Pull up a chair. Rest your feet on an overturned bucket. Enjoy the view across the field to the tree line. Listen to the geese in the distance, the dogs whimpering in their dreams and rustling about in their runs. Stay long enough to see the spring sun turn to summer hot and nourish the sweet corn from the clay.
This is Don Stroud’s domain in rural Forsyth County – a 12-run kennel on a concrete slab with open sides. Stroud’s here every weekday fooling with the dogs and entertaining anybody who wanders by. Some say he’s living a dream. After all, he put in 30 years doing what somebody else told him to do. Now he’s master of this kingdom.
Stroud’s passion is the outdoors, especially training retrievers to hunt upland game. Mind you, that means quail, pheasant, grouse and such; not particularly waterfowl. He’ll show you how to turn a retriever into a pointing dog. It all stems from his days as an Iredell County farm boy scaring up a couple covey of quail as his beagles chased rabbits.
Coon dogs, bird dogs, curs, retrievers – Stroud has trained and loved them all during his 67 years.
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“When I was 10 or 12 I found an abandoned pup at the feed mill. He was the first I ever trained. Taught him to fetch, sit, lay down, roll over and play dead. Sold him to my cousin for $25. Few years later I saw a fellow with two black and brown hound pups. They were the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. Gave him $10 for both of them.”
Beside his love for retrievers, Stroud is North Carolina state chairman of the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation (QUWF), a relatively new national conservation group dedicated to restoring habitat for upland species. The Tar Heel state is home to six chapters – Goldsboro, Elizabeth City, Johnston County, Davie, Durham, and Yadkin Valley.
No matter where you are in North Carolina, Stroud will bring his habitat message and help you start a chapter. His ultimate goal is to establish a chapter with all female officers.
“We’re the only multiple species conservation group I know about. We don’t want to leave any sportsman behind,” he said. “Our emphasis is on upland wildlife, meaning quail, turkey, pheasants, grouse, prairie chickens, rabbit, deer and squirrels…National started in Missouri in 2009. North Carolina got its first chapter in 2010, and during some tough economic times has grown to 400 members. Most of the chapters are west of the Mississippi – 75 chapters in 20 states with 14,000 members.”
Here is what Stroud has to say about QUWF duplicating efforts of with other conservation groups: “Not at all. I believe that within 10 years we’ll be the premiere conservation organization, primarily because we’re multi-species. No one group can survive on quail alone…Quail Unlimited lasted 28 years but they got too social and went under three years ago…”
Turning the dirt
Stroud, decked out in a knit shirt, jeans, hiking boots and a trim white beard, loves to talk about his QUWF’s work.
“Most of our money comes from banquets and sponsor donations. We keep 65 to 80 percent locally…Yadkin Valley bought a tractor to help folks without equipment to restore habitat. We’re interested in what’s native to the area and provide seed that attract upland game…We ‘turn the dirt.’ The seed we use primarily for grains that provide winter feeding and cover such as corn, forage sorham, milo, soybeans and wheat…”
Stroud pauses and reaches over to a table piled with QUWF pamphlets and various pieces of dog training gear.
“Look here,” he said pointing to a list habitat projects across the country. “This tells you what we’re up to:”
▪ Working to restore/restock the wild ruff grouse about to expire in Missouri.
▪ Doing a cooperative test plot research on dove field establishment with wildlife control fencing.
▪ Working with the University of Arkansas on predator influences on ground nesting birds.
▪ Received a large grant for restoration of 10 water guzzlers in California including installation of Cuddeback cameras at each site.
Stroud retrieves a pen from his shirt pocket and underlines what he thinks is significant: “QUWF has impacted 2.6 million acres of wildlife habitat and our chapters spent over $138 million dollars in their communities, that ‘is turning-the-dirt…’ I love to tell our story and I’ll go anywhere in North Carolina to do it. Just call me.”
Stroud announces it is time to go into the field and watch one his favorite Labs go through its upland paces. He orders the dog into a crate secured in the rear of a golf cart.
“We’ll ride down here a ways,” he said, “cause my mind is a lot stronger these days than my feet and legs.”
Stroud remembers how his son lured him into the retriever game. “Twenty years ago, my son wanted a chocolate or yellow Lab. He talked about it so much that I got interested. A yellow female caught my eye. I made a ridiculous low offer ‘cause I really didn’t want the pup, but the owner took it. That was a life changing event for me.”
Stroud says pointing comes natural to a retriever. “I enhance it by blowing the sit whistle and they stop but don’t sit. Once they got it they’ll hold a point as long as some bird dogs. I’ve even seen certified pointing labs that are broke to wing and shot.”
Stroud, who has several dogs in his upland training program, says a Lab trained to hunt waterfowl can be turned into an upland hunter in 30 days.
“First thing I do is turn ’em lose and just walk. I don’t say anything. They’ll eventually look back at me. Then I gesture with my hand the direction to go and start walking that way. I teach dogs to quarter and they don’t even know I’m teaching them anything. I always keep the dog in front of me and within gun range. Then I introduce the whistle. Two toots means change directions and with my arm I point either left or right. There are no guns or birds; just out for a stroll with daddy, and as my mother used to say, ‘just teaching ‘em some manners.’”