There is a great Gospel that we profess as men of the dog
(*read in your best Thor voice*).
In some stories, there are rumors in the South of men who find their peace and solace in the early, waking hours of the day, greeted with the chops, barks, and howls of pointers and setters and the quieter stomp of a Tennessee Walking Horse’s hoof pounding the stable stall dirt. They reply to each by name, with a kind heart and a giving hand and a spirit filled with an ever-deepening kind of gratitude. There comes with it a sad song of a dying lore. The men and women who live the lifestyle know that there is no guarantee that Bob White will be tomorrow morning’s opening act, and so they live for today, following the whistle, always present for the moment. Being a Dogman is inherent to a life of stewardship and care for the land, the trees, the clay, and the critters that follow the annual fires. Singing through the longleaf for the Dogman is Worship in a cult of fire.
I’m chasing the Dogman’s song, living to traverse the sanctuaries of South Georgia’s Red Hills and Alabama’s Black Belt. We, as Dogmen, are called to be disciples of The Way and The Art of handling a class bird dog and unbeknownst to me, through the definition of my own journey I would find myself among a collective group of guys and gals who also carry the mantle, spreading the Good News and magic of another big move, great cast, or jaw-dropping find, way out on a limb and seemingly impossible. Wild bobwhite quail are known to hold even the greatest of bird dogs accountable for the working relationship between their nose and brain.
Dogmen are masters not only of the kennel but horsemanship as well. Their craft has always been the story of their lives. It was my adoption into the fold that revealed true meaning for my own life’s work, continuing to develop a voice to my own gospel, pulling from the wisdom of men who came before me and did it way better, under greater odds. This wisdom has since exposed me to life- giving truths that have brought me much closer to God. There’s nothing but time and space in the pineywoods, time to reflect on that which is bigger than any of us.
Becoming a Dogman is a somatic and ethereal journey and brings us closer to our higher selves. Watch a dog on point and it then becomes evident that there are universal powers supremely at play. Confirmation that The Spirit lives in us, enlivens the world around us, and rests between the dog and the birds, and you’d be best to learn how to walk the aisle, flushing and disrupting the sanctity of cover, and at the same time, closing the circle, bringing man, dog, horse and bird to communion.
Becoming a dogman declares a commitment to truly molding and developing class bird dogs and seeing them as works of Art, performative by way of showmanship. A dogman might seek some finality in his work, as dogs matriculate through their program, but we learn through this process of our own imperfection. There are years of hardship and heartbreak, and sometimes the best of our strings are gone too soon, yet their performances live forever, buried within the caverns of our hearts. The path to becoming a dogman later informs an existential curiosity born of innate passion. Every day, we answer our desire for more. The dog over The next Hill and through The pines A pointed metaphor. These are just a few of the Dogmen who continue to color my story:
WILLIE & BIG C
And I walked the land with these old men, cutting dogs loose from my cable gang one by one, bird by bird, those early August and September mornings a gathering of sculptors, artists of a time tested trade.
On those mornings Willie Sims laughed dastardly because he knows what he got. On those mornings, our curriculum was determined for the heart, not just for A bird dog but for The men and women themselves. If there ever was a school for dogmen, ain’t not one gon’ graduate because there’s always something to do, something to learn and it’s a year round job. But never have I found it to be thankless.
There is a proud feeling when you can swing your horse sideways and show a dog right and proper. To feel it in your spirit when the dog is about to make that big cast is unforgettable. So I guess being a dogman leans on trusting your intuition and the work that should’ve been done, a great deal of the work is contingent on trust. “Trust the dog, be his friend first,” is what Big C told me about my Jughead dog when he presented him to me in the back of that old horse trailer. And till this day, I can argue that was the most profound piece of wisdom I took from him, simple enough and even more effective in practice.
Being a dogman is being self aware and still stepping up to the stage and being open to what variables may not be in your control, and adapting to change, and knowing the changes in the dog’s patterns. I spoke to David Johnson once about some of his fondest memories during The heyday of the American field, and what he told me I found awe-inspiring. As a scout for legendary hall of fame bird dogs and being elected to the Hall of Fame this year, David knows the habits, traits, physical and mental characteristics of his dogs so intimately that he could track a dog that got off course through paw prints in the dirt and mud. That takes time, but most importantly, a hand that molds that dog from the time it’s a puppy until the day it’s called finished.
BILLY & MAN
I spoke with Billy Morton of the Alabama black belt and he spoke about his dear friend Ben “Man” Rand, one of the greatest dogmen of all time, WHO scouted for Billy Morton. Both historic figures in this community, but my conversation with Billy Morton years back call to answer some of what it means to answer such a large question. Dogmen like “Man” came real clever at an early age, skipping school out the schoolhouse window and hopping on the dog wagon with Mr. Holloway, who trained bird dogs for Sedgefields Plantation. What was it that made him so special? Mr. Billy Morton replied “patience.” He trained young dogs as if they were all in his classroom where no pup was left behind. No one progressed until everyone was up to speed. He worked those young puppies together and created a sense of camaraderie with them and them amongst each other. He was different from most because he cared to take his time and “Man,” like David, was a good horseman and alternatively, a good houndsman as well.