Last year at about this time I wrote a Field Notes blog post on the coolest man in the world. I had no plans to make it an annual award, but that was before I finally got the chance to meet legendary dog trainer Delmar Smith at the Pheasants Forever Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic this past weekend.
I sat in on a lot of cool seminars, met a lot of cool people, saw a lot of cool dogs, and discovered a few cool new products (all of which I’ll write about in future blogs), but for sheer, unadulterated cool, nothing could top listening to and meeting the undisputed dean of American bird dog trainers.
How cool is Delmar Smith? Chuck Norris showed up at one of his seminars, and Delmar had him force-broke and steady to shot by the end of the day. He’s so cool the folks at NPR ask him to be on their game shows (No really, they did. Listen to the podcast. It’s a gem. Delmar absolutely kills it…)
The man is just plain cool, and, at 86, is folksier, wiser, and wittier than just about anyone else out there, at any age. Here’s what the late, great Field & Stream gun dogs editor Bill Tarrant had to say about Smith in the introduction to their book Best Way To Train Your Gundog: The Delmar Smith Method: “Delmar Smith’s the most distinctive man I ever met. I’d know his hide if it were hanging in a tanning yard. He belongs to neither this second nor this speck of universe. Like truth, he’s a simple, eternal force.”
I got the chance to ask Delmar a few quick questions in a break between his seminar schedule, and it was a special treat to get a few minutes in the presence of legend.
Out of all the dogs you’ve owned, trained and competed with, is there one that stands out above all the others?
“I’ve got to say there really isn’t one dog that I can point to. There are going be some dogs that just seem to have something others don’t, find birds where others can’t, dogs that just seem to make birds, but I’ve had so many great dogs over the years that I can’t pick a favorite. It’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid. I don’t have one. I love ’em all equally.”
You still live in Edmond, Oklahoma, and even though that area has grown up around you, do you ever get the chance to get out and go quail hunting?
“No, I don’t get out to hunt much, but when you’re training dogs every day, well, then it’s sorta like you’re bird hunting every day.”
You co-wrote a book with Bill Tarrant and were close friends with him for years. Can you give a few thoughts on him?
“Bill Tarrant was, without a doubt, one of the most highly-educated men I ever met. We’d be settin’ there talkin’ and I’d have to tell him to start over ’cause I didn’t know what he was sayin’. He was also one of those people who was completely dedicated to dogs. I never met anyone who didn’t like him or say what a great writer he was.”
If there’s one quality a dog trainer needs above all others, what do you think it is?
“It’s the ability to train on the dog’s level. That dog wasn’t born knowing the English language, but he’ll talk to you if you just try to listen to what he’s saying on his own level. A dog ‘aint ever goin’ to lie to you, but you got to be able to know what it is he’s tellin’ you.”
You’ve been doing this for a long time now. Do you have any plans to slow down and take life easy?
“Nope, not at all. We’ve got things, feed and training and tools and knowledge, that we couldn’t even dream of fifty years ago. Why, the world of bird dogs and bird dog training is more exciting now than it ever was. I’m still havin’ fun.”
So there you go, words of wisdom from Delmar Smith, World’s Coolest Man 2012.