You Can't Just Have One

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I love the saying 'anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest' because it's true. My gun cabinet, my rod rack, my decoy rack and my kennels are all full. I'm immoderate, just like you.

When dogless friends come over for dinner they remark on the dogs. "Why do you have so many?" They ask. To them I simply say "bird dogs are like potato chips, you can't just have one." The following silence is deafening. Then they collect their thoughts, look at their husbands, and lay down a barrage. I smile, sit back in my chair, and watch the show. To fuel the fire I always invite them over when we've got a puppy. It's hard to put your anti-bird dog foot down when you're holding a 10-week old setter pup ... or pointer pup ... or spring pup ... or cocker pup. The "don't think about getting a dog" changes into a "aw, they're so cute." That's the time to set up the husbands with someone who has recently had a litter. I keep those numbers on speed dial for the perfect occasion.

Yeah, there is a cost associated with owning numerous dogs. That position is indefensible. It doesn't matter if the dog was for free for the food and vet bills stack up. One time I traded an old fishing rod for a setter and had a friend who gave me extra collars along with a kennel he no longer used. In the long run it didn't matter, and if someone were running a balance sheet I'd lose. There is no winning that debate so I concede in gentlemanly fashion and move on.

Bird hunters are fueled by passion. How else do we justify getting ripped to shreds by briars and branches in pursuit of the grouse and woodcock we love? Why do we drive 1,000 plus miles to hit mid-Western quail fields after our seasons close? It's 'cause we're crazy, and owning a string of dogs is a natural extension of our madness. Check the facts: aren't you happiest when it's bird season? Do you complain if you have to get up early for work, but pop out of bed at 0400 to train before the summer heat sets in? We're all happy when we shoot well, and our true joy comes when the dogs we trained in the off-season perform like the champions we know they are.

I justify owning more dogs in a lot of different ways. Putting down a fresh or rested dog in every cover livens up even the birdless patches. Bright, alert, and energetic dogs working their way through a covert lightens every mood. If a covert is bare, no worries; pup will get to hunt in another covert later in the day.

I will find my Golden Fleece when I have a kennel large enough to match up dogs, birds and terrain. I figure this approach will require at least a dozen dogs. A big running pointer or setter for the quail fields, a cover dog setter for grouse and woodcock, a springer for South Dakota pheasant, a cocker as a strike dog, and so on. The magic is that I can run shorter-haired dogs to run in the early season heat and the shaggy hairs when there is a dusting of snow on the ground. I can hear the 'why can't you hunt with just one dog?' I could, and so could you. But why would we want to?

Yes, bird dogs are like potato chips and I can't just have one. What's wrong with matching a big running dog with one that runs inside of bell range? To my mind every square inch of field, shelterbelt and riverbottom is covered. Then there is the pointer/flusher combination to consider. Having one dog lock up while the second puts birds in the air is the epitome of training. Breed myopia is fine, but a mixed kennel is devine.

Forget any other measurements about time, cost, or labor. Those kinds of measurements are not relevant. The yardsticks we use quantify drive, birdiness, and biddibility. And that means the only relevant measurement is how many runs to add to your existing kennel.

Avoid mayhem as much as possible. I'm walking that razor's edge as we speak. My mid-term plan is to breed one dog, to keep a male and, in two years, to breed him with another of my female dogs. I have to think about that one some more. Why? Two heat cycles per year delivers barking that is unstoppable. Love is blind, but when a bitch comes in to heat in a male-dominated kennel it's as loud as a pro football stadium after a touchdown.

Unless you're a professional trainer, handler or guide, a multitude of animals of is fanatical. Which makes it just the way we like it. The simple fact is that having a lot of dogs around feels good. Their return to us is in love, devotion, commitment, and Faith. Some perform perfectly, others require work, while still others frustrate the hell out of us. And at the end of the day it shouldn't be that much of a stretch to know why bird hunters want to be surrounded by lots and lots of bird dogs. We're far more like dogs than folks might think. "In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag," W.H. Auden said. He's right, you know.


About the Author

Tom Keer
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Tom Keer owns The Keer Group, an outdoor marketing company which works perfectly with his freelance writing career. He casts his four English setters in Northeast upland coverts and Southern quail fields with fortunate regularity. Hes been lucky to be surrounded by people and dogs that are much smarter than him. Visit him at or at


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