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.


Happy 15th Birthday Souris!

Happy Birthday Souris by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

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The Huntress

The Huntress by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

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My Photo Essays Are Getting a Makeover

With my trusty Canons and Leicas near Broomhill, MB (photo: P. Dot Porquez)

I've recently fallen in love with a new online platform for publishing my photo essays. I've only posted two projects so far, and both are just updated versions of essays I've already published here. But stay tuned for a lot more to come!

I will still be using this blog for various rants, raves, updates, news and other features, but for picture-heavy photo essays, check out the new look at I will also embed the essays right here, but to really appreciate the great look of the new site, click on the link at the bottom of the essay.

Prairie Dogs by Craig Koshyk on Exposure

Lisa Trades a Canon for a Shotgun

Lisa and I spend a lot of time in the field chasing game. For years, I carried a shotgun to put meat on the table and she carried a Canon to put photos in our picture albums. 

Lisa hunting with her Canon camera 
and good friends Cam Rice and Goose. 

Then, last February, Lisa said: "I think I'm ready to be a 'real' hunter now." So she purchased a sweet side by side at a local shop and had it fitted. When the snow melted, she learned to shoot clays out in the field...

and at the local trap and skeet club

Over the summer, she studied for her hunter's safety test and in August passed it with a grade of 100% ! And then, just two days before the season opener, Lisa got her very first hunting licence at the age of  REDACTED .

On the eve of opening day we went scouting. Near dusk, we found the perfect spot to hunt the next morning. There were tons of ducks and the Great Manitou gave us a sign that Lisa was in for a fantastic season.

And he was right. 

Soon enough, she shot her first mallard!

She cleaned it

And we paired it with the best wine in the house.
It was delicious!

And she also shot her first woodcock!

Mmmmmm.... pan seared timberdoodle
with caramelized onion compote
on toasted rosemary focaccia

And her first pheasant!

Roasted and served
with basmati rice and roasted veggies. 

And so it went.  When Lisa was not at the table enjoying dishes like these:

Snipe in broth and egg noodles

Pheasant soup with dumplings

Snipe legs on rosemary/fig/hazelnut crackers
Roast pheasant with spanakopita 

Seared magret de canard (mallard breast) 
with cherry coulis, fingerling potatoes and agugula
Our field lunches
tend to be a bit simpler

She was in the field, forest and marsh hunting...

Woodcock with Uma

Snipe and Sharptails with Henri

Ruffed grouse with Souris

Pheasants with Zeiss

Or just relaxing with the happy family.

As they say: "the couple that hunts together stays together!"

The only downside of the 2014 season is that we have far fewer hunting photos than we normally do at this time of year. But we did manage to take some. You can view them here.

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It's TIME!!!

In the immortal words of Bruce Buffer...

The 2014 hunting season is now upon us, and it is a very special one indeed. It is Lisa's very first season with a gun. For many years, Lisa has been 'hunting' with a camera. Many of her awesome images are posted right here on this blog and some are featured in Pointing Dogs Volume One: The Continentals. But this year, armed with her brand new Yildiz A5 side by side (a sweeeeet gun!), she will be doing her best to put some free-range, organic meat on the table. And I will try to capture as much of the action as I can with my still and video cameras.

So stay tuned. I will be adding photos and videos to, in the gallery located here:

Henri pointing a snipe for Lisa

Lisa's first duck in hand.
Lisa's first duck, right out of the oven.

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Better Cold Than Sorry

The fact is, it’s hard to freeze a working dog to death on even the coldest days. But it’s quite easy to accidentally kill a hard-hunting dog on even a mildly warm day. — Brian Lynn

Every year, right about now, hunting publications everywhere run articles warning hunters about the dangers that early season heat can pose to hard driving gundogs. And I've done my best to heed those warnings, even up here in the great white north were anything above zero is considered a 'mildly warm' day.

But last year, despite our best efforts, Henri gave us a scare. We were in North Dakota in late October hunting pheasants. The days were cool and nights were down right cold. Since the dogs were spending nights in the truck, we put insulated covers on their kennels to keep them warm. And the covers worked like a charm. Despite plenty of frost on the pumpkin outdoors, I always found the dogs comfortably warm inside their kennels each morning.

During the day, as we ran one dog, we would leave the others in their kennels. We kept their kennel covers on but we cracked the windows on the truck to make sure things didn't get too warm — even though the outdoor temps never got above 5 degrees (40F).  Again, it worked like a charm. Every time we got back to the truck, we found comfortable dogs eagerly awaiting their turn to hunt.
And then Henri's eagerness got the better of him, and of us. 

Eager Henri
On day three of the hunt, we decided our first stop would be a small patch of great looking rooster cover. Since Uma is our closest working dog, she got the nod.  45 minutes and three roosters later (Uma was on FIRE!!), we were back at the truck. As I opened the tailgate I saw our dog Souris in her crate fast asleep, shivering. Next to her was Henri in his crate. But he wasn't asleep, and he sure as heck wasn't shivering. He was laying on his back, panting, wide eyed. His bright red tongue was hanging out like he'd just run a marathon in the desert!

Henri was showing the classic signs of heat stress. We needed to cool him down, fast. Fortunately, the grass right outside the truck was cold and wet with melted frost. So I opened Henri's crate, picked him up, put him on the ground and said "down!". He was more than happy to oblige. He plopped down and began to roll in the grass as we poured an entire jug of cool water on his belly, under his arms and inner thighs. 

In a couple of minutes Henri was up and around, seemingly no worse for wear. We dried him off and took him for a short walk just to make sure he wasn't woozy or wobbly or suffering from any lingering effects. And right there and then we decided that 1. Henri would not hunt that day. We'd give him some time to recover from what was probably not a severe case of heat stress, but what could have easily been much worse and 2. from now on, when we leave any dog in a crate while we hunt with another, it is better to be cold than sorry.

Henri overheated in a cold truck on a cold day. He was in a crate that was covered with an insulated jacket. And such a setup is designed to keep a dog relatively warm when it is sleeping or just chillaxing waiting for its turn to run. Unfortunately, when we started the day with Uma instead of the usual 'first stringer' Henri, well, let's just say that he did NOT take it lightly. Henri did NOT sleep or chillax. In fact, it seems that while we were in the field with Uma, out of sheer frustration and indignation, Henri decided to paw at the bottom of his crate like he was digging to China. There is no way of knowing how long it took for the crate to heat up, but as Henri threw a tantrum, heat up it did. And heat stress suddenly became an issue.

And there is also no way of knowing what would have happened if we'd been in the field with Uma for longer than 45 minutes. Clearly, Henri had stopped doing whatever he was doing to heat things up before we got back. His brain said 'cut it out you idiot!" and forced him to just lay there and pant. So would he have recovered on his own just by being still (and panting his tongue off)? Or would the temperature have remained high enough, for long enough, to cause permanent damage...or worse?

We will never know. And we never want to find out.

Since Henri's near melt-down, we've installed wireless temperature gauges in the crates so we can monitor them from the cab of the truck as we drive. And we've decided that from now on, when we are in the field with one dog we will leave the others in kennels with all the cover flaps off and all the windows open. The dogs will just have to get used to shivering. It’s hard to freeze a working dog to death on even the coldest days. But it’s quite easy to accidentally kill a hard-hunting dog on even a mildly warm day.

Stay safe everyone!

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Opening Day, Waterfowl 2014

This morning, my nephew Craig James and I headed out at insane o'clock for the waterfowl opener. We had scouted a great new spot over the weekend and were pretty sure that we'd be bringing home some fresh duck for diner. And we were right. By 8:30 am, we had 6 mallards and 3 teal, all fetched to hand by my go-to dog Henri. By 9 am, temps were rising fast so we decided to shed the chest-waders, lace up the upland boots and head to the field in search of snipe. 

Snipe are migratory, so we can hunt them when the general waterfowl season opens, usually a week before the upland season. But in some areas they are actually found in the very same pastures frequented by sharp-tails. So we had a hunch that we'd come across both. And we were right again. Henri had a total of 10 points in a little less than an hour. 6 points were on snipe and 4 on sharptails. All the snipe were singles, the grouse were in pairs for the most part, but one point was a sort of 'popcorn all around him' kind of thing with probably 8-10 birds flushing in one's and two's.

As for our shooting, well... it sucked. We only shot at snipe of course (sharptail season doesn't open till next week), but we missed them ALL! I blame it on the new shells. You see, I ran out of my regular snipe cartridges, so we had to use a new load, Kent TealSteel #6s. And sure, they went 'boom' just fine when we pulled the trigger, I am sure they are a decent load. But blaming them is easier on the ego than blaming our rusty shooting skills, so I will stick with the 'bad shells' excuse until I start knocking down more snipe with them. Then I will change my tune to 'these shells are awesome!'

All the photos in this post are from today's waterfowl hunt. I didn't take the camera with me for the snipe hunt and now I regret it. I am pretty sure I would have shot better with my Canon than I did with my side by side.