I was visiting family last weekend, and as I always do when I’m back in “civilization,” I took a few hours to hit all the hometown bookstores, used and otherwise, that I grew up haunting. And it was at (where else) my local Barnes & Noble, as I was standing at the newsstand leafing through the various hook-and-bullet periodicals, that the guy standing next to me doing the same asked if I was a bird hunter.
I replied in the affirmative, and so in that universal manner in which two kindred souls hopelessly surrounded by alien lifeforms (In this case multitudes of post-pubescent celebrity rag readers) bond as a means of mutual survival, we chatted for a few minutes. As it (so often, these days) turns out, he was primarily a deer and turkey hunter, but also professed a keen interest in duck and pheasant hunting. I asked him if he owned a dog, and (again, as is often, these days) he replied that he didn’t, and in fact had never owned a hunting dog of any kind.
I was not surprised. It’s no secret that the number of bird and waterfowl-hunting gundog owners is dwarfed by the number of non-dog-owning deer and turkey hunters. As someone who, given a choice, will take some form of dog/bird combination over a big-game animal any day, this reality pains me, but demographically speaking, it is what it is, and it probably ‘aint gonna change.
The fact is, it’s a helluva lot easier to build a multibillion dollar industry and entertainment culture around outlandish antlers, outlandish products and outlandish personalities than it is to try to mass-market the introspective, understated and not terribly television-friendly nature of hunting with dogs. But the fact remains that there are still a large number of bird and waterfowl hunters out there, and a whole bunch of them do so without a dog, either by choice or circumstance.
I can certainly commiserate. I didn’t get my first real hunting dog until I was in college. Prior to that I either hunted behind someone else’s dogs or I busted my own brush. I certainly enjoyed hunting behind dogs, and was enthralled with them. I just wasn’t in a situation where it was possible for me to have one. And I never really felt handicapped by it, to tell the truth. But then, of course, I got my first retriever, then my first pointing dog, and everything changed. Like many of you, I now hunt with dogs to the almost-exclusion of everything else, and if I were forced go back to bird and duck hunting without their company, I’d probably just say to hell with it all and go learn something horrid like golf.
But that’s me, and I’m not so myopic that I think everyone else does or should think like me. Which is why I’m curious about hearing some alternate perspectives today: not necessarily from gundog owners (although you can certainly chime in) but from the non gundog-owning bird and/or duck/and or small game hunting readers (I know there are a few of you). What are your reasons for not having a dog? Is it due to circumstance or choice? If it’s choice, do you think a dog doesn’t fit your particular style of hunting, or do you think you’re simply more efficient on your own? If you’d like to own a gundog, but don’t due to circumstances, what are they? Your living arrangement? Lack of space? Nowhere to train? Can’t afford to? Overall, what do you see as the biggest impediments to gundog ownership?