The age-old bond between a huntsman and his dog is fueled by trust, love, and a mutual passion for the sport. Here, we’ve asked six local men to tell us all about what makes their dogs special – both on the hunt and in the home. After all, as W.R. Pursche wrote, “Everyone thinks their dog is the best dog in the world. And none of them are wrong.”
Charles “Cranston” Gass with Cash
Photos by Emily Pérez Long
As an avid waterfowl hunter, Cranston Gass knew that a Labrador retriever would be the ideal hunting companion. So, when his friend had a litter of black lab puppies from a prestigious hunting line, he knew he had to have one.
Gass brought Cash home as an 8-week-old puppy, and the pair quickly bonded over training sessions. “There are a few different things that go into training the dog. We start off with basic retrieval such as throwing a ball in the yard as a puppy and work our way up to complex land and water blinds,” Gass explains. Those early training sessions helped to develop Cash’s natural instincts to retrieve from a young age, and it certainly paid off.
Now 6 years old, Cash has become the best hunting companion that Gass could ask for. “The drive he has to retrieve birds is something special to see,” he says. “Cash is my best friend, and getting to hunt with your best friend is something everyone should get to experience.” Though he can’t express it in words, Cash makes it clear that he loves hunting with his best friend just as much. “If I wake up to hunt early in the morning and he sees me putting on camouflage, he will go and sit in front of the door to make sure I don’t forget him when I leave,” Gass shares.
From ducks and geese to quail and pheasants, Cash takes off like a rocket when it’s time to nab a bird, but he also has the discipline to wait patiently. “I carry a ‘tree seat’ that I use for him to sit on in the flooded timber. He just sits and keeps his eyes to the sky until it’s time for him to retrieve a bird,” Gass shares. “If not picking up birds, his favorite part of the hunt would probably be when my buddies sneak him a bite of their Little Debbies!”
Cash is just as special at home as he is in the field, and Gass says his personality is one in a million. “I have never met a dog that has a personality anything like Cash,” he says. “I don’t know that he’s ever had a stuffed toy that has lasted more than a couple of hours. He also thinks he’s the size of a cat and will try to sit in the window sill and keep watch of everything that goes on outside when he can’t be out there.”
Will Gailmard with Colt
Photos by Sarah Unger
Will Gailmard was looking for a dog that could handle retrieving a variety of waterfowl, but would also make a great family dog in his down time. He found the perfect match with his Boykin spaniel named Colt.
Boykin spaniels are medium-sized dogs with a distinctive, solid-brown coat. First bred in South Carolina for flushing and retrieving birds, these dogs are tenacious in the field, yet warm and loving at home with their families. All of this makes Colt, an 8-month-old Boykin puppy, the perfect dog for Gailmard and his family. “I wanted a good family-oriented dog that is also very multifaceted for different styles of bird hunting,” Gailmard explains, noting that he hunts upland birds like doves, quail, and pheasants in addition to migratory birds like ducks, geese, and Sandhill cranes. He needed a dog that could keep up with that variety, and Colt is certainly up for the challenge.
Gailmard has been working with a professional trainer at Southern Pro Kennel since Colt was 7 weeks old, and working on his commands has been a bonding experience for the whole family. “My favorite memory so far is the first time I got to see my youngest daughter train with him. It was so special to see her enjoy working with Colt as much as I do,” Gailmard recalls. “Watching Colt interact with her while he was training, you could tell it was a special moment for him as well.”
The family’s dedication to training is sure to pay off, as Colt already shows great promise in the field at less than a year old. “He is always trying to please me, which in turn makes him never want to give up. He is faster than most dogs, which means he can get there and get back in the blind quicker. He is extremely agile, so he can get into spots where other dogs can’t,” Gailmard explains. “He is excited like a kid on Christmas morning, but he goes into game mode when you get him into the blind or into the cover that he will be launching from.”
Colt loves being in the field, but he has just as much fun at home with his family. “He absolutely loves watching me work the birds; you can see him start to tremble and shake with excitement. But he is also very excited when we fire up the grill, because he knows his sausage biscuit isn’t far away,” Gailmard says. Whether he’s hunting, helping out on the farm, or just chewing on his favorite toys – or a pair of shoes – Colt is an excitable, happy dog who is truly part of the family.
Logan Fugate with Odin
Photos by Rich Smith
Logan Fugate took his time finding the right hunting dog – one that could retrieve everything from ducks to Sandhill cranes, but would also stand out from the pack. All things considered, a Chesapeake Bay retriever was the ideal choice.
Though they share some traits with Labrador retrievers, the Chesapeake Bay retriever is a rare, specialized breed that can be harder to find. “I have always been intrigued by them,” Fugate says. “I’d always seen them in magazines and on social media, but never in person.” In a stroke of luck, however, Fugate found a reputable breeder in Tennessee who happened to have a litter of puppies available. The timing worked out just right, and he brought Odin home just two weeks later.
At 8 weeks old, Odin needed to learn the basics before he would be ready to unlock his full potential. Fugate started working on puppy obedience training immediately, then moved on to more advanced concepts when Odin was a bit more mature. “I started out by reading retriever training books and watching videos,” he says. “We started working with professional retriever trainers multiple times a week from the time he was about 8 months old.” Given his breed, Odin was certainly born with retrieval instincts, but Fugate’s dedicated training is what made him a high-performance hunting dog. “My favorite memory has to be when he got his finished title and became a Hunting Retriever Champion,” he recalls.
In the field, Odin’s high drive and steady focus make him an excellent hunting companion. “He is always jacked up and ready to go. His eyes are always to the sky looking for the next bird to pick up, but he is steady and waits until I give him the command,” Fugate shares. “I enjoy watching him run out to pick up the birds more than anything else. He is great at marking birds when they go down, so he doesn’t need a lot of direction from me to find them.”
Though Odin is a determined hunter in the field, he is a cherished member of the family for Fugate and his wife, Lindsay. At home, he answers to a number of nicknames like “Odo” and “Mister Boy,” and you’re likely to find him chewing on an antler when he’s not playing or cuddling up with his family. “He is extremely loyal to me,” Fugate says. “He weighs 80 pounds, but he thinks he is a lap dog. He is still a puppy at heart, even at almost 4 years old.”
Tommy Hamn with Dan
Photos by Rich Smith
As a well-rounded huntsman, Tommy Hamn wanted a true “gentleman’s gundog” to accompany him on the hunt and retrieve both on land and in water. Dan, a black Labrador retriever, is exactly that.
Hamn’s hunting repertoire includes doves, ducks, and various upland game birds, so he needed a well-trained dog that could handle that variety in addition to being a loving family dog at home. He got his first dog, Sue, from Wildrose Kennels, an organization known for raising and training puppies of the highest caliber. Sue was a great hunting companion, so he returned to Wildrose years later to get his newest dog, Dan. “We had them train him up until he was a little over a year old, with short visits back to us during this time,” Hamn says. “He is now 6 years old with five hunting seasons under his belt, and we have been really pleased with him as well.”
In order to keep up Dan’s training, Hamn has continued to work closely with professional trainers, attending Wildrose Handlers’ retreats twice a year for the past decade. “This helps tune the dog up, but mainly helps train me as the handler,” he explains. “I have really enjoyed the classes and the friendships I have made over the years.” This training makes for an excellent hunting dog, but the experience of working with Dan on his commands also brings the pair closer together. “I enjoy working with the dogs. I have enjoyed that part from when I was a boy,” he shares. “I work with them in the yard as often as I can.”
In the field, Dan is steady, calm, and ready at a moment’s notice to make a great retrieve. “He would do that all day if he could. That’s the reward,” Hamn says. Additionally, Dan’s nose is a force to be reckoned with on the hunt. “He can pick up a scent from over 30 yards away and follow it, not even seeing the bird, and go right to it. It’s amazing to watch,” Hamn shares.
Dan is certainly a “gentleman’s gundog,” as promised. “What that means to me is that they are not just working dogs, and they’re not just companion dogs. It’s a great blend of both,” Hamn says. “They go with me wherever I’m going or whatever I’m doing. They will sit on their dog bed while I’m working in the barn, but they also know when it’s ‘go time’ in the field. They know when it’s time for them go to work, and they love doing it.”
Chris Schreiner with Hank
Photos by Sarah Unger
As an avid upland bird hunter, Chris Schreiner needed a gundog that could track, point, and retrieve in any sort of terrain. Hank, his German Wirehaired Pointer, turned out to be just the right dog for the job.
The German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) is a European utility breed known for their physical and mental agility. They have the energy to run and retrieve all day with the mental stamina to remain focused on the task at hand – exactly what Schreiner needed in a birddog. “I chose this breed because I had a friend who had a GWP, and I heard they were good all-around hunting dogs,” he says. Hank came to him as a 6-week-old puppy, and after two and a half years of hunting and bonding in the outdoors together, Schreiner has certainly not been disappointed.
When Hank was a puppy, his intelligent, eager-to-please personality coupled with Schreiner’s dedication to consistent training quickly turned him into a highly effective birddog. “He’s like a well-trained machine,” Schreiner explains. “He just loves to hunt. The second he sees the shotgun, he starts jumping!” Hank is always just as eager to get out in the field as Schreiner is, and he takes his job very seriously, tirelessly tracking down birds until the day is done.
Over the past two years, the pair has hunted a variety of upland game birds. From quail hiding in the brush to chukar partridges residing on steep hillsides, Hank loves nothing more than pointing the birds out and waiting to make a retrieve. “He has a great sniffer and finds the birds very easily,” Schreiner says, adding that Hank’s hunting instincts don’t stop there – he’s also a big fan of chasing rabbits in his spare time.
When he’s not out in the field, you’ll probably find Hank chewing on one of his favorite toys, deer antlers, or using his smarts to his advantage with the Schreiner family’s other dog, Bo. “He is very clever,” Schreiner explains. “If our other dog has a toy that Hank wants, he will bring another toy around to make Bo jealous, then when Bo comes for that toy, he’ll drop it and go get the one Bo had.” Altogether, Hank is everything Schreiner was looking for in a dog. In summary he says, “I think he’s the best ever, but I’m a little biased!”