Man’s Best Friend

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By Brenda Shafer

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“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring— it was peace.”  – Milan Kundera

 


“The relationship you build with your dog while you are training is incredibly special,”
Tyler Pilkington says about his bird dog, Sue. “You don’t want to make them do anything. You want them to want to do it, and to be happy to do it. And that is really rewarding.”

The bond between a hunter and his dog is sacred. “There are just so many memories when you spend time in the field like we do,” says Harry Davis, Sugar’s owner. Between training and hunting, these men and their dogs spend a lot of time together, and their connection is evident.

Their dogs are also family dogs.“Both of them have their own couch,” John Lyman says of his two dogs, Boo and Otis. They follow their owners around the house, sleep in their rooms, and are pampered, just like any family dog.

Except they are instinctive hunters. “If she gets out, she runs straight across the street to this empty lot, and there is no getting her back until she goes through and makes sure there are no birds,” Daniel Waddell says about Saylor, his English Setter. “After about ten minutes, when she realizes there aren’t birds in there, she’ll come back and let me know there’s nothing there.”

There’s nothing these dogs love more than to be out retrieving, tracking, or looking for birds. These dogs get to do what they are made to do. “They love it and I love it too,” Daniel says.

“She has a one-track mind. All she wants to do is hunt.”

Daniel Waddell with Kaiser, Weimaraner, & Saylor, English Setter

 


Photos by Lanewood Studio


Hunt and Cuddle. Those two words describe Saylor, Daniel Waddell’s newest addition to the family. Saylor is an 11-month-old English Setter who doesn’t slow down, unless it’s time to nestle up to her owner. “She has a one-track mind,” Daniel says. “All she wants to do is hunt, but her next favorite thing to do is cuddle on the couch.”

“Kaiser is a spoiled teenager,” Daniel says of his two-and-a-half-year-old Weimaraner, after recounting the story of when Kaiser pretended to limp after Daniel told him no. “If I get stern with him, he will be a drama queen,” Daniel says, but when it’s time to hunt, Kaiser never fails to surprise people. “People look at me like I’m crazy bringing a Weim to hunt,” Daniel says. “But it’s fun to watch other people watch him. Their perspective changes.”

Weimaraners were originally bred as versatile hunters, but because of their rise in popularity and subsequent overbreeding, a lot of their hunting abilities were bred out and many people don’t recognize them as hunting dogs anymore. “I called between 30 and 40 kennels to find a blood line with hunting qualities,” Daniel says. His persistence paid off, as Kaiser will point, retrieve, and track.

Saylor, however, is a bird dog through and through. Daniel acquired Saylor last year because he wanted a tough, hard-hunting, fast-running bird dog. “Saylor is full speed all the time,” Daniel says. “And she is so tough.” On their last hunting trip, Saylor ran into a barbed wire fence, got a gash on her head, then ran into another one, and split her ear open. She also had sand spurs all in the pads of her feet. “She didn’t slow down a bit though,” Daniel adds proudly. She was also the only dog pointing on day one of a recent Kansas hunting trip. “It was the first day, so it took all the dogs some time to get going,” Daniel says. Except for Saylor; she was the youngest dog and the only one pointing birds that first afternoon.

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“It’s what she’s made to do.”

 

Harry Davis & Sugar, Llewellin-English Setter

 


Photos by Rich Smith


Harry Davis, with his wife Carolyn, took in Sugar when she was three years old. Gary Patton of Silver Shoe Ranch had raised a Setter litter to work the upland preserve, but Sugar was extremely skittish and not keeping up with her brothers and sisters. “It took three trips before she would let me pet her,” Harry says. “I carried cut-up hot dogs with me, and she wouldn’t even take them from my hand.” On the third trip, Sugar warmed up to Harry, and on the fourth trip, he took her home.

Harry trained Sugar himself, and now she is an excellent quail hunter. “She is very attentive on hunts, knows where you are, stays in front looking for birds, and then she will point and hold point for as long as she needs,” Harry says. “I’ve seen her hold point for more than 15 minutes.”

“Her energy is just unbelievable,” Harry says. “She didn’t miss a lick this morning, even though she hadn’t hunted since last season.” When not hunting, Sugar is calm and sweet, but she has a switch that turns on when she recognizes she’s about to hunt. “It’s what she is made to do,” Harry says.

Sugar is still a bit skittish, especially with people she doesn’t know and, oddly, with doors. “When you call her, she stops at the door and pauses to look before going,” Harry says. “She’ll try to make you go through the front door because the garage door scares her with the noise it makes.”

Harry will never forget Sugar’s first hunt. “We were in an idyllic setting, amidst the pines in a beautiful field, and she pointed. It wasn’t her first point, but it was her first hunt,” Harry reminisces. The next day Gary sent Harry a photo of that point, with the label, Cover Girl. “I didn’t know he had taken the photo,” Harry adds. “It was pretty cool.”

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“They’re all business when it comes to hunting. They’re fearless.”

Cardon Smith & Lucy, Chesapeake Bay Retriever

 


Photos by Lanewood Studio


“She will sit in the duck blind forever,” Cardon Smith says of Lucy, his Chesapeake Bay Retriever. On one hunting trip, everyone had returned to the cabin and begun cleaning birds when Cardon realized Lucy wasn’t there. “She usually just follows the four wheeler back,” he says. So, he went back to look for her and found Lucy sitting in her spot in the duck blind, still hunting. “I think she had followed the four wheeler for a while and then was just like ‘screw it, I’m gonna go hunt some more.’ She just thinks the birds will fall out of the sky for her,” Cardon says, laughing. “We were done, but she wasn’t.”

Lucy is Cardon’s second Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and he chose this breed for their single-mindedness. “They are all business when it comes to hunting,” Cardon says. “They are fearless dogs.” Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were bred for commercial duck hunting in the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay, so they are hardy dogs, who don’t hesitate when diving into deep, icy waters. Lucy has that same toughness. She doesn’t get distracted.

Cardon trained Lucy himself. “Fortunately, since I had already trained one Chesapeake, I had learned a lot and saw where I made mistakes,” Cardon says. “I have a lot more patience now than I had at 20 training my first.”

Not only is Lucy an excellent hunter, but she is also an extremely well-behaved family dog. “She has the life,” Cardon says. She is also unusually quiet. “She rarely barks, which my wife loves,” Cardon adds with a smile. “But when she is hungry or wants to tell us something, she lets out this low moan or soft growl, which is kind of funny.”

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“They’re great house dogs but they can hunt for days.”

John Lyman with Boo & Otis, Deutsch-Drahthaars

 


Photos by Lanewood Studio


“I couldn’t even spell it, nor did I even know they existed before I got one,” John Lyman says of his dogs’ unique breed, Deutsch-Drahthaar.

John was looking for the best breed to track wounded game. “I did some research and came across Deutsch-Drahthaars because they were winning blood-tracking competitions,” John says. “It sounded like a good dog for me to get.”

However, he had to put in some work to convince the breeder to sell him a puppy. “The breeder informed me that I didn’t hunt enough to have one of his dogs,” John says. “And I hunt more than most people.”

Since Deutsch-Drahthaars are versatile hunting dogs, the breeder required John to diversify his hunting. John needed to add upland birds, waterfowl, dove, rabbit, squirrel, and wild hog to his already regular schedule of big game hunting.

After several phone calls and a four-hour in-person interview, the breeder finally consented to John and his wife Sue purchasing a puppy. They purchased Tanja vom Moorehaus (all puppies are assigned German names which indicate their kennel and blood line) and renamed her Boo.

Following training, all Deutsch-Drahthaars are evaluated with two puppy tests, designed to assess their hunting abilities. “I was a nervous wreck going through it the first time,” John admits. “When it came around to training Otis, my second Deutsch-Drahthaar, I knew more of what I was doing,” John says. “So at his puppy test, Otis scored the highest of any dogs at the test.”

Boo and Otis have been fantastic hunters and family dogs. “They are great house dogs, calm and peaceful, but then they can be outside and hunt for days,” John says. Because of their exceptional ability, John has lent out Boo and Otis to track wounded game for other hunters. One of John’s clients sent his company Learjet to fly Boo down to Mississippi to track a wounded deer. It’s nothing for Boo and Otis to find three-day-old game.

“I stumbled into it by accident,” John says about finding the breed Deutsch-Drahthaar, “but have really enjoyed them.”

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“He just thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world.”

 
Matt Bentley & GunnerBlack Labrador Retriever

 


 Photos by Rich Smith


Matt Bentley, general manager of Bendabout Properties, needs a dog he can count on. Gunner is what Labradors are known for – loyal, eager to please, and friendly – but he’s also a cut above your regular lab. “He’s versatile in the field,” says Matt, who works Gunner for upland birds, waterfowl, and dove hunting.

“He’ll sit motionless, observing a flight of ducks, just waiting for my command,” Matt says. “I’ll say, ‘mark,’ and when I do, he’ll look up to the sky. He’ll watch my face and see which way I’m looking, then he’ll watch that particular duck or dove. He marks it himself, and he knows I’m ready to shoot. Once I shoot the bird down, he waits on my signal to fetch.”

“The motionless part is very important,” Matt says. “Because if the birds see a dog moving around, they’ll realize I’m there to shoot.”

Gunner will also locate, flush, and retrieve. “He has an excellent nose, so we work him to find pheasants,” Matt says. “He’ll also retrieve quail and bring them back to the hunting wagon.”

Gunner’s favorite activity is retrieving.
“He just thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Matt says. On one particular pheasant hunt in Wyoming, Gunner showed off his exceptional skill. Another hunter shot and injured a pheasant, who landed on an island in the middle of a huge lake. “Everyone on the trip was trying to use their dogs to retrieve the bird, but none of the dogs would even attempt to cross the lake,” Matt says. “They’d go out and swim a bit, then come right back.” Not Gunner though. Matt pointed Gunner in the right direction, and he made the long swim to bring back the bird. “Everyone was so excited,” says Matt, proudly. “It was by far Gunner’s best retrieve.”

Gunner’s personality lives up to his ability. “He’s very regal when he gets alert,” Matt says. “When you’re whispering to him saying ‘mark’ or ‘watch it’ or ‘what’s that,’ he perks up and gets that regal look.”

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“Willie has had some brilliant finds. She’s uncanny.”

 
Summerfield Johnston & WilhelminaGerman Wirehaired Dachshund

 


Photos by Rich Smith


Willie is Summerfield Johnston’s German Wirehaired Dachshund, who can easily track a two-day-old blood trail. Summerfield, owner of Bendabout Farms, does a lot of big game hunting and uses Willie to find wounded elk or deer. “Willie has had some brilliant finds. She’s uncanny,” Summerfield says. “But once she finds a deer, she considers it her deer. Better not get your hand in the way,” says Summerfield, laughing.

Wilhelmina, Willie’s German name, comes from a rare blood line. There are only three breeders in the United States, and there’s an agreement between the breeders–only two of them breed each year. They take turns to keep the population controlled, and they have strict requirements for breeding. Matt Bentley, who purchased her on behalf of Summerfield, says the breeder required a certificate saying Willie was spade, or if they wanted to breed Willie, she would have to place in blood-trailing competitions first.

Willie has a very distinct personality, and she clearly loves her owner. She gets jealous easily, and she pitches a fit anytime Summerfield leaves her. “She is always at my heels around the house,” Summerfield says. “She gets under my feet a lot.”

Willie also gets overly excited when she sees a deer. “She comes unglued,” Matt adds. “In her excitement, she has to chew on something.” That something usually ends up being the car door. “I’ve replaced the car door three times,” Summerfield says. Willie also likes to fish and swim, but in her eagerness, she tends to go overboard when trying to catch a fish.

Willie might get overexcited seeing a deer or fish, but when it’s time to pick up the scent, she’s all business. “She doesn’t bark. She trails silently,” Summerfield says. “Matt did most of the training, but you don’t have to train them much. It’s instinctive.”

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“I feel very fortunate to have him.”

 
Tyler Pilkington & SueGerman Wirehaired Pointer

 


Photos by Lanewood Studio


“I feel very fortunate to have him,” Tyler says of Sue, his six-year-old German Wirehaired Pointer.

Named Sue after the song, “A Boy Named Sue,” this bird dog is very eager to obey his owner. “Sue loves to retrieve, and he is ever so pleased with himself when he does,” Tyler says.

Tyler works Sue for duck and dove hunting primarily. “Sue is a very good working dog,” Tyler says. “The wiry coat makes him almost indestructible in briars and ice. I have pictures of him where his beard is frozen solid, and it doesn’t slow him down a bit,” says Tyler, proudly. “When I get out his camouflaged vest, he gets so excited. He loves wearing his hunting vest. He also loves wearing the sock monkey costume my wife got him,” Tyler says with a laugh.

“He is a nester,” Tyler adds, describing Sue’s clownish personality. “He will make a nest in a chair or blanket. He looks like a little hedgehog ‘cause his hair is so bristly–all you see are his beady black eyes.”

Sue clearly leads the life of luxury with Tyler and his wife Ashley, and is a very well-behaved dog. His only weakness is bread. “He will never take anything off the kitchen counter except bread,” Tyler says. “But he is so upset with himself if he has done that. I’ll come home and he has vanished.”

Sue was still a puppy-in-training when Tyler took him on his first hunt. “I thought he did pretty well. He would retrieve the doves, but he also ran around a little bit – I mean he was a puppy at the time,” Tyler says. “One older gentleman with us, a man of few words, said, ‘Yeah, you got a pretty good dog there.’ And, I’m glowing on the inside. I was falling over myself thanking him. Then he goes, ‘What’s his name again? NoSueNo?’ Apparently, I had been yelling, ‘No! Sue, No!’ the whole time,” Tyler says. “It was pretty funny.”

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