The wind blew 28 degrees on a sunny February morning, freezing the grass cut short and smooth as a football field.
Charles Edmonds was focused on a youthful retriever that was exuberant and intent on a downed duck 120 yards away. On command, he ran hell bent to grab the fowl and return it unscathed to his master’s hand.
This is Warren County, where cotton and tobacco land was preserved for those who came later to fish and hunt and train their dogs.
Nestled along the Virginia border near Kerr Lake and an hour drive northeast of Raleigh, this county of 18,000 is a treasure for its rural way of life.
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Edmonds, 69, has spent his life here raising a family, fishing for bass and hunting the swamps for waterfowl. He put in 29 years in public schools teaching about everything – basketball, football, biology, health, physical ed, drivers ed and math.
Through the years he has never forgotten his first exposure to dogs, “When I was 12 I started messing with birddogs, pointers and setters. I’d break one or two a year and sell ’em. My plans were pushed aside when quail started disappearing.”
Now in retirement, he has honed a new skill, training retrievers in basic skills before they are sent on to eventually run field trials and hunt tests.
“It’s just like teaching school. Each dog has a different personality and temperament, same as children. The difference is the dog doesn’t talk back and you don’t have to deal with the momma and daddy,” he said. “I knew nothing about retrievers when I started. It’s not a job; it’s fun. Training kinda comes to me naturally. Best way to learn is to do it and follow a program.’
Edmonds has read many training books and watched training videos. He has run dogs in hunt tests and watched and listened to his friend and mentor Jim Elam, a professional handler and trainer.
“It’s the coach in me,” Edmonds said. “Teaching a dog what I expect him to do. Teaching a skill over and over and when he makes a mistake correcting him.”
Edmonds trains four hours each morning then goes home to rest because of a back problem. He also spends many hours in his shop working on his boat and fishing equipment.
The retrievers that come under Edmond’s care are usually six to 12 months old, but there are exceptions.
“Dogs don’t get too old to train. It’s a little harder when they have got a little age,” he said. “We had a chessie with a show title that we started at seven years old and he became a master hunter.”
Edmonds works the retrievers three or four months before turning them over to Elam for advance training. About 50 percent eventually run field trials and hunt tests and the rest are used for hunting waterfowl.
Edmonds’ advice to retriever buyers is to purchase the best dog you can afford after studying pedigrees and health backgrounds.
“The more you check the better off you will be,” he said.
Edmonds has no preference for males or females. He primarily trains black Labs but is experiencing an increase in goldens and chessies. His advice to amateurs is study training materials, watch tests and trials and talk to pros.
“Watch what they do, be around as many as you can and ask questions,” he said. “And the only way you are going to really learn is to do it. The more you work at it the better you are going to be.”
Does Edmonds have any desire to rejoin the hunt test circuit?
“I’d rather be at home training,” he said. “Making the dogs a little bit better every day. I just like being around dogs. I’d have a hundred if I could. Right now I have a rescue lab. He was a basket case when I got him, afraid of his own shadow. Yesterday morning he picked up a duck and goose.”