach twisted, which is usually a fatal affliction for a hunting dog. During the scramble to the vet, it un-twisted, but the vet performed a preventative surgery to avert another episode. Incredibly, three weeks later, Scratch ran the NAVHDA course, but he botched a double-mark retrieve and failed.
There are no mulligans in NAVHDA, so it was back to training for Anisfield and Scratch. Over the course of two years, Scratch pointed hundreds of birds, covered thousands of acres, and completed dozens of water retrieves. He stumbled, suffered cuts and bruises, and worked through snow and heat. The work paid off and in 2015, Scratch requalified for the big invitational.
Just 90 dogs had qualified, and typically only about half pass the test.
During the final leg of the test, Scratch churned through 80 yards of open water and made quick work of the ground search. With a bold splash, he started back with a pheasant gripped softly in his mouth. He had given it his all, but was it enough?
It was crickets as Scratch’s scores were announced. The versatile dog training circle is a small one, and most in the crowd knew what Scratch and Anisfield had been through to get this far. Then at last the scores were totaled and the crowd heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Scratch was finally a champion.
By Gerry Bethge
I entered the peculiar turkey-dog universe when a little puppy named Jake arrived via U.S. Air on a snowy January afternoon in New England.
I got the dog from renowned turkey-dog breeder John Byrne, and his last bit of training advice was this: “Just give Jake some access to turkeys. The rest will take care of itself.”
The nor’easter intensified on the ride home from the airport, and by the time I reached hunting camp, more than 6 inches of snow had fallen atop the foot we already had. While my 10-week-old pup chased my giggling 3-year-old daughter, Amy, around the kitchen, I busied myself with the woodstove.
Then, I got a gift from the turkey gods.
Through the thick condensation of the front-door glass, I could make out three dark forms walking down the driveway toward the house. I wiped away the fog to see three adult gobblers standing just 20 feet away in the blowing snow. Not expecting much, I picked up Jake and headed out into the storm. By the time I got out the front door, the toms had gained 50 yards on us and were at the wood line. Jake hit the ground running, though it was more hopping between chest-deep snowdrift plunges. Puppy legs churning away, he followed the tracks precisely, first to the wood line, and then on up the hill directly behind the now-out-of-sight gobblers. I foundered in the snow, too, with admittedly more quit than Jake. I called off the chase after 300 yards. I did not want to lose this puppy after only a few hours of owning him.
Soaked and shivering, Jake was a mess. So I tucked my new little turkey dog into my coat and headed back to camp, already thinking ahead to fall.
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Dry-land mountain-lion hunting requires a special hound—a dog with stamina, a good nose, and most important, a drive that will carry her over rough terrain behind a trail of evaporating scent.
The Uncompahgre Plateau of western Colorado, where Cliff Carney guides lion hunts, is a landscape that will test even the most experienced lion dog. It consists of rimrock canyons, cedar forests, and rocky draws. It is tough country, and it is where Carney’s one-year-old redtick pup Lacey would get her first test.
Lacey showed promise early on. She was eager to learn and easy to handle, and she developed a strong bond with Carney. So, naturally, he wanted to get her on a hunt and have her learn from his veteran dogs.
Lacey and the rest of Carney’s pack (a mix of blueticks and bluetick-Walker crosses) struck the trail of a mature tom during Colorado’s spring season. Judging by the size of the lion’s paw print, Carney and his best friend, Shawn Tyner, had a good idea they were on a very big tom. The dogs ran behind the cat all day, crossing broken scrabble and sheer rock. By late afternoon, the hounds were exhausted, so Carney called off the chase for the day.
Just after dawn the next morning, they picked up the track again. Lacey sat out this hunt because Carney did not want to put too much pressure on his promising young dog. Again, the dry air and heat were too much for the fatigued hounds, and Carney made the call to abandon the hunt.
By the third day, the dogs were rested but not at full capacity, except for Lacey. But Carney and Tyner decided to try once more, and they headed for the roughest strip of country in the area.
A flock of crows alerted Carney to a dead cow elk. Not far from the kill, they cut a cat’s track, and they suspected that it was the big tom they were chasing. The hunt was back on.
Throughout the morning, Carney watched on his GPS tracker as his dogs dropped from the race. First was his hound Jet, who became trapped on a ledge and needed to be rescued. Then his old, experienced hounds, Sam and Stoker, slowed and dropped from the hunt. Before long, only a single blip on his GPS was still pushing the trail. It was the redtick pup Lacey. She was running the lion solo.
This was a problem. If Lacey managed to catch the lion by herself, she would likely be killed. A pack of hounds can keep a lion at bay with relatively little risk. But a single dog, especially an inexperienced pup like Lacey, was an easy mark for a big tom. As the signal from her collar traced a path directly through the roughest canyon country in the Uncompahgre, the hunters set out at a lung-bursting pace.
They followed Lacey through big canyons, the sound of her raspy bawls echoing against the rimrock. Finally, the two hunters followed the GPS signal up a ridge to a narrow ledge that dropped 300 feet to the canyon floor below. There at the edge stood Lacey, eye-to-eye with a furious tom.
The older dogs, Stoker and Sam, caught up then, and the three hounds stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the cat, their howls booming off the rock walls. Tyner quickly killed the lion, bringing the three-day chase to an end. The big tom weighed almost 200 pounds.
But for Carney—a lifelong houndsman—there was something much more rewarding than a trophy cat at the end of the track. When he cut Lacey loose, she was a promising but untested pup. Now she was a true lion hunter.
We dig into the ordered list archives for the historical trends on man’s best hunting buddy.
Most great campfire debates will never end, but up to now, the case is closed on an old favorite: Which breed makes the best hunting dog? The numbers don’t lie, and in this year the American Kennel Club named the Labrador retriever the most popular breed in the country—for the 26th year running. Those numbers don’t specify the best sporting dog, but they are a good indicator. This is a look at a few of the breeds OL favored back in the old day, long before the Lab was crowned—for now—king.
Although the American cocker spaniel reigned from 1936 to 1952 at the top of AKC’s charts, ordered list had its own ideas. Dog editor William Cary Duncan pointedly rejected it as a “bona fide sporting dog” in a 1943 article, instead listing these breeds as his Big Six among some 40 others: the pointer, foxhound, English and Irish setters, beagle, greyhound. He also named three up and comers: the German short-haired, English springer spaniel, and Lab.
As far as we can tell, the only OL staffer who openly admitted to owning poorly trained dogs was Pat McManus. In a 2006 article, “Man’s Worst Friend,” McManus reminisced about a string of subpar dogs, including the infamous mutt Strange. “I won’t go into detail about his bad habits,” he wrote, “but if he had been a human, he would have been arrested in most states.”
The Dangers of Denouncing a Breed
“If I were foolish enough to intimate that any one of the 37 bowwows I’ve mentioned was anything but an ideal house and street dog, 67 owners and operators of that particular breed would form a posse, stand me up against the nearest stone wall, and shoot me at sunrise. If it happened on a cloudy day, they’d go by their watches, and use daylight-saving time to get me out of circulation an hour earlier.”
—W.C. Duncan, “Non-Sporting Breeds as Hunters,” June 1939