Group revels in turning pups into bird dogs

Bob Cook. the mastermind behind the training of a litter of pups, prepares to exercise three setters. Each is attached to an extended bar off an ATV that runs them through hill and dale.
Bob Cook. the mastermind behind the training of a litter of pups, prepares to exercise three setters. Each is attached to an extended bar off an ATV that runs them through hill and dale. Jim Lasley

Call it a family reunion of sorts – this gathering of folks drawn together not by blood but a passion for bird dogs.

The setting is rolling hills of wild grass and stubble in Davie County, a two hour drive west of Raleigh. The cast includes a merchant, physician, barber, sportsman, housewife and a wild-bird hunter.

Each owns an English setter out of the same litter. Nothing special about that except the sire is Shadow Oak Bo, winner of back-to-back national bird dog championships in Grand Junction, Tenn., in 2014 and ’15.

You could say each owns a bit of history since Bo was the first English setter in 112 years to reach such fame.

This is the third gathering of the group called to evaluate the dogs and learn new training techniques.

“There are three things we want to work on today – whoa, steady to wing and shot and retrieve,” said Bob Cook, longtime trainer and breeder of bird dogs. He also owns the dam of the litter and one of the pups.

Each pup, a year old May 12, scampered into the field on a line secured by a handler, caught the whiff of a chucker and locked onto point. The handler made sure the setter stood a stylish point and remained steady. Two birds were released from traps and downed by a shooter. Each dog retrieved the birds with a handler maintaining control with the line.

The owners were exuberant with the results, especially Cook.

“You can go wherever you want with these dogs,” he said. “I have never had anything that pleased me more. They all show talent, consistency and intelligence.”

Scott Bowen, owner of a Winston-Salem furniture store, has two goals for his pup.

“I want him to do what he was born to do – hunt birds and run field trials.”

Bowen was 10 years old in 1963 when he started hunting quail with his dad.

“We kept six dogs – mostly pointers – and every little farm then had two or three coveys. We’d harvest a few and leave the rest to breed.”

Today Bowen works his pup two or three times a week and shoots pen raised quail at places such as River Ranch, a 500 acre private hunting club along the Yadkin River in Davie County.

Does Bowen’s wife participate?

“She wishes me well, says be safe but don’t bring any birds home. Fortunately, I’ve got some friends in the restaurant business who really know how to prepare quail.”

Preston R. Miller, a surgeon, is using his past experience with bird dogs and Cook’s tutelage to bring along his pup.

“I had two bird dogs previously, both Gordon setters,” he said. “They were a great combination of hunting dogs and family dogs. Both helped raise my kids and pointed lots of birds.”

Miller’s wife, Julie, hasn’t missed any of Cook’s training sessions.

“She is very interested and involved. She’s really taken to the sport. That’s not surprising as she was raised in a family that is strongly connected to hunting and wildlife preservation,” he said.

Miller recognizes the potential and talent in his pup.

“I want to help her develop into the best bird dog she can be,” he said. “I also want her to have as much fun as I do, but as I watch her, I believe that is already the case.”

Cook expects to call the pups and their masters back into session this fall. In the meantime, he has given a summer assignment:

“Get your dogs under control, make sure they will heel and stay with you on command.”

Larry Hurst, a pipe-smoking retired salesman, observed this session with special interest. He owned the litter’s granddaddy, Cook’s Jessie James, whose heritage can be traced back to one of the most renowned bird dogs, Johnny Crocket.

“Jessie has been dead for two years but I’m still paying Cook for that dog. I bought him on the layaway plan,” Hurst joked.