Last week while looking through some old files, I came across a 10-year-old picture of Fergus as a pup. He was about 3 months old, with the black ticking that now covers him from head to toe just darkening. He’s now 10 and hunted hard for as many seasons, so we’re beginning to talk about getting another setter. It’s inevitable that some day he will slow down and then be reduced to a short hunt here and there.
Since we hunt ruffed grouse and woodcock almost exclusively, we prefer a pointing dog. If a pointing dog does its job, I find it much easier to shoot birds in the thick habitat where grouse and woodcock live. But let’s say I wanted to hunt waterfowl as well; I’d definitely be leaning towards a retriever of some kind. Fergus and Jenkins don’t like to swim, and both have a lot more point than retrieve in their make-up. Last fall, we had a lot of rainy days — days perfect for a duck blind on a small lake. Instead of sitting in a snug duck blind, I either rattled around in the dripping woods and got soaked or stayed home a fed the woodstove. Maybe we need to look for two pups — a setter and a retriever.
The argument over pointing dogs versus flushing/retrieving dogs has raged for years among bird dog camps, as it also has raged among the various breeds within these categories, like German shorthair versus English setter or Labrador versus Chesapeake. I can’t even begin to address this hot topic in a 500-word column, but it seems more prudent to ask ourselves how and what we plan to hunt than arguing about dog breeds. Some people don’t think about the huge decision of getting a dog. They don’t ask themselves what they plan to do with their future dog, whether they buy a pup or a rescue dog. They just go out looking for one, and if you end up at the breeder or the Humane Society, your sales resistance will be severely eroded. It’s hard to resist a cute pup or dog in need of a friend.
For instance, if I wanted a dog running partner, I wouldn’t get a dachshund, or if I lived in a high rise on the 15th floor in a small efficiency, I would avoid Great Danes and St. Bernards or any sort of big, rambunctious dog. First and foremost for me, I want a bird dog that points grouse and woodcock, my favorite quarry. This may change over time as I age. Upland hunting is hard work done with good legs, young legs. Like Fergus, I can’t stop my aging, and the older I get, sitting in a duck blind will no doubt grow more appealing than hiking up and down steep hills in thick cover. Say, I did see a nice looking lab pup just the other day….
Mark Parman writes from Seeley, where he lives and hunts with his wife, Susan, and their two English setters, Fergus and Jenkins.