Girls, Guns, and Gun Dogs!

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Growing up in the south one gains an appreciation for late fall/early springtime bobwhite quail hunting behind a brace of pointers about as much as anything can be appreciated. The landscape here is dotted with private plantations, public shooting preserves, and small family farms that hold the elusive Gentleman-Bob…opportunities abound. In fact, I cut my gun dog teeth, as it were, training pointing breeds and stumbling around bottom lands I could access hunting quail. It would be some years before I switched my focus over to retrieving breeds entering the world of professional training and trial competition.

Recently, my interests have made a slight return to upland gun dogs and upland hunting pursuits. However, this time the gun dog choice has shrunk in stature somewhat from big running pointers, and the method of finding the game has now changed from pointing, to seeking and flushing via English cocker spaniels (ECs). These little bird finding machines are entrenched in the upland hunting world more so than many may think. I was taken aback when I discovered how many hunting establishments as well as individual hunters own and take to the field with their ECs as the companion of choice. Well, you can add another family name to the list of EC owners: mine. Which leads to the story here as noted in the title…

Every dad who is an avid outdoorsperson longs to have a child follow in his footsteps in order to experience the joy life outdoors brings. In my case I have three daughters at home, so the challenges have been different I suppose than if I had sons. But that has not set me back from the passion I have for the gun dog world, neither has it set me back from trying to instill that same passion in my daughters that I would sons. This passion has found a home in one of my daughters (not to slight the others…they have their own valuable interests which I support wholeheartedly!). Bailey has become an avid outdoorsperson in her own right. She is a horse rider...she manages a barn full of horses as well as a group of chickens and ducks. She also has become a very capable gun dog trainer having helped me train retrievers for many years now. So, when she decided she wanted to put her training skills to the test by accepting a puppy to start from a fellow professional who asked her to do so I encouraged her to go for it. Of course, the conversation turned to compensation for her efforts with my fellow professional asking Bailey what she wanted in terms of payment. Long story short the two settled on a new shotgun Bailey had been eyeing coupled with a European pheasant hunt where Bailey could employ her new gun in a real time hunting venue. The deal was set, and the shotgun found a new home with my teenage daughter. That setoff a series of training sessions with professional instructors as well as numerous trips to the sporting clays range, etc. in preparation for the pheasant hunt; Bailey did not want to appear like a greenhorn amongst the other hunters! That hunt date arrived, and we experienced the new adventure together with Bailey taking several birds with her new gun…the hooks were now in!

Next up, in comes the English cockers to the kennel. Bailey had been working with our newly acquired EC Bridget, a white and black female who is a bird-crazy little rocket. She had worked her through place board training, steadied her in the yard, had her quartering and finding planted birds, and retrieving to hand. Now, the focus turned to an actual upland hunt for Bobwhite quail with Bridget as her companion to put all the pieces together…girl, gun, gun dog, and upland hunting! So, I turned to my long-time friend Bob Edwards at The Gilchrist Club to help make it happen.

My relationship with the Gilchrist Club in Trenton, Florida goes beyond the hunting and the accommodations (which are world class by the way), it really is about friendships. Like many of my friendships the association I have with Bob Edwards, General Manager at the GC, started with and revolves still around…dogs! I sold Bob his first hunting retriever and I have trained numerous dogs for his team since. The Gilchrist Club partnered with me when I won the Epic Game Fair SRS event with Deke. Following that event, we bred Deke to Bob’s female he acquired from me and the resulting litter was a beautiful bunch…but I digress, back to the story. Bob put together a truly world class arrangement for us so that Bailey and her EC Bridget could experience their initial outing in memorable fashion. But before we made the journey Bailey had to be fully outfitted in proper upland attire so that the entirety of the experience was not incomplete…we turned to a fine upland apparel shop in Thomasville, Ga for her gear and all was in place.

The date arrived for the trip. Our first upland outing together would begin with a gourmet lunch. Bailey commented about how fancy everything was. I told her to accept the fanciness as part of the whole and not be intimidated by the situation. She quickly settled in as our talk turned toward the field and how we would work the dogs. The excitement in the atmosphere was palpable…for all of us, Bridget included! The next few hours are still kind of a blurred whirlwind of memories. From taking pictures, to encouraging focus in order to be successful at wing-shooting for real, to helping control the dogs…it was a remarkably busy afternoon. Bridget worked extremely efficiently, Bailey settled in and focused to be able to down several birds, including a fast-flying chukar, and dad was overjoyed at seeing such a huge, multi-faceted operation come together in one perfect setting! Our trip was bookended by great experiences: gourmet food at lunch and dinner, world class upland hunting, great fellowship with other hunters and friends, superb overnight accommodations, and finally a challenging five-stand clays session with Bob instructing Bailey with nuggets to further improve her shooting skills. I was more than impressed with how mature Bailey handled everything including gun safety and shooting efficiency. Thinking back how it all began with dogs I cannot help but have a huge smile knowing that once again an outdoorsperson has been made as the result of daily interaction with these wonderful creatures! We certainly look forward to future outings as a whole team.

You know, I have written numerous articles in the past regarding how-to stuff. I can easily tell you how to collar condition retrievers. I can walk you through basic training skills needed to work toward advanced training. I can detail how a kennel should be maintained and how dogs should be kept in top physical health in order to be the best they can be. I can coach you on how to setup land and water marks for every stage of a retriever’s ability. What I cannot do is make you feel the same about gun dogs and training as I do. I have discovered with my daughters that the best way to experience a shared passion is through an organic desire by all parties involved…otherwise, the experience is nothing more than a feigned joy, a patronization. Hopefully, this simple recounting of my experience with my daughter, our friends, and the wonderful gun dogs we share a passion for will spark a desire in you that will grow into a fire of its own causing you to seek the outdoors and friendships with a new or renewed vigor. Do not shun buying that new gun if it sparks your desire. Do not put off buying that new gun dog if that is what it takes to get the outdoors-hooks firmly entrenched in your being. Do not hesitate to encourage your children to get involved. Just keep this one thing in mind…do not force the relationships or rush the progress. Support the growth as it occurs and soak in the memories as they happen!

Hope to see you outdoors…God bless!

For more information about the Gilchrist Club check out their website:


About the Author

Keith Farmer
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I started training about thirty years ago. Sounds like a long time...yet, 30 years seems like just yesterday. I started with a German shorthair. I didn’t know much other than I wanted a bird dog and shorthairs are cool. After several good dogs including some outstanding setters I discovered the world of retrievers via a close friend and mentor. He had retrievers that did stuff I had never observed before...they were obedient, listened to his directives like a child does a parent, and were generally cool dogs to be around. I decided to get a retriever and train it myself.

Once I got hooked in the retriever world I purchased a better bred dog and put it with a professional for both the dog’s training and mine. I learned a lot...some good stuff, and some bad junk I have had to unlearn over the years.

After titling my first retriever at the Master Hunter level I agreed to take in client dogs and become a professional myself. Now some several hundred trained dogs, numerous titles, numerous trial wins and placements, numerous specialty event wins, and several successful litters of pups I still have the same passion for the dogs as ever.

I took a hiatus for a few years recently and reclaimed my amateur status in order to dedicate time to family, and to become a field trial judge. I judged at every level of the game from derby to all age. I am now back training professionally with my daughter helping me starting pups, and having aspirations of running her own up and coming derby candidate. We have a great time doing what we love with animals that give us everything they have.


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