Sporting Dog Fever


No matter where you are, there is nothing like watching dogs work in the field.

Let’s take a step back in time. It’s a brisk but pleasant day in December of 2020. I am meeting John Burrell, the owner of High Adventure Company, at the Beretta Shooting Grounds at Barnsley Resort near Adairsville, Georgia. At this point, I don’t know John all that well, but our recent trip to the headwaters of the Soque River for some trout fishing has sparked in me something I had ignored for much too long—my outdoor roots. Our initial meeting was thanks to my son Troupe wanting to go deer hunting and my friend Bruce Fox suggesting John as a resource.

From our very first conversation, I felt comfortable with John, the kind of feeling that lets you know you will be good friends. That led me to the day when I would photograph John and his beautiful English Setter Lucky for the cover of the magazine.

Watching John as he worked Lucky through the fields while we took photos took me back to my youth and the days spent with my dad quail and grouse hunting.

We had an English Pointer and a Gordon Setter, Beauregard and Bonnie. In those days there were three things I truly loved: bird hunting, fishing, and whitewater canoeing. On hunting days, Dad and I would set out early and head to the woods. Even back in those days when the ruffed grouse population was far greater than today, hunting those elusive birds required a lot of walking. We would try to find old logging roads to make our walks a little easier, and we often didn’t make it back to the truck until close to dark. Those days were magical. Sometimes when we would sit for lunch we would hear a grouse drumming on a log looking for a grub. And the adrenaline-fueled thrill of the grouse when flushed is like no other experience. Thanks Dad; those were the days.

Watching those dogs range up and down the steep hills and through the laurel thickets invigorated my soul. The cold, crisp air biting at your face, the wonder of the ice crystals that would form on the trees at times—the memories are as vivid as if they were yesterday.

I am so thankful today that I grew up during a time without cell phones and social media. As I think back on those times, I realize the importance of disconnecting from the cacophony of constant communication that overwhelms us in today’s world. A walk in the woods or the field allows you the opportunity to spend time in nature, relax, and be thankful for all that God has created.

Rekindling My Passion

Watching the interaction between my friend and his champion English Setter made me realize it had been much too long since I had a sporting dog for bird hunting. After those hunts with Dad as a young kid, the last time I had my own sporting dog by my side on a hunt had to have been my late teens. That day with John I decided it was time to get back into the world of sporting dogs.

I wanted both a flushing dog and a setter from good blood lines, so I asked John to keep a lookout for the right ones. His knowledge of the sporting world is considerable, and he knew just where to send me for the perfect dog: veterinarian and breeder Fred Moody.

Fred and his wife, Rhonda, run The Sawbriar, a hunting preserve in Allardt, Tennessee. They are well-known for the quality of their dogs. Their October 2022 litter would have within it the dog I would soon call my own, and that following January I finally met her: a cute little ball of black fur with a single small white crest on her chest.

Chota comes from a lineage of award-winning field trial champions from Britain, and my high expectations were about to be rewarded with some great performance. A big part of the fun in sporting dogs for me is the time spent training and watching the dog improve. Since I picked her up, Chota and I have spent time every day doing some kind of training. That’s where her full name, Chota Rocket, came from. One day she spotted a squirrel and it was like I shot her out of a gun-—she was rocket fast.

Chota Rocket’s First Hunt

Fast forward a full year, and Chota’s first day in the field with live birds proved to be a memorable one. It was a comfortable February morning, and we were walking again through the fields of the Beretta Shooting Grounds.

A slight breeze rustled the gold-colored broomsedge all the way to the horizon. Perfect conditions for a quail hunt.

It’s appropriate that Chota’s first real hunt was with John and Lucky. The inspiration that I got watching them back in 2020 came full circle. When a dog is on point and the little flushing dog bounds into the cover, all the troubles of the world just seem to fall away. I was watching my rambunctious little Cocker Spaniel enter a new stage of her training.

Different breeds of pointing dogs all have a little bit of a different way of looking for the birds. Another of my friends Steven Farmer, one of the guides at High Adventure, has a German Shorthaired Pointer named Sweetie who often looks like she is tiptoeing as she scents out where the bird is holding. Not so with Lucky, who can cover acres at a time. For every type of style of hunting, there is a breed best suited.

It wasn’t long before Lucky was on point, and John and I moved into position. It was Chota’s first moment of truth as we sent her in to flush the birds. Turned out to be a single, and the bird went to John’s side. I silently held my breath for a moment. Despite trying to do all the correct training, you always wonder how the dog will respond to being under actual gunfire in the field. Chota never flinched and dove straight into the brush to retrieve the downed bird. She seemed so happy as she laid the bird at my feet, and I could not have been any more proud.

We spent the rest of the day walking through the fields. Lucky would find coveys of birds, and Chota became more eager to flush as the day passed. It seemed like she got more excited with each flush. By the end of the day, she was one happy, exhausted little dog. It made me want to take the rest of the month off and just go hunting every day with her.

How to Get Involved

In the process of creating and publishing these stories I am often met with an abundance of curiosity from readers about how to get into hunting or fishing. If you don’t happen to have a friend that is an avid sportsman then the key to having a great first experience is to employ a competent guide service. I was lucky to find John and The High Adventure Company, and I do highly recommend all of the locations and services they offer. I have had nothing but top-notch experiences. High Adventure manages the shooting grounds at Barnsley, and the hunting and accommodations are first rate all the way.

A great way to polish up your skills for an upcoming hunting trip is a visit to a skeet and trap range. They have everything you need from guns and ammo to competent instructors. Best to learn how to properly handle a shotgun before making your way into the field for a hunt. Iron Mountain Sporting Clays near Bass Pro in Kodak has an awesome clays course, or if you are on the west end, try the Oak Ridge Sportsmen’s Association.

If hunting or shooting is not your thing, consider exploring the forest trails in our area. The folks at River Sports Outfitters or Little River Outfitters can be a wealth of info on where you can get off the beaten path with your dog.

Finally, if you are interested in becoming a sporting dog owner, I highly recommend spending a few days in the field with competent guides and see how the different breeds actually do their job. It can be a lot of fun investigating to see exactly what kind of dog best suits your personality and needs. Who knows, you may just find your next hunting partner. After all, the best come with four paws.

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