Written by: Durrell Smith
Roughly 20 minutes before writing this article, I was on the phone with a living legend by the name of Bud Moore. Now, before I proceed, I have to acknowledge what an honor and a privilege it was to be on the phone with a guy that won his first field trial championship in 1964. What I’m saying is that I would be a fool to be speaking with Bud and not be taking notes, and thankfully, I have The Gun Dog Notebook. The Gun Dog Notebook started as a simple composition notebook. My first book is now well worn, slightly mangled, and full of successes, failures, and critical thoughts mostly about myself and my own faults as a novice gun dog trainer. I started writing in that notebook roughly three years ago, and though I did not realize it then, by starting a gun dog notebook I was adhering to Bud Moore’s tried and true statement that “if it’s not written down it never happened”. As an aspiring gundog handler, I used the notebook to create the beginnings of my own living, breathing, bird dog legacy. I brought life to my trials and tribulations and reflected on my time in the field. But with all my tinkering with various ideas, postulating about what worked and did not, I was creating a library of possibility. Starting my gun dog notebook was the beginning of a legacy, one I now intend to leave for my children and grandchildren.
A little over 2 years ago I was a bit clueless, trying to figure out what to do with this new, beautiful, young Labrador puppy that I had just picked up from Brandywine Kennels. By now, I’m guessing that you are wondering what all might be inside the creases of my early notebooks. Most of it was, simply put, chicken scratch! I might have crossed out and scratched through every bad idea that then crossed my mind and highlighted every half-brained idea that showed some sign of promise. Before I set out to work a gundog, I had owned a few pit bulls that I had “trained”; getting a Labrador would be a similar task, or so I thought. Well, I can tell you now that I have never been more wrong. The goals, objectives, and end results of my training were vastly different from the preconceived notions I had about dog training, especially when it came to developing a proper shooting dog. What I also found was that a dog will make a liar out of you in a heartbeat, and every time I bragged about the progress of my little pup, I’d find that I’d again stuck my foot in my mouth.
Months later, when I began to get my feet under me a bit I figured I would start working my dog on a particular training program by Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels called The Wildrose Way. I studied it, digested it, and along with my studies, I began writing. Instead of guessing, this time things began to make sense. What was most valuable was the new insights I began to gather. I observed what encouraged the Ruger and what made him nervous. I noted our successes and our failures and studying the dog soon became a compulsion. I wanted to communicate with the dog effectively, and there was no communication gap large enough between a human and a dog to deter me from getting out every day and working. I felt a sense of achievement each day not because each day was perfect, but because my training experiences began to get more real. I began to synchronize with my dog, and our communication started to become more effective. Each day brought me closer and closer to my goals and, more importantly, closer to my dog. Without The Gun Dog Notebook I am not totally sure if I would have been able to effectively gauge our progress, nor would I have been able to note things at the moment. Ruger is quite strong-willed, so my notebook also helped me keep a level head with the dog on the worst of days. Written entries then became more informative, but also more humorous.
Nowadays, I write to fill in the time when I am not out hunting and chasing birds. When I do get out, I log page after page of secret hunting holes on public WMAs, GPS coordinates, miles walked and daily objectives for my dog. What was once a training log is now integrated with WMA maps and quick observations about the terrain and habitat I’d traversed. I began to realize that getting out, putting boots on the ground, taking my own notes and writing my own stories began to make me a better bird hunter and dog man.
In many ways, I am very much still a boy with a dog. I pray that my descendants will look into and read my gun dog notebooks and see that I never forgot to keep my training fun. I hope they realize that seeing and reading your own first-hand script about your experiences is half the battle with working dogs, bringing us back to Bud Moore’s original statement about dog training and development…
“If it isn’t written down, it never happened”.
You can listen to Durrell’s podcast, The Gun Dog Notebook, by clicking here. You’ll also find it wherever you get podcasts.