Gone Hunting: How to pick the perfect pup
May 18, 2016
She was a German shorthaired pointer, and we named her Brandy, after the pop group Looking Glass's hit "Brandy."
We had fun picking out Brandy and naming her. The fun ended there. We had no idea what we were doing with a high-maintenance, high-energy hunting dog like a German shorthair.
I have had several folks in the past 45 years ask me why we chose this breed.
I have to be honest. It was not very scientific. I was watching "The American Sportsman" on a Sunday afternoon, and Bing Crosby and Phil Harris were hunting pheasants in Iowa with German shorthairs.
Brandy had been bred in Minnesota, and our breeder friends swapped us dogs after many sleepless nights and unsuccessful hunts.
We wound up with a 5-year old boy named Chad. He was trained. He was what hunters and breeders call a completely finished dog.
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Chad was an amazing hunter and spent the next seven years training us.
We have since learned a lot in the past 45 years and 16 dogs. We even raised several litters of our own German shorthairs. Hunting with a dog is fun, but it also promotes conservation. I have hunted with people who did not own a dog. They cripple and lose two or three birds, and they also collect their limits. In essence what happens is the hunters kill twice as many birds since they have no dog to find the cripples for them.
Here are some things I might recommend to the novice hunter/dog owner:
Go with a breed that suits your hunting — The German shorthair is a versatile gun dog. My dogs hunt, point and retrieve pheasants, quail, grouse and have retrieved ducks and geese from water.
Check the registration of the litter and background of the puppy's pedigree. You want to find out as much about the parents as possible.
Choose breeders who will stand behind what they sell you.
Know the laws concerning when you take a puppy away from its mother and litter. They vary from state to state.
Spend as much time with your puppy as possible. The first weeks you and your puppy are together are important to your bonding.
Repetition is important to puppies. They learn from it.
A small kennel/crate is invaluable in teaching your pup about where it can potty. A pup will not mess its kennel. Take them out often. I always put something that smells like me in the crate with them, like an old T-shirt or bath towel. I lost a dog hunting in Nebraska several years ago. I set its crate beside the road where we had left the truck and drove the roads looking for her. When I returned to the crate an hour later, she was sitting inside waiting for me.
As best as I can recall, we have had eight females and eight males. Obviously I do not have a preference. Females seem to be a little more coachable and maybe a bit more calm. Males tend to be a bit more hard-headed and need a tad bit more discipline and repetition. I do not think one hunts better than the other, however.
The question I have been asked most often is, "How do I pick a pup out of a litter?" It's a crapshoot. We try to let the puppy pick us. Four years ago, a breeder had a pup picked out for me. We drove to Iowa to the kennel to pick it up. That pup stayed cowering in the corner of its pen while his brother sauntered right up to my wife and put its paws in her hand. I have hunted with that boy, Autie, for the past four years now. If you are dealing with a reputable breeder, all the puppies should be good hunters. More often than not, I choose the best color or markings on the dog.
A name should be crisp and short enough for the field.
As I looked back over the names we have chosen, there are some reoccurring themes: Abbey, Sadie, Penny, Ringo and Pepper all had something to do with the Beatles. Autie was named after Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. I suppose our female, Sioux, would fit in with that theme.
Dollar was the name of John Wayne's horse. Hondo, a John Wayne 3-D movie, was our largest male. Now we have Stryker, an 8-week old German shorthair male named for Sgt. John M. Stryker in the 1949 movie "Sands of Iwo Jima." It was John Wayne's first Academy Award nomination.
So what's in a name? The jury is out on Stryker. He will be 7 months old when he takes the long ride in the back of my F-150 to the fields.
He has an amazing legacy to live up to.
Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.