Working Gordon Setters

Mid-Stream Change

Mid-Stream Change

Murphy Pointing Winter Grouse

I started out using German Wirehair Pointers (GWPs) for falconry in the mid 80s; a choice that came about after seeing an excellent, imported, solid liver bitch as owned by Diana Durman-Walters. The first pup was a natural, making up for my in-experienced as a dog handler. I was convinced I had made the correct breed choice and so acquired another GWP, a bitch pup of out Rory Major’s black and white Bryantscroft line. Both of these dogs exceeded expectation, performing well in falconry situations, in addition to gaining moderate success on the HPR field trial circuit. But time moves on, as do factors such as personal responsibilities and environmental changes. When I started out using GWPs I was gamehawking partridges from September to late November and shortwing hawking from mid October to early March. However the demands of growing young family soon began to place constraints on my time in the field; especially during the six-week overlap period when I was flying both a goshawk as well as two peregrine tiercels. As such I had to simplify my falconry activities and so elected to ground the goshawk, thereby freeing up time required for my gamehawking. Despite specialising on game birds, I found that my GWPs were perfect for methodically routing out local stubble and beet fields and gaining the necessary points required. That became a tall order given the partridge population started its decline about this period, resulting in more territory having to be worked year on year. However these two dogs adjusted to the associated demands, re-enforcing my belief that this breed was truly versatile and an extremely competent all-rounder. In light of the above I couldn’t look past the breed and as such started to think about the future and bringing on another puppy. This was where my plan and my life started to go just a little pear-shaped. As a result, I lost my way a little and it was not until a number of years later, when my life had begun to settle down, that I began to take appreciate the values of a number of lessons. Acknowledgement thereof was a turning point, in my mind, with regard progressing my dog ‘situation’.

Lesson #1 : DIY Breeding There is an old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and this is a good ruling to apply when considering a puppy. However I ignored this and with two field trial winning dogs (that were un-related) in my own kennel, I reckoned I could improve on what I already had. At that time I did not, and still do not, possess the knowledge and so the understanding that goes into determining which sire would be the most suitable for a mating with a specific dam. So how I ever thought I could improve on the present-day by ‘throwing’ two un-related, though pretty damned good, dogs together is now beyond me. Regardless, the mating of my GWPs produced some lovely dogs and I was indeed fortunate to see a number of them run at Spring Pointing Tests and off-season Working Tests. They were uniform in terms of behaviour, running style and drive, though on recollection they all appeared to lack finesse when hunting partridge and grouse. Katie, the bitch puppy I held back from that litter, while successful on spring and autumn game, failed on the majority of mid-winter occasions. She, unlike her parents, failed to appreciate the value of standing well back in order to hold spooky, gun shy, game birds and failed to develop techniques to overcome. As such she was dropped from the team and given to a falconer friend. As one pointer and setter breeder told me, one requires a base understanding of genetics as well as a minimum of 6 dogs in a kennel to establish and maintain a line; any less and one struggles to retreat and quickly move on after a bad mating. However, and if interested in puppy do-it-yourself (diy), I would encourage any budding dog breeder to obtain a copy of Robert Wehle’s book “Snakefoot : Making of a Champion”. That said I am still none the wiser after countless readings!

Lesson #2 : Pick of the Litter Instead of applying common sense and returning to a reliable, long-standing breeder for a puppy, I still believed what I had was good. As such I elected to take a pup from one of the matings my male dog performed. While I know what I want in terms of an adult dog, I do not have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to allow me to pick the right puppy. Therefore something was bound to go wrong, and it invariably did with regard my selection. As more than one breeder has told me, selecting a puppy at 8 weeks old is little more than a lucky dip and that it is much better to select when the puppies are older and more active. Furthermore many people had suggested allowing the breeder to select the puppy, as they know the various characteristics.

Lesson #3 : Family Tree Research Here I elected to approach others who were in the process of developing their own GWP lines using primarily field trial winning stock. But the main problem was I did not do enough research of what lay behind in the family trees and so understand the associated field characteristics. Nonetheless those matings produced some great looking puppies, though as they matured they were without the powerful, running style as required for upland gamehawking. While I attempted to hone this through exhaustive fieldwork, roading and cycling, it was hard work and the interim results simply weren’t good enough.

Why change? That principally came down to my awareness and acknowledgement that I had little understanding of dog breeding and that my best route was to purchase all future puppies from long-established lines.

Why not another GWP? Too much time had been spent ‘experimenting’ and the remaining adult GWP was beginning to show some signs of ageing. As such I understood that I would be running a significant risk in raising more GWP puppies.

Why not choose a Pointer? It’s not that I dislike the pointer, it’s a personal preference in that I like a dog with a coat as I run my dogs pretty much all year long.

Regret and Temptation? While contemplating the english, gordon, irish red and irish red & white setter debate, a quality litter of GWP pups did became available and from a well established breeder and field trial judge of some reputation. I was very tempted to go and see the litter but knew that spelt disaster, as I would have invariably chosen a puppy. So I held off and spent the time further researching the setter ‘scenes’.

Lessons Learned While research narrowed my breed search down to the irish red setter, it was some time before I began to understand what lines would best suit my falconry and trialling aspiration requirements. Also I had just missed the autumn field trial circuit and so most breeders/field triallers tried putting me off till the spring with regard viewing of their kennels. However I was most fortunate in that the BFC president at that time was a noted irish red setter breeder and enthusiast, and he put me in touch with a field trialer in the north of England who had a number of ‘pretty good setters’. After seeing Steve Robinsons’ Lusca, Ardoon & Tiquin champion setters in action and gaining a base understanding of their family trees and his associated experiences, I was hooked and waved all notions of another GWP aside. However with my first irish red setter puppy booked, I elected to drop a young GWP dog from the team, since he was simply not living up to expectations. It was a major gamble to cut back to a single adult and ageing dog, though I believed such a tack would allow me to spend more time to bond and develop the young setter. Many friends were surprised by this action and in fact some thought I had lost “the plot” altogether as many understood setters to be slow developers. Furthermore they felt I should be increasing the team size instead of swapping out a junior dog for a puppy. But I was convinced this was the best route and felt that spending all available free time on one dog would be beneficial in the long term, for both the dog and myself. It was a huge risk, but I got lucky as the young setter started showing promise at a very tender age in terms of pointing and running ability. A most memorable moment was in late August when Murphy was 14 weeks of age and, having just received his last set of veterinary injections, was allowed to venture outside the confines of the garden. It was a glorious day and so the family joined me on the moor where Murphy was to gain an insight into his “raison d’être”. After a while, and as we were heading back to the vehicle, an adult grouse flushed, though only to drop back into the heather a little over 100yards away. I ventured downwind to get behind the bird and released Kerry (the aging GWP) who quickly locked up on point. I then slowly walked in to see what Murphy would do. Up until now he had been running 5 yards here and 10 yards there and pretty much round our heels. However as we approached Kerry his gait and focus changed, he slowed down and stepped forward until he was almost shoulder to shoulder with Kerry and backing/honouring her point. I walked forward, the grouse flushed and Murphy copied Kerry’s example of sitting and watching the grouse fly off. That was the beginning and six weeks later he was surprising more than a few people in terms of his energetic puppy running style and ground treatment, though it was his pointing and holding of points on Snipe, though not steady to flush , that got everyone talking. His development continued so that by his first birthday, and though still making occasional mistakes in terms of pointing old scent, his running style, drive, pointing and obedience were all totally impressive.

Did I make the right choice? Yes I believe I did, though I must confess I do not think this would have been possible without having been through the trials and tribulations of training a number of GWPs. Some people may find this comment strange, especially those familiar with the Hunt-Point-Retrieve (HPR) multi-discipline field trial requirements. However I have found the exacting nature of running a setter to be more demanding, as the associated control has to be precise given expectations relating to ground coverage and pace. That said, my wife tells everyone Murphy, our first irish red setter, trained himself and so I am not allowed to take any of the credit for his field accomplishments. A sore comment, but not too distant from the truth. I suppose it all comes down to genetics and a wee bit of luck re the puppy selected, at the end of the day.

Will I ever return to the GWP? I never like to say never, as one does not know what lies round the next corner of our lives. But I have to admit that I do occasionally get a yearning every now and then, whenever I see a quality dog working or hear of a quality litter. But in the meantime I have my hands full with some more reds and thoroughly enjoying the fresh challenges that brings.

Author & Copyright:- Brian Morris

About the Author

Brian Morris has been an active falconer for over 40 years, with the last 25+ years entirely spent game hawking lowland and upland game birds with peregrines. Game hawking relies on pointing dogs and though he ran (and trialled with some success) HPR's (German Wirehaired Pointers) for 13 years, the year 2000 saw him transition to using and field trialling Irish Red Setters. Game hawking over his irish setters on upland terrain is one of his addictions!


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