A New Venture
About 6 years ago my brother Sean called and asked me if I wanted to go on a “bird hunt”. He works in the Washington D.C. corporate world and was looking for something exciting to do with his coworkers to build some comradery. I had only been hunting a few times in my life and was mainly into archery hunting whitetail deer. Living in the suburbs didn’t offer much opportunity to get into the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. My dad and his friends would occasionally get together to shoot skeet and I would tag along, but we hadn’t been on one of those outings in years. This was going to be a new experience for me.
My brother has a lot more experience in the outdoors. We are actually half-brothers and grew up together when we were both living with our dad in the summertime. During the school year, he lived with his mom up in Maine. Growing up in an area surrounded by wilderness meant that opportunities to seek out game were a lot more plentiful. Not to mention that up there, hunting is still a way of life. Sean explained to me what I needed to bring. I gathered my dad’s old 870, some blaze orange, hiking boots, stiff jeans, a pair of safety glasses, and drove out to the hunting property.
In Virginia, there are very few places that you can hunt wild birds and the hunting is extremely tough. My brother opted to go to a shooting preserve, where the birds that you hunt are pen raised and placed in the field the day of the hunt. This guarantees that you will get the opportunity to shoot at birds which bodes well when you are setting up a corporate event and you want everyone to have a good time. When I arrived at the hunting property I met our guide Billy, a boisterous man in his late 40’s that looked like he had spent a lifetime working outdoors. He gave us a safety briefing and showed us a place where we could shoot some skeet while he readied his dogs. We spent a few minutes breaking clays and soon Billy was on his way back with a flash of grey and brown running beside him.
I have always been a dog person. I have had them as far back as I can remember. I have had rescues, pure bred dogs, herding dogs, toy dogs, sporting dogs, pretty much the full gamut. They have always been part of our family and have always been companions. When I saw that flash of color running by, I was witnessing something that up to this point in my life had been foreign to me. I was seeing a dog that was doing what it had the genetic predisposition to do; hunt. We followed this particular dog, Zipper, into the field as she zigged and zagged back and forth with her nose constantly working. I had never seen anything like it. Suddenly, Zipper stopped dead in her tracks. She was frozen in place like someone had replaced her with a picture of herself. Billy moved in ahead of her kicking around in the brush and something burst out with its whirring wings flapping hard as it rose in the air. It had a reddish yellow body, a blueish green head, and a long tail feather. The serenity of the moment was quickly disturbed by the sound of someone yelling “SHOOT!” and a volley of shotgun blasts. The bird fell, a Ringed-neck Pheasant, and Billy sent Zipper off to retrieve it. She sprung into action, quickly located the bird in dense cover and happily brought it back to an awaiting Billy. He knelt down and took it from her, patted her on the head, and we were off hunting again.
I was hooked. After that moment, I had to know everything about that dog and how she knew how to do that. I quickly found out that I was just scratching the surface on a whole new world. It didn’t take long for Billy and me to become lifelong friends. We shared a common bond; a love for dogs. I found out that he had been raising and hunting with dogs for over 30 years. Zipper was one of four dogs that Billy had in his kennel at the time and was the veteran of the group. She was a German Wirehaired Pointer. He also had a Drahthaar, an Irish Setter, and his newest addition was a German Shorthaired Pointer Puppy named Paint. Over the next few years, I tried to learn everything I could from Billy. We spent a lot of time in the field and I watched as he trained his new puppy paint to replace his now aging veteran Zipper. Over time, it was me who began helping to guide the hunts and work the dogs. It wasn’t long that I decided it was time for me to have a bird dog of my own.
After a lot of research and talking to breeders, I found one that met exactly what I was looking for. I had decided on getting a German Shorthaired Pointer from Matt Smith at Schulhaus Kennels. Matt had a planned breeding in about 6 months and I was slotted to get a male out of his breeding. Matt introduced me to the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) and the world of hunt tests. All of his dogs would be dual registered with NAVHDA and the AKC. Smartly, he made it a requirement that his litters would undergo Natural Ability Testing through NAVHDA which forced me to find out more information about the group and join a local chapter. I quickly found out that it was a group of like minded people that wanted nothing more than to get the best out of their dogs and learn what they were capable of. I am ever grateful to Matt for introducing me to such an Organization.
As I prepared to get my new puppy I read as much as I could on training techniques and dog psychology. I wanted to be as prepared as possible when I finally got my new pup. On June 11th, 2016 my girlfriend Tracy and I drove out to pick up our puppy. He was the boldest dog in the litter and full of mischief. When I stepped into the pen where the puppies were being kept, he immediately grabbed my shoelace and began tugging on it. He was exactly what I was looking for. I knew then that I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life. We settled on the name Jackson and took him home. Over the next months that ensued we both dedicated a lot of time to him. Socializing him with other people and dogs, housebreaking, and teaching him basic commands. He accompanied me to monthly training sessions at my NAVHDA chapter. Tracy took him to the dog park everyday and around the walking path in the town near us. He has really developed well and we couldn’t be happier with him.
We have had such an awesome experience in meeting people and learning new things since we got Jackson that we have decided that we want to get more involved in this world and start our own kennel. As with most things in life that I get involved with, I have jumped in with both feet. Some people might think that I am getting things started a little prematurely and they may have a point, but I want people to be able to share in the journey and be along for the ride as we get our kennel going. My hope is that the transparency we will have from the beginning allows our customers to see us a genuine and feel like they are part of our family.
After a lot of research and in the interest of growing our kennel, we have decided to get an English Cocker Spaniel. She is due to arrive on April 9th (we should have her the end of May). We have a lot of testing to get through with both dogs and we are committed to making it happen. Jackson has his first round of NAVHDA and AKC testing coming up this spring and we will post updates as he progresses. We are also going to get him in the show ring and do some conformation testing. I have high hopes that he will do well there. Billy and I are planning on having a breeding with his shorthair and Jackson next year. As soon as we get the new pup we are going to start her training. We will be doing AKC and UKC hunt tests with her. I want people to be able to see that the dogs we have are excellent hunting companions and worthy of their investment. We have a lot of things to accomplish to make our dream a reality, but I know that we will get there. During my next post I will talk about our philosophy with our dogs and our breedings. Thanks for reading!