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The Joy of a Gun Dog by Todd Butler

I love wing shooting.  And while I enjoy all aspects of the sport, the look and feel of a fine shotgun, the tradition and style of the clothing and equipment, perhaps my greatest pleasure is watching the gundogs work, whether a Brittany, an English Pointer, a German Shorthair or a Heinz 57 mutt .  It never fails to amaze me when I see the dogs working a field, using all of their god-given instincts and abilities in the hunt.  The joy they take in the work is evident in the happy barks, the furious wagging of the tail, the bounding joy as they work a field and the intensity in their eyes.  Numerous great outdoor writers such as Charlie Waterman and George Bird Evans wrote most eloquently of this joy.  If you have never enjoyed their works I highly encourage you to seek them out.  They sum up beautifully the special qualities of the gundog and the special relationship between people and their hunting dogs. 

Over the years I have been fortunate to hunt over some excellent dogs, but I never really had the opportunity to have such a partner to call my own.  This last year Karen and I took steps to correct this when we chose Casey, our German Shorthair pup, or rather when Casey chose us.  Once the choice is made the possibilities are limitless and all gundog people dream big about the future.  For me there is something exciting about looking for that special animal whether it is a dog or a horse.  You are choosing a companion for life, someone you hope will be a good partner in the field.  And no matter how much research you do into bloodlines and performance records it is all a bit of a crapshoot, because you can never measure the heart.  “You can’t put in what God left out” to quote a famous someone who escapes me now.  There is always that intangible quality that no amount of training can create.  But how do you make those possibilities a reality?  Where to start?  You can read countless books and view DVDs by the thousand but unfortunately dogs can’t read and they lose interest quickly in television.  So while you may understand the process, your hunting partner only has instinct and your ability to teach to rely upon.  Most of us attempt to train our own gundogs with varying degrees of success.  At some point the dog stops learning good habits and things quickly become frustrating for both partners.  Perhaps you need to find a professional trainer.  Who do you chose? 

There is an old saying in horse racing, “Any trainer can make a great animal good but it takes a special trainer to make a good animal great.”  I believe this holds true with dogs as well.  With all of this in mind, Karen and I made the choice to send Casey to a professional trainer, Mr. Chuck Tash of Tash Kennels in Florence, Alabama.  We were very fortunate to find Chuck.  He is a man who truly enjoys what he does and does it well.  Over the course of his career he has trained numerous National Shoot To Retrieve Association (NSTRA) Champions and the 2003 National Quail Invitational Champion, Tash’s Lulu.  He works from daylight until dark with Bird Dogs and Labs seven days a week, and clearly loves his job.  He only keep 10-15 dogs to train at a time because he wants to give special attention to the dogs he is working with at the kennels.  He trains each dog based on the particular dog’s temperament and level of maturity.  He has hunted in many states and has trained field trial and hunting dogs for customers throughout the United States.  Perhaps most important for us and for Casey, he has considerable experience with dogs from the Elk River Rex bloodline.  This proved invaluable as he understands her weaknesses and strengths and is able to work through and develop them.  He also has seemingly limitless patience with people and the ability to pass on his knowledge.  Too frequently both are rare commodities. 

Casey was 11 months old when Karen delivered her to Chuck.  She understood basic commands such as sit, stay, come (although that was usually dependant upon the number of birds flying at any given time) and was retrieving her Kong to hand.  She had also been exposed to quail and pheasant wings and a dummy quail with scent.  However she was also somewhat spoiled what with sleeping in the house (usually on our bed) and a tendency to ignore commands when focused on birds or flies.  Chuck told us he wanted to keep her for a week or so to evaluate her.  His main concern was that we not waste our money on training if she was not going to hunt.  After two weeks he let us know that she was making progress and was pointing.  He continued to work with her.  In September he asked us to come out and visit so that we could view her progress.  Karen went as I was unfortunately not able to.  And the excitement was evident in her voice as she described the moment when Casey pointed the first bird and then retrieved it straight away.  It was a wonderful moment.  Chuck continued to work with Casey giving us regular updates on her progress.  Last week we determined that she was ready to come home.  Chuck said that she was pointing and retrieving consistently, as well as backing and honoring when other dogs were on point.  He recommended giving her a break, hunting her gently and then bringing her back for additional work when she had some more maturity.

On Wednesday morning Karen and I went out to pick her up at Chuck’s place.  This would also my first opportunity to hunt with her.  I brought my 20 gauge Fausti side by side and my hunting vest along with a new Tri-Tronics electric collar for Casey.  I can’t describe the feeling as I watched Casey begin to work, hunting for the quail in the field, scenting hard and working back and forth across it.  Then she froze on point, quivering just a little as I moved forward to flush the bird.  As the bird broke into the sky my heart was in my mouth and I over shot the bird.  Casey did her job but I had missed the shot.  Oh well that’s hunting right.  Quietly cursing myself I watched as Casey went back to work…back and forth, nose and tail going furiously.  After 7 or 8 minutes she again froze on point.  This time I made sure to pause just a second and get everything right in my mind before flushing the bird.  I hit the quail with my first barrel this time cleanly dropping it about 20 meters out.  Casey immediately went to the fallen bird and retrieved it straight to my eager hands.  What a moment!  To actually have the dream of a hunting partner of my own become a reality was grand.  The only thing better was the realization that it was only the first of many such moments we will share over the coming years.   

Tash Kennels-Chuck Tash

(256) 70-9546

Florence, Alabama

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