In South Dakota, For a Little While

The land belongs to the future, Carl; that‘s the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk‘s plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother‘s children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while. ― Willa Cather

Well the weatherman is calling for snow tomorrow and there's only a few more days of deer season left. That means the 2015 hunting season is pretty much history. Sure, I we may get out a couple more times for grouse if the snow ain't knee-deep, but for all intents and purposes, our trip to South Dakota last week was the last big adventure of the year.

And what an adventure it was! Even though we could not bring any birds back with us (there is a complete ban on the importation of anything remotely resembling a chicken to Canada due to avian flu stateside), we still managed to take (and eat) a few. More importantly, we managed to get some great photos of some very nice dogs and their friendly owners.

And I really need to thank an the Upland Journal's awesome online discussion forum for much of our success! You see, a few weeks before we headed south I submitted a post asking anyone running Pointers and/or Setters in ND or SD to drop me a line if they would let me photograph their dogs in action. It wasn't long until Brad Adrian stepped up and offered to let me follow him and his sweet Pointer Peanut as they chased prairie birds near Pierre. Along with Brad were few other UJ members, and one of them also had a couple of really nice Pointers.

So Lisa followed them with our Canons instead of shotguns. We could not have asked for better conditions. The temps were near perfect, the light was just right and the hunters, dogs and birds put on a great show. We managed to get some shots that we are really happy with, one or two of which I am pretty sure will make it to my next book.

If you'd like to see a selection of our favourites, check out the 2015 hunting gallery below. It features shots spanning the entire season, in reverse chronological order from South Dakota to North Dakota to Manitoba.


LA BELLE SAISON by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

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

Pursuit: Photos of Hunters and Huntresses in The Field

I guess most people would describe me as a photographer of gundogs. And it’s true. I do spend ungodly amounts of time, energy and money capturing images of gundogs. But along the way, I also snap a shot or two of the hunters and huntresses who follow the dogs, ready to harvest the game their canine companions manage to outwit.

Below are some of my favourite images of the hunters and huntresses with whom I’ve had the honour of sharing the most precious moments of my life. I hope you enjoy looking at them half as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Place your mouse over the first image and scroll down to view the others.

PURSUIT by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

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

Interview with a Connoisseur

Unlike most professional gundog trainers in France, and there are a lot of them, Xavier Thibault specializes in training French pointing breeds. His love of the 'old' breeds goes back to his youth when he first started hunting and continues to this day. Recently I asked Xavier about his involvement with the French pointing breeds and his opinions on the current state of affairs of the French gundog scene.

Xavier and a small herd of Braque Saint Germains

CK: Xavier, how did you first get interested in the French pointing breeds?
XT:  I must have been 14 or 15 when I got my first hunting permit, and I was initially attracted to two French breeds, the Braque Dupuy and Braque Saint Germain. But when I became a professional trainer later, I mainly trained and raised English Setters. However I found them to be overrated. Now, don't get me wrong, Setters are great dogs with loads of natural ability, but to me, they were just overrated. So I went in search of a dog that was not necessarily from the top breed in the world, but a dog that suited me. A combination of circumstances lead me to the Braque Saint Germain and, by extension, to the world of our old French breeds. The more I got to know them, the more I fell in love with them.  I realized that all our old breeds were developed to serve hunters in the various regions of France, that they were created by the hunters, game and terrain found there.

CK: In your opinion, in what way do the French breeds differ from the other pointing breeds from England, Germany and elsewhere?
XT: They reflect the same differences that we can see when we compare the people and cultures found in those countries. The large variety of our breeds is due to the simple fact that they were created to suit the needs of the local hunters and average citizen of the area they come from. The major difference between the English and French breeds is also due to different breeding systems. English breeders developed a more sophisticated breeding system than the French.  To perfect the Pointer for example, the English used our Braques to lighten it, and then proceeded from there. We then adopted the English style and either anglicised our breeds by crossing them to Setters or Pointers or we abandoned them. On the German side, they turned to greater versatility, so they needed a different kind of dog, with a stronger character, but still easy to train. 

Braque Dupuy

CK: The French canine system has always faced the same challenges as canine systems in other countries. Egos and politics always play a role and make things difficult, especially in France where it seems that arguing has been raised to an art form. But despite all that, the French have created more pointing breeds than any others and they continue to produce some of the best dogs in the world. How is that possible? How can so many good breeds and good dogs come from a system that always seems to be at war with itself?
XT: Our system is becoming increasingly messed up, more and more people are breeders in name only and the system focuses only on the here and now, not on the long term. The rules are constantly changing and many clubs are now lead by people who are not there to manage a breed, but are there to use the club to promote a single line, usually their own. Too many breeders have no long term goals, their dogs are no longer being selected in a truly objective way, they are guided only by subjective criteria. Personally, I believe that if a breeder doesn't have long term, consistent goals and demonstrates strict selection criteria, he or she should not be allowed to breed. But French breeders reflect their Gallic heritage, they are guided more by passion than by logic and they can produce excellent dogs and we have created fantastic breeds.  

CK: What do you see in the future of French breeds? Which breeds are in decline? Which ones are on the rise? Are French hunters returning to the old French breeds or is Anglomania still strong in France?
XT: Anglomania will continue to be strong among French hunters, but some of the old breeds like the Braque d'Auvergne are on the rise. However, others are in decline, unfortunately. And the reasons are always linked to the people involved often at the club level. What happens far too often is that a gang of incompetent people seeking to gain an advantage over another gang of incompetent people, takes over a club. And the result is almost always the same, the breed's field abilities decline. If we want to improve all these old breeds our selection needs to focus less on creating the perfect dog and more on creating more good dogs. When I see an excellent dog that no one uses for their breeding program simply because it lacks a minor point in terms of breed type, for example, it makes me furious. Our French breeds are fragile and will follow the decline of the overall population of hunters I'm afraid. The ONCFS (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage) had a repository of ancient dog breeds, but faced with a lack of interest on the part of the breed clubs and other stupidity, the program fell apart.

Braque d'Auvergne
CK: How do French breeders and hunters feel about the growing number of people outside of France that are now interested in the French breeds? It seems to me that there is very little effort to promote the French breeds outside of France, where there is a growing interest and a market. Aside from the Épagneul Breton, the other French breeds are almost completely unknown outside of France, why?
XT: Because too many French breeders are no longer breeders, they are salesmen who consider anyone with 'his breed' abroad as potential competition. I'd say that 80% of litters produced by our so-called 'breeders' do nothing for the breed.  80% are produced without any specific purpose, without selection of any kind. And that is why I got out of breeding.  Too few breeders actually breed. Many believe they do, but they don't. Breeding means implementing a strict selection process to improve the breed. It is not about stroking one's ego, or about self-promotion and selling to the masses etc. Anyone who isn't in the process of implementing a 5 generation plan is not breeding, they are just producing puppies. 

Breeding means 15, 20, 30 years of dedicated work, of whelping puppies, keeping the unsold ones, training young dogs and competing with adult dogs. It means having breeding plans for many years in advance. It means understanding that just because faults don't appear, that they are not there, it means being able to step back to see your breeding program objectively.  Too many breeds now face an uncertain future because too many breeders are seeking the one 'perfect' specimen. But there are no perfect dogs and even a near-perfect specimen may contribute very little to the breed overall because when a gene pool gets too small, the breed will die out.  The wealth of a breed is in its diversity! Nothing good can come from a narrow-minded breeding program run by a kennel blind breeder.

CK: What advice do you have for someone outside of France interested in a dog from one of the French breeds, a Braque,  épagneul or griffon ? How does one find a good dog, a good breeder?
XT: I'd advise them to look elsewhere than the breed club. Look at the listings of litters and pups published by the French kennel club, and then contact the breeder to ask for pedigree and breeding program information. If you live abroad you will need to find someone over here that you can trust to help advise you, and if you can travel, then you should go see the parents in the field.  Avoid like the plague any breeder who bad-mouths other breeders just to talk up their own dogs. Avoid like the plague so-called 'experienced' breeders who've only been at it for 5 years and have had a grand total of two litters (you can generally find them on the board of directors of the breed club). Flee from all those who claim to have the best dog in the land, but always has a sketchy reason to never actually prove it in competition or tests. Avoid any breeder that does not hunt with his or her dogs! And for some breeds, look for a breeder outside France.

Braque du Bourbonnais

CK: Thank you Xavier
XT: You are very welcome!


Version française

CK : Quand as-tu développé ton intérêt pour les races françaises et pourquoi?
XT : Tout d'abord, j'ai été attiré par deux races françaises : le Dupuis et le BSG. Je devais avoir 14 ou 15 ans au moment de mon premier permis. Devenu dresseur professionnel plus tard, j'ai élevé du Setter anglais, mais ce dernier pour ma part était surfait, plein de qualités certes, mais surfaites. Je me suis donc mis en quête du chien non pas idéal, mais qui me correspondait. Un concours de circonstances m'a fait entrer dans le monde du BSG et, par extension, dans le monde de nos vieilles races que j'ai appris à connaître et à aimer. J'ai trouvé dans chacune de nos vieilles races un animal de terroir, un outil adapté à un territoire, adapté à des hommes, à une chasse, chaque chien de ces races françaises correspond à ce pour quoi il a été créé pour la majorité.

CK : À ton avis, comment et pourquoi est-ce que les races françaises sont différentes par rapport aux autres races de chiens d'arrêt? Anglaises, allemandes, etc.

XT : Elles sont différentes, comme le sont les hommes. La variété de nos races est due au simple fait que suivant leurs besoins nos paysans ou nos éleveurs ont sélectionné le chien qu'il leur fallait. Le fait qu'il y ait autant de différences entre chiens anglais et français est dû aussi à l’élevage. L'éleveur anglais sait évoluer dans l’élevage, le français non! Pour perfectionner le Pointer, les Anglais ont eu recours à nos braques afin de l’alléger, ils ont évolué. Nous, nous avons de tout temps suivi la mode et l’anglicisation de nos races ou leur abandon pur et simple. Du coté allemand, ils se sont tournés vers la polyvalence, donc il leur a fallu un autre type de chien, plus fort de caractère tout en restant corvéable.

CK : Le système canin français rencontre les mêmes défis que les systèmes canins dans d'autres pays. L'ego et la politique des hommes peuvent rendre les choses difficiles, surtout en France où s'engueuler est un art. Malgré tout, les Français ont créé plus de races de chiens d'arrêt que tout autre peuple et ils continuent de produire parmi les meilleurs chiens au monde. Comment est-ce possible? Comment tant de bons chiens peuvent-ils encore venir d'un système qui semble être en guerre constante contre lui-même?

XT : Notre système devient de plus en plus difficile, de plus en plus de gens n'ont rien à faire en tant qu’éleveur. Notre système, pour nos vieilles races, ne donne des résultats que sur un instant et sur un élevage. Les règles changent constamment au gré des dirigeants de club qui, en général, ne gèrent pas une race par l’intermédiaire d'un club, mais une souche; de façon générale, la leur. Le chien n'est plus vraiment sélectionné sur de vrais critères, mais juste sur des critères subjectifs. Trop d’éleveurs élèvent sans but, personnellement si un éleveur doit élever sans vraiment de but cohérent et une évidente sélection, il ne devrait pas pouvoir le faire. Mais l'éleveur français reste avant tout un passionné, l'éleveur français est resté gaulois dans l'esprit comme le résumait si bien Sénèque, je crois.

CK : Que vois-tu dans l'avenir des races françaises? Lesquelles sont en déclin? Lesquelles sont à la hausse? Les chasseurs français retournent-ils aux vieilles races françaises ou est-ce que l'anglomanie est toujours aussi forte?

XT : L'anglomanie restera toujours aussi forte, car dans l'esprit des chasseurs, leur race est la meilleure « du moins tant qu'ils n'en changent pas ». Certaines vieilles races ont le vent en poupe, le braque d'Auvergne, par exemple, d'autres sont malheureusement en déclin, les causes sont toujours humaines. En général, une bande d'incapables cherche à prendre l'avantage sur une autre bande d'incapables mais, de façon générale, ils se retrouvent toujours pour nuire à ceux qui eux travaillent sur le terrain. L'élevage de toutes ces vieilles races devrait être quantitatif et non qualitatif. Quand je vois un chien bourré de qualités ne pas reproduire juste parce qu'il manque légèrement de type, par exemple, cela me fait bondir. Les races françaises sont fragiles et suivront le déclin des chasseurs. L'ONCFS avait fait un conservatoire des vieilles races de chien, mais devant l'inintérêt des clubs ou, pour certains autres, leur virulence cette heureuse initiative est tombée à l'eau.

CK : Comment est-ce que les éleveurs et les chasseurs français perçoivent les gens de l'extérieur de la France qui s'intéressent aux races françaises? Il me semble y avoir peu d'effort fait pour promouvoir ces races à l'extérieur des frontières, là où il existe un intérêt croissant et un marché. Mis à part le Breton, les autres races françaises sont inconnues en dehors de la France, pourquoi?

XT : Juste parce que l’éleveur français n'est plus éleveur, mais un bon marchand qui voit dans le développement de « Sa race » à l’étranger une concurrence potentielle. Pour beaucoup, leur élevage est bon vu qu'ils exportent. 80% des portées faites par « des éleveurs » ne le sont pas par intérêt de la race, 80% sont faites sans but, sans sélection d'aucune sorte. J'ai arrêté le chien pour toutes ces raisons. Peu d’éleveurs élèvent.  Beaucoup le croient, mais peu le font. Élever c'est sélectionner pour améliorer la race et non flatter l'ego, s'auto-recommander, s'auto-déclarer, etc. Ne pas voir plus loin que les cinq générations à venir ne s'appelle pas élever, mais produire.

CK : Donc pour quelqu'un en dehors de la France qui s'intéresse à une belle race française, braque ou épagneul, que lui conseillerais-tu? Comment peut-il trouver un bon chien, d'un bon éleveur?
XT : Je lui conseillerais de prendre conseil ailleurs que dans les clubs, regarder les naissances auprès de la SCC, ensuite demander aux éleveurs une projection de pedigrees. Et ensuite, se renseigner, si vous habitez à l'étranger faites confiance à une personne sur place et si vous pouvez vous déplacer demandez à voir les parents sur le terrain. Pas de terrain, pas d'achat. Évitez comme la peste ceux qui pour valoriser un élevage en casse un autre, les éleveurs savants qui élèvent depuis cinq ans et ont fait deux portées (en général ils dirigent ou font partie du club de race). Fuyez tous ceux qui ont le meilleur chien du canton, mais qui pour x raisons n'ont pu faire de concours. Fuyez celui qui n'utilise pas ses chiens sur le terrain! Et pour certaines races, achetez votre chien dans de bons élevages hors de France.

CK: Merci Xavier
XT: Je t'en prie.

The Braque Dupuy

The origins of the Braque Dupuy have been the subject of speculation since it first appeared on the French gundog scene in the mid-1800s. No one knows exactly how the breed came to be, but it was probably created by hunters who bred sight hounds to French braques.

The first such crosses are said to have occurred in 1808 at the kennels of Omer and Narcisse Dupuy, hunters in the Poitou region of France. Apparently the Dupuys were impressed by the hunting skills of a sighthound named Rémus belonging to one of their friends. They were also frustrated with their own braques. They found them to be too heavy and close-working. So, in an effort to develop a dog with the speed of a sight hound and the firm point of a braque, the Dupuy brothers bred Rémus to two of their bitches. Three pups from the first two litters were kept and then bred back to their best braques. That second cross produced a dog with all the qualities they were seeking. They named him Rémus in honor of his grandsire, and bred him to a female braque named Léda. Pups from that breeding were the first to be considered true Braques Dupuy.

The breed struggled to gain acceptance in its early days, and by about 1850 was in serious trouble. But a man named Gaston Hublot is credited with reconstructing it and even wrote a book about the breed, Le Chien Dupuy, in 1899. In terms of appearance they resembled sight hounds more than braques. They were very tall and had a short white and liver coat. Some may have had black and white coats.
The Dupuy Pointer is a big upstanding dog with considerable elegance in his movements. The head is narrow and long. Occipital bone prominent, muzzle long, lean and slightly arched. Eyes golden brown in color with a rather melancholy expression. … Stern [tail] long, set low and carried like a greyhound’s tail.
In terms of hunting style there seems to be a difference of opinion. Some authors describe the Dupuy as a fast dog that excelled at hunting on the plains. Others write that it was more of a trotter. In a letter published in Le Chenil in June of 1887, a Mr. O. Pineau, who had been around Braques Dupuy for most of his life, explained that it may have been a bit of both.
The Dupuy has a lot of drive; when young and rested it searches at a gallop; if it is affected by age or fatigue, its pace is a fast trot. In action, it holds the head high, into the wind, but when a partridge runs, it follows all the twists and turns of its trail, sometimes putting its nose where the game placed its feet. The Dupuy retrieves quail or partridge naturally when he has seen other dogs do it. But the use of the force collar is often necessary to make it retrieve a hare that it finds a bit heavy, or strong smelling waterfowl that it is not used to.
In another account, the breed is described as being similar to the English Pointer.
The Braque Dupuy is very much like the English Pointer in build, but his head is squarer, and he is stouter on his pins [legs]. He is a moderately fast ranger, and a clever finder of game, very stanch and steady. When brought-up to it he does not mind rough work, but few of them go well to water. They are dashing workers, and are very greatly prized. I have seen a brace that would come to their points at awful distances, by a tropical heat; hence, for the hot departments of France they are admirably suited. (Walter Esplin Mason, Dogs of All Nations, 48)
After the First World War, the Braque Dupuy went into a steep decline, and had all but disappeared by the 1950s. In 1960, Jean Castaing wrote:
If, here and there, we see, very rarely, a dog called a Braque Dupuy, it is most often a bastard of unknown origins whose sighthound look is more or less of the Dupuy type. I do not believe that there is an organized breeding program even though breeders try from time to time to reconstitute this artificial dog that had its moment of glory mainly due to a desire to create a French version of the [English] Pointer.

My friend Christophe Oriou, an avid hunter and field trial enthusiast, lived in the Poitou region in the 1990s. While there, he did some research into the breed.
I discovered that the last Dupuy with a real pedigree belonged to Mr. Charpentier, a dentist in the village of St. Jean de Sauves. His wife showed me some color photographs of the dog—it had died in 1964. It was very moving to realize that I was looking at the very last Braque Dupuy. After him, the breed disappeared without a trace!
Strangely, despite that fact that no one has actually bred a Braque Dupuy in over half a century, the FCI continues to publish the breed’s official standard and still lists it in Group 7 for pointing dogs. There are even people in Europe qualified to judge the breed—even though they have never seen a Braque Dupuy! But there is a logical explanation for this seemingly bizarre situation. It was Michel Comte, the father of the modern Braque du Bourbonnais, who explained it to me.
Under certain circumstances, a breed that is thought to be extinct can still be listed. It is a way of “keeping the porch light on”. In other words, if someone decides to revive the breed from whatever remnants can be found, there will still be an official standard to use as a guide and there will be judges ready to evaluate the dogs. In fact, if it were not for this peculiar policy of the SCC, the Braque du Bourbonnais would have never been recreated. 

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

One of the more interesting things I discovered when I was researching the various French breeds of pointing dogs for my book was how much information there is to be found on them in the old English sporting press from the mid to late 1800s. In fact, for some breeds, there is more information in English than in French.

And now that I am writing my second book, this time on the British and Irish breeds, I am re-reading many of the same old books, but with an eye for references to Setters and Pointers. Unfortunately, even though the stories themselves are fascinating, a lot of them were written by unbelievably arrogant English snobs who regarded France as a third world country and its inhabitants as illiterate heathens. A few of them are so over the top, they sound like Donald Trump talking about Mexicans.

Anyway, here is a short passage from a book called "The sportsman in France : comprising a sporting ramble through Picardy and Normandy, and boar shooting in Lower Brittany" written in 1841. It is about how the author found and purchased a well bred-setter near Abbeville, France.

"It came to pass, that, being at Abbeville, in 1829, 1 was induced to shoot my way to Amiens, via the marshes on the banks of the Somme. On my return, and when about half way from home, my attention was attracted to a dog in the swamp, which was beating and quartering his ground in a very superior manner : the style of going, the pace, the action, and that indescribable dashing and swinging of the stern, which betrays high breeding, were so unusual in that part of the world, that I was induced to approach the chasseur, whom, to my astonishment, I found to be a Frenchman.

After the interchange of as many bows as would suffice for an Englishman during the term of his natural life, I ventured to observe, " that he had a nice dog with him." He answered me by stating that it was a '' sacre chienne Anglaise,'' and of the '' veritable race," but that she would not remain close to him, and always beat her ground at too great a distance to suit him.

I then inquired where he picked up the dog. He told me candidly, that he believed the mother to have been stolen, as she had strayed from the servant of an English gentleman, on the road from Boulogne ; that she was in pup at the time ; and that the animal before me was one of the litter. "

I've embedded the book below. But be forewarned; there are some passages that may make you want to say the following to the author:

Click on the right or left to leaf through the pages or on the link to read the book at

Modder Rhu

My first book, Pointing Dogs ,Volume One: the Continentals took twelve years to write, mainly because I’m a slow and sometimes lazy writer. But I also had to travel a heck of a lot to photograph all the continental breeds in their native lands and find and interview experts in each breed. So that meant saving my pennies and holidays to spend on airline tickets, rental cars, hotels, meals and wine. And beer, which we discovered is a breakfast beverage in the Czech Republic. But I digress….

 I am now well into year three of writing Pointing Dogs, Volume Two: The British and Irish Breeds and I am really hoping to wrap it up in half the time it took me to complete Volume One, by the summer of 2017. So over the next couple of years, I will be booking flights, cars, hotels and tables for two at wine bars in North America, England, Ireland, Scotland and various countries in Europe as Lisa and I travel to photograph Pointers and Setters and interview breeders and breed experts from around the world.

And, as luck would have it, we can also find awesome dogs close to home. Not only do some of the biggest names in horse-back field trialing come to Manitoba every year to train and run dogs on the prairies, there are also people living right near us with awesome dogs. Check out these Irish and English Setters owned by Graham Crawford a hunter, field trialer and talented trainer of gundogs. We photographed them the other night less than an hour from our front door!

Modder Rhu by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

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