Say Au Revoir to Language Barriers!

Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, 
despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, 
many foreign people still speak in foreign languages. 
‒Dave Barry

I recently set up a Facebook group to help hunters outside of France find out more about the French pointing breeds. And that means there may be a language barrier between members that don't speak each other's language. Fortunately, there are some great tools available to help us overcome language barriers online.

Un homme qui parle trois langues est trilingue.
Un homme qui parle deux langues est bilingue.
Un homme qui ne parle qu'une langue est anglais.
- Claude Gagnière
1. Use Facebook's 'translate' option. At the bottom of a post or comment, look for a blue 'see translation' link. When you click it, the post or comment is automatically translated. Keep in mind that the translation is computer generated so may only give you the overall gist, but it's better than nothing. If the 'see translation' link is missing, don't worry. For some reason, Facebook drops the service from time to time. One day it's there, the next it's not.

Quand on voyage sans connaître l'anglais, on a l'impression
d'être sourd-muet et idiot de naissance.
- Philippe Bouvard

2. Use Google translate. Here's how: 1. Copy the text of the post or comment. 2. Visit the Google Translate page 3. At the top of the page, choose the languages to translate between. If you aren't sure what language you want to use, click Detect language. 4. Paste the text and Google will automatically translate it for you.

Not only does the English Language borrow words 
from other languages,it sometimes chases them down dark alleys,
hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets.

- Eddy Peters

3. Install a translation plugin or app. Browsers like Chrome, Firefox and others offer plugins or apps that translate facebook posts and comments. I've never used one, but I've heard good things about this one and this one.

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.
‒Ludwig Wittgenstein

4.  Learn! It's never too late to learn another language. I was a unilingual anglophone until my mid 20s. Now I also speak French and Italian and can read Spanish, Portuguese and (if I've had enough schnapps) a bit of German. So don't look at posts or comments in other languages as obstacles, think of them as opportunities to learn a new word or two.

Language is the road map of a culture.
It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.
‒Rita Mae Brown
In upcoming posts, I will take a look at some French words that non-French speakers who are interested in pointing dogs should learn. In the meantime, here is a post I wrote a while back about the the word "Braque".

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

French Pointing Breeds in North America and Beyond

Did you know that France has produced the largest number and widest variety of pointing dog breeds? It's true. French hunters developed close to twenty different pointing breeds, and while some of them went extinct or never really got off the drawing board, 12 of them are still with us today.

Yet despite the large number of breeds created by French hunters, only two became well known outside of France. The Épagneul Breton (Brittany) is one of the most popular pointing breeds in the world, and the Korthals Griffon (wirehaired pointing griffon), is popular in some areas of North America and Europe.

Some of the other French pointing breeds have gained small but loyal followings outside of France. The Épagneul Français (French Spaniel) for example is relatively popular in Québec. There is an official breed club there and a small but dynamic group of enthusiasts have been producing solid hunting dogs, and achieving excellent results in hunt tests since the late 1970s. The Braque du Burbonnais has also been in North American for several decades and there is now a club for the breed.

But some breeds remain almost completely unknown outside of France. And that is a shame. I believe that the French produce some of the very best pointing dogs in the world and that dogs from their native breeds would be perfect matches for a lot of North American hunters. So in order to get the word out and help North Americans and others find out more about the French pointing breeds, I set up a Facebook group called French Pointing Breeds in North America and Beyond.

The group's goals are:
  • To engage in an open, honest, and respectful exchange of information, expertise and resources.
  • To promote the French pointing breeds as versatile, upland hunting dogs in North America and beyond. 
  • To assist hunters seeking a hunting companion from one of the French pointing breeds find well-bred pups from proven stock.
  • To provide information about the French pointing breeds, their history, clubs, current situations, availability etc.
  • To facilitate the exchange of information between breeders, club members and hunters with French pointing breeds in France and North America...and beyond!

The French pointing breeds are:
Épagneul Breton (French Brittany)
Épagneul Picard (Picardy Spaniel)
Épagneul bleu de Picardie (Blue Picardy Spaniel)
Épagneul de Pont-Audemer (Pont Audemer Spaniel)
Épagneul Français (French Spaniel)
Épagneul de Saint Usuge (Saint Usuge Spaniel)

Braque d'Auvergne
Braque Francais (Gascony type and Pyrenees type)
Braque du Burbonnais
Braque Saint Germain
Braque de l'Ariege

Griffon Korthals (Wirehaired Pointing Griffon)

Extinct French pointing breeds and/or breeds that never really got off the ground:
Griffon Boulet (Boulet Griffon)
Griffon Guerlain (Guerlain Griffon)
Braque Dupuy
Épagneul de Larzac
Braque de Mirepoix
Braque Charles X

Notes: Posts to the group may be made in English or in French. Translation services beyond those offered by Google and Facebook are available upon request.

South Dakota Dogs!

A few weeks before my birthday, my wife asked me how I would like to celebrate it. We could have a big party at home, or we could travel to South Dakota to hang around with great people and great dogs. I chose the latter. Because I am a dog nut.

Pure Copper Shot.

In my previous post, I took a look at the various non-tox options available for hunters looking to go lead free. And one type of shot really stood out for me: pure copper. 

I discovered that French ammo maker FOB has been marketing an entire line of copper loaded shells called Sweet Copper since 2013 and another French company, Vouzelaud just announced similar shells loaded with copper shot and a bio-degradable wad. In Germany, Rottweil is now selling a shell called  "Copper Unlimited"

In Italy, reloading website Siarm lists a product called "Real Copper". It is said to be made of 99.97840 % pure copper and is currently available in #3 and # 6 shot sizes for reloading. I also found a recipe on the same site for a 12 gauge test load composed of 28 grams of pure copper shot and 2 grams of B&P's MBx36 powder. Test results indicated that it produced a peak pressure of 750 bar and a velocity of 450m/s (about 1475 f/s). 

So I wasn't suprised to see that Italian ammo giant 
Baschieri & Pellargi are also getting into the pure copper shot game now.  Here's a company rep at an outdoor/hunting fair in Germany announcing their new 'Dual Shock' shells that contain a half-and-half mix of pure copper #6 shot and zinc-coated copper #4 shot. 

Naturally, with all the buzz around copper shot in Europe, I have to wonder if it will ever make its way over to this side of the ocean. But that brings up a whole slew of other questions. Here are a few I can think of, and my best guesses as to what the answers might be. 

Is copper shot approved for use in North America? 
I don't really know. But if I had to guess, I would say that copper shot should be perfectly fine to shoot wherever lead can be shot. But pellets made of pure copper are not on the list of approved non-tox lead alternatives. However, as an ingredient in shells combining different elements, copper gets the green light. Here are the percentages currently allowed in approved non-tox shot types.

  • Copper-clad iron: copper cladding can be up to 44.1% of the shot mass
  • Tungsten-bronze: can contain up to 44.4% copper
  • Tungsten-iron-copper-nickel: can be 9–16% copper

Is pure copper shot toxic? There is no such thing as a completely non-toxic metal suitable for use in shotgun shells. So it comes down to figuring out which is the least toxic. And copper seems to have relatively low toxicity, especially when compared to lead. When copper is just one ingredient mixed with other things like tungsten, studies indicate that "the rate of copper release from tungsten bronze shot was 30 to 50 times lower than that from the copper shot, depending on pH".  And other studies indicate that the "mortality among mallards fed iron, copper, zinc-coated iron or molybdenum-coated iron shot was significantly less than in birds fed lead shot, and was not significantly greater than the controls."

I am sure there are many more studies out there, all of which undoubtedly reveal at least some level of toxicity, but what is important to note is that regulators in Europe, where environmental regulations tend to be far stricter than in the US or Canada, have determined that pure copper shot can be used where lead is banned. And that means they've chosen it (and other metals like bismuth and tungsten) as the 'least bad' alternatives to lead. 

Can it be shot out of a gun that is not approved for steel? I think so. But don't quote me on that. In terms of hardness, copper actually looks like it might fit the bill. It is harder than lead and bismuth, but it is softer than most of the others, including ITX (original) and Tungsten polymer, both of which were specifically designed for use in guns not approved for steel.

Copper is harder than lead, but softer than ITX and Tungsten Matrix shot

In terms of density, here is how it stacks up to some of the other options.

Copper shot is nearly15% denser than steel shot

And finally, what about price? Pure copper shot is more expensive than lead or steel shot, but, surprisingly, it can be as much as 3 times cheaper than other options. Here's how it compares on a dollars-per-pound basis (#6 shot).

Copper is more expensive than lead and steel, but way cheaper than all the other lead alternatives

I will leave it up to the reloading experts to figure out what a decent 20 gauge upland load would cost on a per shot basis since I have no idea what hulls, wads, powder and primers cost or how much shot you'd need of each type for a decent upland load. But if all the other components remain more or less the same, it seems to me that copper shot would be a relatively inexpensive choice for reloading.

So, will we ever see pure copper shot loads over here? Only time will tell.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

After Lead?

When I hunt waterfowl, I shoot steel and other non-tox loads.  When I hunt upland birds or chase whitetails, I shoot lead.  But not for long. 

I've decided* to switch to copper bullets for deer hunting and I am looking for a suitable non-tox alternative for upland game. Copper bullets for deer won't be a problem. They are widely available, and their slightly higher price is not really an issue since a box of 20 rounds will probably last me several years.

But finding a suitable non-tox load for upland hunting is going to be tough because my go-to guns for grouse, woodcock and pheasant are Darnes. And the steel loads available to me here just don't play well with those sweet, sweet side by sides. So if I want to go lead free, I have to crawl down the rabbit hole of non-tox, non-steel shotshells.

Currently, my options are:

Tungsten Matrix: Great stuff with kill-a-duck power out the yazoo. Shells like Kent's TM Upland contain the most effective shot you can throw downrange that is not made of equal parts uranium and unobtainium. Unfortunately, the price of tungsten matrix now hovers just under half a kidney per shot. So unless my power ball numbers come up, I won't be shooting tungsten matrix shells in the uplands any time soon.

Bismuth shells: Less expensive than tungsten matrix cartridges, and if you load your own, the cost can be close to reasonable. Unfortunately, stocks of bismuth come and go as fast as a 17 year old farm boy with a bad case of the trots at the local bordello. One day you see bismuth shells listed on the WhizBangMart website and the next day they are listed as 'out of stock'... probably because the company that made them switched to making stomach remedies for 17 year old farm boys with the trots.

Nevertheless, I am hopeful that Rio Ammo's new facility in Texas will start cranking out decent, affordable bismuth loads before the season opens this year. If they do, and if my Darnes like them, Bismuth will be my upland go-to shot.

Niceshot: Pack an awesome punch and are highly rated. Unfortunately Niceshot shells have the same 'here today, gone later today' availability as bismuth and, when they are in stock, have nearly the same buzz-harshing price tag as tungsten matrix.

Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles: Surprisingly 'in stock' most of the time at various outlets. Unfortunately, at over four bucks a pop, they are even more expensive than tungsten matrix and niceshot shells. Even worse, when tested against the competition, Hevi-shot Classic Doubles always end up in last place. Randy Wakeman concluded that: Kent Tungsten-Matrix wins, beating the pants off of Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles every time by no small measure. Bottom line, if I'm paying close to a fiver each time I pull the trigger, the stuff coming out the end of my barrel better be the equivalent of a fine single malt, not Bud Light Clamato.

So is there anything else out there? Anything on the horizon? Well if you live in Europe, the answer is yes. Several ammunition manufacturers in France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere have introduced brand new shells with some very interesting loads. Let's look at the options:

Steel loads that they can be used in older guns. Realizing that there are still huge numbers of hunters using shotguns that were never intended to shoot steel, the CIP, Europe's governing body for firearms safety standards has come up with an interesting solution: create guidelines for steel loads specifically formulated to reduce (if not completely eliminate) the risks of shooting steel guns not approved for steel shot. The standard includes limits for chamber pressure, velocity, momentum and shot size. The goal is to ensure that steel shot marketed in CIP countries does not compromise the safety of "...the most vulnerable guns, namely old, thin-walled, perhaps poor-condition guns." You can read about CIP standards and how they differ from the SAAMI standards used in the US in this excellent article here.

So that means that almost all of the major ammo makers in Europe such as FOBRottweilSellier-BellotFiocchi and many of the smaller firms (there are dozens of them) sell 'Standard Pressure' steel shotshells that are supposed to be safe to shoot in older guns. The loads are lower in pressure than High Performance steel loads but also have the same thick plastic shot cups designed to minimize barrel damage.

Now I can practically see your eyes rolling at the thought of a low pressure, (low performance?) steel load. After all, even the best steel loads, when compared to similar lead loads, can be anemic. So why the heck would you want to water them down even more? Well, if you hunt snipe and woodcock, as I and millions of European hunters do, there is no problem. Most shots are in the 15 - 20 yard range and the birds are not 12-pound late-season honkers. So low pressure steel shells are probably just right for that sort of game.

Mary Arm's "Steel 24" shells are fairly typical standard pressure loads.  Their 20 gauge shells contain 24 grammes (about 7/8 of an ounce) of nickel-plated steel # 5 or # 6 shot in a specially-designed wad. They are said to be safe for all chokes and have a maximum effective range of about 35 yards.

Non-steel loads. Tungsten Matrix and Bismuth Loads are available throughout Europe. And yes, they cost and arm and a leg there too. But there are also other alternatives that are available there, but have not (yet?) made it to North America.

Zinc/Tin. Shells loaded with shot made from a combination of zinc and tin have been on the European market for a while now. Available from Clever Mirage in Italy, Mary Arm, Tunet in France, and Sellier-Bellot in the Czech Republic, they are apparently safe for all guns and chokes but are only recommended for close to medium distances, about 30 yards max. They are more expensive than steel or lead loads, but not as expensive as Tungsten matrix or Bismuth.

Copper. Bullets made from pure copper have been on the market for a while now and are becoming more popular among big game hunters. But pure copper shot has not been offered in shotshells, until now. FOB in France recently launched a new line of shells called Sweet Copper (for some reason, the French love giving English names to hunting related products). Vouzelaud also offers shells loaded with copper shot, but they add a proprietary ACP bio-degradable wad.

Not to be outdone, Germany ammo company Rottweil also announced shells containing copper shot called "Copper Unlimited" (yes, they love English names as well). Available (so far) only in 12 gauge it is said to be a "... high-performance lead-free cartridge that rivals lead shot cartridges. The cartridges contain shot made from pure copper - copper is both heavier and softer than soft iron shot. The advantages to the sportsman include increased effective ranges of up to 40 metres and up to 15% more energy delivered to the target. This improves one's chances of success since more pellets can be put into the cartridge than with the same load weight of steel. In addition, the softer copper shot makes forest and field shooting possible again since the danger from ricochets is greatly reduced."

Copper is a sort of 'in-between' option. It is softer and heavier than steel, and lighter, but harder than lead. It is less expensive than tungsten matrix, but substantially more than zinc/tin. It will be interesting to see how the European market responds to copper shot and if it will ever make its way over to this side of the Atlantic. After all, copper plated shot is allowed here, so why not solid copper shot?

Bottom line: After reviewing all my options, there are only a few solutions. Here they are and the chances they ever happen.

  • Give up shooting my Darnes. Never. Ever. Sorry. Ain't gonna happen.
  • Win the lottery. One chance in a gazillion. Ain't gonna happen...but I will still buy a ticket.
  • Move to Europe. I would totally be down for that.... about 10 seconds after I win the lottery.
  • Cross my fingers and hope the Rio's bismuth ammo finally sees the light of a reasonable price.

* My decision to stop shooting lead is a personal one. I've written about lead shot before and it is becoming increasingly clear that as hunters and stewards of the environment, we really should look for alternatives. And yes, I understand that there are people who disagree with me on the lead ammo issue, and that's fine. I am not out to convince anyone to stop shooting lead. Do whatever pops your airbag.

UPDATE: I was asked for more information on why I choose to go lead free in the uplands even though lead is still OK to shoot in many areas I hunt. Here's my answer:

The reasons that I am currently looking into non-tox and non-steel shot options range from strictly regulatory to purely personal. I've thought a lot about the issues involved for quite a while, and no matter how I slice 'em, when added up, they all point to a non-lead future for me.

On the regulatory side, I live in Manitoba, Canada. The laws up here mandate that I use non-tox shot for all migratory birds. So, unlike other jurisdictions where non-tox shot is only required near or in wetlands, when I hunt ducks, geese or snipe, even in a field or forest, I cannot use lead. I am allowed to use lead for woodcock (for now) but I often encounter timberdoodles in areas that also hold snipe (my favourite bird to hunt) and ducks (my favourite bird to eat), so I feel that I should at least make an effort to find a suitable non-tox load that I can use no matter where I am, or what I am hunting.

I also hunt a lot in the Dakotas. And while much of the hunting we do there is on private land were lead is still OK, from time to time, we do hunt on public land where non-tox is required. Of course, the easy solution would be to leave my Darnes in the truck and shoot steel in my steel-approved guns. But I really, really love my Darnes and I shoot them far better than my other guns (I am a mediocre shot on a good day, but in 2013, I went 14 for 14 on wild ND roosters with my Darne 20 gauge and last year I got 15 birds in 21 shots with my 16 in South Dakota). So if I can find a way to use my favourite guns, no matter where I am, or what I am hunting, I would be a happy man.

And finally, one of the greatest pleasure I get from hunting is sharing the harvest with family and friends. Every year, I provide duck, goose, grouse, snipe, woodcock and deer meat to people close to me, including young children. And that motivates me, more than any law ever could, to do my best to get lead out of the equation. After all, wild meat is the healthiest, most organic, free-range food under the sun. But running the risk of contaminating it with the residues of toxic metals just doesn't sit right with me, especially when there are less toxic options available.

So those are the main reasons I've been spending waaaay too much time online trying to find non-steel alternatives to lead shot. But, as already stated above, I am not out to convince anyone else to stop shooting lead. Do whatever is legal where you are and shoot whatever loads you want.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Gone Too Soon

Yesterday I posted a sad note to my Facebook account. Lisa and I wanted to let everyone know that we were nursing broken hearts after the passing of our dog Henri. Naturally, I couldn't resist including a photo tribute. If you'd like to see it, just click here.

My wish is that Henri be remembered as a freakin hunting machine in the field and a mama's boy on the couch. He was a goofy, fun-loving, stud muffin Weim, who enjoyed more than one roll in the hay with some very special females. He was Silvershot's Pocket Rocket, named after the legendary hockey player Henri Richard. He was not his disease. It took his life, but it will not define him.

In this blog post, I would like to share some information on the specific health issues and challenges that Henri faced so bravely, until the very end. But please keep in mind that I am only doing so in an effort to explain the circumstances that lead to such a young, healthy, vibrant dog leaving us so quickly and far too soon.

At the beginning of February, we noticed one slightly swollen lymph node (about the size of a walnut) under Henri's chin. The vet's first thought was infection, so we treated with antibiotics. The node responded, shrank to about the size of an olive by the end of the 14- day course.

Then, a few days after stopping the meds, the node blew up to about the size of an apple. So back to the vet. He removed a piece of the very swollen submandibular node to have biopsied, and took a fine-needle aspirate of one of the prescapular (front of the shoulder) nodes as well. We also decided to do another course of antibiotics.

14 days later, the huge node had gone back to about the size of an olive and the prescapular node was so small it was hard to find.  And when we got the biopsy results back, they were negative for lymphoma! All they saw was just a ton of reactive cells. So we popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and figured it was a done deal. No lymphoma, just an infection that the meds would eventually take care of.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, after Henri had been off all meds for about 10 days. I noticed a bit of swelling in the first node again, and in a node under the arm pit. So, back to the vet. This time, just to make sure, he took another aspirate of the node under the arm and sent it to the lab. We also decide to try another type of antibiotic. And again, within just a day or two of antibiotics, the nodes started to shrink.

BUT...when the newest aspirate result come back, it said 'positive for lymphoma'. Obviously it is not the sort of news we were hoping for. But it is also a very confusing diagnosis since almost nothing that had happened up to that point was how classic lymphoma cases present. For example, cancerous nodes, once they get big, stay big. And they don't respond to antibiotics;  they don't shrink until they are treated with chemo. And besides, the first tissue biopsy of the biggest node and the first apsirate was negative.

In any case, we were now basically back to square one. So we did another biopsy, this time of a complete node. We also decided to do some imaging to see what was going on in the chest/gut area. Our thought was that if he did in fact have lymphoma, it might be something like indolent lymphoma, which is a relatively uncommon, slow-moving form of the disease.

The good news was that he was 100% asymptomatic. He seemed perfectly fine! He was eating, pooping, running and trying his best to hump our ancient, spayed 'life partners', Uma and Souris, just like he always has. 

Then, about three weeks ago, we finally got a definitive diagnosis based on the biopsy of the full node and an aspirate of another. It was not good. In fact, it was about as bad as it could be. Henri had T-cell Lymphoma.


Naturally, as all this was going on, Lisa and I had gone over various 'what if' scenarios. And every discussion ended with the same decision: we will always do what is best for Henri, not what is best for our credit card, or for our work schedule, or anything else. So when we were asked if we wanted to treat the disease, and give him a fighting chance for another hunting season, we said yes. And when we were asked if we wanted the throw-everything-at-it-except-the-kitchen-sink version of chemotherapy (Madison Wisconsin Protocol), we said yes as well.

And for a little while, it worked! Henri handled his treatments like a champ. He was basically his normal self most days. Once in a while he seemed a bit tired, but with Henri that just means running at subsonic speeds instead of at Mach 1. 

Unfortunately, last week either the meds, or the disease (probably both), seemed to catch up with him. On Wednesday he started vomiting. A lot. On Thursday, we got his stomach under control with more meds and he seemed to rally. On Friday he was actually pretty perky. He ran around the back yard trying to catch squirrels with Uma and Souris after supper and then headed to bed at his normal bed time.

Then, just after midnight, the wheels fell off.

He was restless. About every 1/2 hour, he needed to go out, NOW, to poop. And every time he came back in, he was a bit wobblier than the time before, and looked like he had aged a hundred years. Around 5 in the morning, his breathing became laboured. He trembled in pain.

It was time to get him to the vet ASAP.

On our way there, things went from bad — but still treatable — to full blown catastrophe. A 7-year-old dog who was a bit under the weather only 12 hours prior suddenly looked and acted as if he'd been stricken by e-freaking-bola. I'll spare the details. They're horrific. But it was crystal clear that it was no longer a question of treatment. It was time to say goodbye.

Fortunately, we were able to get him into a wonderful vet clinic that I'm pretty sure is staffed by angels. From the moment we arrived they all treated Henri, and us, with a graceful compassion that we will never forget. They supported us, consoled us and commiserated with us.

And when it was time, they helped us guide Henri to the happy hunting grounds.

The tears we shed for our dogs
are good tears. 

They are made of
the unconditional love we receive from our dogs
and the love we give them in return. 

That's why we never run out of them.    

Here and There Part Three: Homelands

In parts One and Two, I wrote about bird dog and hunting cultures in North America and Europe and compared the numbers of Pointers and Setters produced on each side of the Atlantic. In this post, I'll take a quick look at some rather surprising statistics related to Pointers and Setters in their homelands, the UK and Ireland.

But first, let's watch a remarkable video that captures the magic of the British bird dogs. It features Pointers and hawks hunting grouse on the moors, and it is breathtaking!

Now let's have a look at the numbers. They are not great. Published statistics reveal that Setters and Pointers are barely on the radar in the UK. In fact, the KC considers the English, Irish Red and White and Gordon setters as "vulnerable native breeds" since there are often fewer than 300 registrations in each of those breeds per year. The Irish Setter and the Pointer are in somewhat better shape, but, like the others, only a small minority is working stock. Have a look at this table of Kennel Club registration numbers from 2005 to 2014. I've highlighted the British and Irish pointing breeds in yellow, click to see a larger version. 

Clearly, the KC is experiencing a decline in overall registrations, but nowhere near as bad as the nose dive the AKC seems to taking.  Even so, registrations of all of British and Irish pointing breeds, except the Irish Red and White Setter, seem to be falling faster than the rate for all the gundog breeds combined which stands at about 15%. Registrations for both Pointers and Gordon Setters dropped by nearly 20%, English Setters by about 25% and Irish Setters by nearly 35%.

So what's going on? Why are Britain and Ireland's native pointing breeds in such rough shape in their homelands nowadays? Well, one thing to keep in mind is that this is not something new. In fact they were already in trouble even in William Arkwright's day, over a century ago. In his monumental work The Pointer and His Predecessors Arkwright lamented that:

No doubt, at present, the future looks rather gloomy for the pointer, but as ' 'tis darkest before dawn,' the present century may accentuate some streaks of light faintly wavering on his horizon. He is not yet half-way through the third stage of his existence, and if there were a sudden reaction, — his would not be the only case on record of re-establishment after forty years' wanderings. 

Derry Argue, in his excellent book Pointers and Setters, shed light on some of the reasons for the decline that Arkwright was witnessing:

The demise of the general popularity of shooting over pointers and setters came about through many small factors. Changes in feed formulation permitted the artificial rearing of game birds on a scale hitherto only dreamt of. The Continental fashion for 'battu', i.e. driven shooting, was gaining in popularity and was given the seal of royal approval by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's German husband, who was keen on this type of sport. Who would dare to condemn the practice as ungentlemanly or unsporting now? More traditional British sportsmen had condemned this style of shooting for generations, now it was dogging that was decried as 'old fashioned'.

To get an idea of what 'battu' shooting was like, watch this video of modern day driven shoots for pheasant, partridge and grouse at Ripley Castle. It's a fantastic video, with lots of great scenes of birds, guns, hunters, Labs and spaniels, but nary a Pointer or Setter to be seen.

Another explanation for the decline in popularity of Pointers and setters in their native lands is that British sportsmen and women can't seem to get enough of 'new' and exotic pointing breeds from the Continent. Look again at the table of registrations given above. It shows that all of the pointing breeds native to the Britain and Ireland declined, but several non-native breeds including the GSP, Bracco Italiano, Korthals Griffin, Vizsla, Wirehaired Vizsla and Portuguese Pointer, actually grew in numbers during that same period. And since then, even more breeds such as the Picardy Spaniel, Pont Audemer Spaniel and Braque d'Auvergne have made their way to the UK. But once again, the trend is not new. Way back around 1900, Arkwright wrote:

It is odd that a club founded more or less in the interests of the English sporting breeds should so soon have forsaken them to run after foreign dogs that are useless in England; but, as Dr. Caius remarked over three hundred years ago, 'We English men are marvellous greedy gaping gluttons after
novelties, and covetous cormorants of things that be seldom, rare, strange and hard to get.' He knew his fellow countrymen then — and now !

Clearly the foreign dogs are not 'useless in England'. Obviously some have proven to be very good hunters and most have earned relatively good reputations among British hunters. Nevertheless, Arkwright is correct; British hunters, for a variety of reasons, did turn their backs on their native pointing breeds in favour of 'rare, strange and hard to get' breeds from the Continent. Ironically, in the late 1800s, it was the other way around. Continental hunters turned their backs on their native pointing breeds and jumped, en masse, onto the Pointer and Setter bandwagon. So now Pointer and Setter populations in places like Italy, France and Spain dwarf the populations in Britain and Ireland.

Finally, perhaps the most important reason why Pointers and setters are no longer common in Britain and Ireland, and the reason why they probably never again will be, is the fact that there is that suitable terrain to run them in is hard to find.  

Perhaps the low ground could produce pheasants and partridge but the ground cover beloved by the game birds had disappeared. Hand reaping left knee-high stubbles. The new reaping machines shaved stubbles to ground level and the straw was carted off. ...Dogging fell out of fashion in every area except where there was no other way of coming to terms with game. — Derry Argue, Pointers and Setters, p.38

And that really is a shame. I can't think of anything more exciting than seeing a brace of Pointers or setters working the moors for grouse. And that is why going to the UK to interview breeders and see their dogs perform is at the top of my bucket list right now. I mean, how great would it be to attend a field trial for Pointers and Setters run on the moors?!

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Here and There, Part Two

In Part One of this series, I provided a brief overview of the differences and similarities in the overall bird dog and hunting cultures of North America and Europe. In this post, I'd like to take a look at the overall populations of the British and Irish pointing breeds in parts of Europe and the US.

In the US, it is difficult to determine with any accuracy, just how many Pointers or Setters are produced every year. But, based on a few sources of data currently available from around 2008, it looks like within the AKC, the Irish Setter is the most popular of the setter breeds with about 1000 registrations per year. It is followed by the Gordon Setter with about 5-600 per year and the English Setter which currently sees fewer than 100 registrations per year. The Irish Red and White Setter was only added to the AKC's list of recognized breeds in 2009. I've been unable to determine the number of registrations in that breed per year, but the AKC lists its popularity near the bottom, at 149th place on a list of 178 breeds.

So, taking into account that the numbers above are from 2008, and that registration numbers of all breeds in the AKC have declined even more since then, I estimate that all 4 setters breeds combined represent about 1500 AKC registrations per year. As for the Pointer, the 2008 numbers indicate that there were only 369 registrations. Currently, it is probably well below 300. Of course, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of AKC Setters and Pointers are not from lines selected for hunting and field trials and that the vast majority of breeders of working (hunting, field trial) Pointers and Setters do not register their dogs with the AKC. Instead, they register them with the Field Dog Studbook.

It has long been assumed that over the last 100 years or so, roughly equal numbers of Pointers and Setters (mainly English) are registered with the FDSB each year.  In 2004, for example, Field Trial Magazine published stats indicating that the numbers were 6,256 Pointers and 4,906 Setters registered in 2003. But again, like the AKC, the FDSB has been experiencing a decline in the number of dogs registered each year. Currently, based on the total number of all breeds registered per year by the FDSB, it looks the combined number of Pointers and Setters registered with the FDSB each year is below 5000. Nevertheless, among North American hunters Pointers and Setters remain quite popular and in some field trial venues, like all-age horseback trials and cover dog trials they represent the gold standard of performance and completely dominate the scene from Manitoba to Mexico.

Here is a video of an English setter from American lines hunting in classic ruffed grouse terrain in the US.

 In much of Europe however, Setters outnumber Pointers by a huge margin. A recently published chart shows that the English setter makes the top ten list of all breeds in several European countries. And in Italy, the English setter is the most popular of all dog breeds with annual registrations of up to 20 thousand pups!

In NorwaySweden and Denmark, Gordon, and Irish Setters are also very popular, sometimes even more popular than English Setters. The Pointer, in most regions of Europe is not as popular as the English setter but is typically about as popular as the GSP and Brittany.

It is hard to say why the English Setter is so popular in many parts of Europe. I wrote about breed popularity here and rarity here. But recently, I posted a question on one of the top online forums for the discussion of hunting dogs in Italy asking Italian hunters, why they loved the English setter so much.

Some of the answers supported my belief that influential voices can have a huge effect on popularity. "The English setter is the most popular dog for hunters and field trials because many of the big name writers who wrote about hunting dogs in the 60s were Setter men. Vincenzo Celano's books about hunting woodcock with setters were very influential. And all you had to do was open any hunting magazine like Diana and you'd find many articles on English Setters."

And others supported my assertion that once a breed achieves a certain level of popularity, it can grow so strong that it completely dominates a local scene. "Among the hunters in my valley, approximately 95% of them hunt over setters. I hunt over them because all my hunting friends have them and my father who hunts with me also has setters. Around here, the word 'Setter' is more or less synonymous with 'hunting dog' "

Another respondent, only half-jokingly wrote that the English setter appeals to fundamental qualities of Italian culture. "Italians have very refined tastes in many areas, in the kitchen, at the table, in fashion, design and architecture and Italy is the motherland of some of the greatest writers, artists and composers in history. So a breed like the English setter, with such incredible beauty and talent, fits perfectly with our passion for the finer things in life."

Here is a video of English setters from Italian lines hunting woodcock in the alps of northern Italy.

Of course, when it comes to the British and Irish breeds of pointing dogs, the biggest outlier in Europe is Germany. There, the most popular pointing dog is the Deutsch Drahthaar, followed by the other German pointing breeds. Other pointing breeds, even breeds that are super popular elsewhere are barely on the radar.  Nevertheless, there are a few Setters and Pointers in Germany and there are German clubs for their breeds. The German Pointer club has actually been around for over 100 years. I will write more about the Pointer and Setter scene in Germany, especially about its fascinating history, in an upcoming post. But for now, here is a video of Setters and Pointers running in a field trial in Germany.

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Here and There, Part One

The Hunting scene in much of Europe mirrors that of North America in many important ways. For example, the average age, gender, socio-economic status of the average hunter there is about the same as it is here (basically white, middle aged males of average or slightly above average socio-economic standing). Hunters in Europe struggle with many of the same issues that we do here; loss of habitat, decreases in (some) game numbers, increases in anti-hunting initiatives, urban sprawl etc. and the overall number of hunters in Europe and in North America are declining at about the same rate.

One bright spot on both sides of the ocean however is the increase in the number of woman hunters taking to the field. I wrote about one very special women who only started hunting last year, at the age of, well let's just say 'over 40'.

The ratio of hunters to non-hunters is about the same in France (1:48) and Spain (1:41) as in the US (1:42). But in countries like Norway and Finland, there are about twice as many hunters, proportionally, than in the US (Norway 1:24, Finland 1:17) Surprisingly, Ireland leads the pack with a 1:12 ratio of hunter to non-hunter and Germany is well down the list with a ratio of 1:233.

Dutch Huntress, hunting woodcock
in Canada with an English Setter
bred in France, from Italian lines. 
When it comes to our sporting dogs and field trials,  the stats are a bit harder to parse, but the overall number of sporting dogs registered seems to be in steep decline on both sides of the ocean. I was just digging through registration numbers for English Setters the other day and I saw that the numbers of registrations in Italy dropped from a high of 19,775 in 2003, to 12,536 in 2013.

In North America, I saw a similar decline. When I looked at FDSB numbers, for example I found that from a total number of about 20,000 dogs (of all breeds) registered per year around 1990, the numbers fell to about 10,000 per year in the early 2000s and were only 5500 in 2012. Please note: these are ball park estimates of registrations only. There is no way to know how many dogs were whelped but not registered. The numbers given also represent registrations per year for all the breeds that the FDSB recognizes. However, I assume that the majority are Pointers and Setters and that there are roughly equal numbers of those breeds registered with the FDSB every year.

AKC numbers are harder to figure out since that organization no longer publishes stats for any breed. Instead, they now provide a list of 'most popular breeds' without divulging any actual numbers. Terrierman feels that the reason they won't publish numbers is that they don't want the public to see the nose dive they are taking. In fact, he wrote that if things keep going the way they are now, the AKC could be out of business in 2025. In any case, the number of AKC Pointers has always been pretty small, and the number of AKC setters is probably in just as steep decline as the other breeds. In England, the number of English Setters being registered has fallen to such low numbers that the Kennel Club declared the breed 'at risk of extinction' in 2012.

Field trial numbers are equally hard to figure out. In North America, there are several different organizations sponsoring a wide variety of trials in many different areas. The overall scene seems to be vibrant and trials are quite popular in many areas. Personally, I think the North American field trial scene is fantastic. I am a fan of all the various formats and wish I had a dog that was actually competitive in them. I also believe that North American field trials are one of the most effective systems ever devised of selecting top knotch hunting dogs. No other system on the planet produces dogs with the kind of endurance, 'grit', and stamina that our best Pointers and setters possess. And no other system on earth produces dogs with the sort of style we prefer either. America produces awesome dogs, especially for American (and Canadian!) sportsmen and women. The combination of extreme competition entered into by capable dog men maintaining highly focussed breeding programs fuels the production of awesome dogs that are perfectly matched to the game, terrain, culture and market they are intended for.

Field trial near Broomhill, Manitoba
In Europe the same thing applies. To the surprise of many folks in North America, there is actually a large and dynamic field trial scene in Europe that stretches across most of continent. From the south of Spain to the north of France, to Italy, Poland, Croatia, Greece and Scandinavia, trials are run almost year round in one region or another on wild and released game (actually planting birds is illegal in most places). Euro trial sizes range from less than a dozen dogs run on single day to literally hundreds of dogs run over a week or more. And, like our system here, the combination of extreme competition entered into by capable dog men running highly focussed breeding programs fuels the production of very good dogs that are perfectly matched to the game, terrain, culture and market they are intended for.

Brittany running in a field trial in the north of France

Unfortunately, on both sides of the ocean, it is hard not to see a slow decline in all aspects of the outdoor sporting scene. Every year I attend trials here, or there, I notice that the judges, handlers and gallery have a few more grey hairs (as do I) and I also notice in most years there are not quite as many trials scheduled as in years past.

So I guess if I could sum it all up, I would say that when you compare the sporting culture of North America and Europe, the differences are what you notice first. It's like watching American football and Rugby. Its hard not to see how different they appear. But when you look a little closer you realize that the similarities far outweigh the differences. Both are extreme athletic pursuits that separate the men from the boys real quick. And if you look close enough, you see that Football and Rugby, North American sporting culture and European sporting culture are basically a question of 'same church, different pew'. Both demand and produce excellence. Both honour, respect and reflect the traditions and cultures in which they thrive and both, to me at least, are absolutely fascinating to study.

American and European hunting cultures:
the similarities far outweigh the differences.
Bottom line: Millions of men and women on both sides of the ocean enjoy outdoor sport. The most dedicated among them devote their lives to their sport, and the rest of us benefit from the hard work and dedication they provide. America has no shortage of such people. We've produced some of the most dedicated, talented and skillful breeders, handlers and judges in the world and their hard work allows sportsmen and women in North America and beyond to enjoy days afield with some of the finest sporting dogs in the world.

But no part of the world has a monopoly on hard work or dedication or talent or skill. So no matter where you find dedicated, talented and skillful breeders, handlers and judges you will probably find sportsmen and women enjoying days afield with some of the finest sporting dogs in the world, dogs that are perfectly matched to the game, terrain, culture and market they are intended for.

One of my favourite images from my Prairie Dogs photo essay.
Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Happy 15th Birthday Souris!

Happy Birthday Souris by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals