By Tom Carpenter
It was classic South Dakota, and classic Braque work, both at their very best.
Aurora County corn stubble butted up to a grass-lined wetland. Surely, some roosters were hiding within. As Brad Boisen and I approached from downwind, two brown-and-white dogs shook with excitement, but stayed at heel even though their noses quivered with scent.
Soon the dogs were coursing the cover. Savvi and Cleo flowed with grace and efficiency – not too fast, not too slow – and crouched progressively lower to the ground as they homed in on pheasants.
When Savvi locked up, head almost on the ground and butt in the air, Cleo honored. I stepped in. Two roosters exploded out of the cattails. After whiffing on one bird, I settled down and swung for an easy shot. The longtail folded and splashed … right into the slough!
Not a problem. Savvi barreled in and finished his work, bringing the cock bird back to hand before shaking off and moving on.
That evening, sitting on a couch watching football, you would have thought the Braques were Shih Tzus, the way the dogs snuggled and lounged at our sides, looking for some love.
Hard-working, versatile, family-friendly. That’s the Braque. These particular dogs happened to be of the Braque Francais Pyrenean variety. But what about all the other kinds of Braques out there? Let’s decipher the background of the upland pointing dog family known as Braque and define the breeds’ many qualities.
Like all short-haired pointing breeds, Braques originated in Europe. The predecessor of today’s Braques was a big, burly, hound-like canine known as oysel. Oysels developed on the Mediterranean flanks of the Pyrenees Mountains, in what is now France, Spain and Italy. This dog was bred for rough shooting; hunting’s goal was game (feathered or furred) on the cook fire, and not elegant dog work.
Jacques Espee de Selincourt, a huntsman for the French royalty, wrote of the Braque in his 1683 book La Parfait Chasseur (The Perfect Hunter): “He is a quite tall dog, very strong, with a robust chest, big head, long ears, good-sized nose, loose lips, and a white coat with brown spots.”
“This original Braque was the Braque Francais Gascogne,” says Boisen, who has been importing Braques from France to the U.S. since 1992. He has a Braques breeding program and hunts from his Grand Ciel Lodge.
“My Braques are the Pyrenees variety,” says Boisen. Gascognes are now rare, even in France. There are also Braque du Bourbonnais, Braque d'Ariège, Braque d'Auvergne, Braque du Puy, Braque Saint-Germain, and the related Bracco Italiano. In the United States, only the Pyrenean (2016), Bourbonnais (2011) and Italiano (2001) are currently recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
So why are there so many versions of the Braque? How do they differ, and not differ?
You can get as complex or as simple as you want with Braque history. Boisen makes it simple.
“They all descended from the Gascogne dog,” he says. “Then, as the dogs reached different regions, they were bred for the game, terrain and habitat there.” Hounds contributed to the versioning, as did English pointers, and other breeds. It is probably no small coincidence that German Shorthairs and Braques share similar looks and hunting abilities.
Boisen has a unique interest in the Pyrenees (Pyrenean) version. “As society changed from almost purely rural and agrarian to being town and community oriented, property lines became tighter and a smaller. This version of the Braque emerged.” That’s parallel to how the Brittany developed in that region of France: a smaller dog for the common man and cottage dweller.
Following is a summary of the various Braque breeds. All are named after the region or province in which they originated.
Braque Francais Gascogne.
After oysel, this is the original Braque. A few Braques with Gascogne traits (large at 25 to 28 inches tall at the withers, and with a thicker and shorter coat, plus longer ears and jowls that are almost hound-like) survive in rural areas of southern France.
Braque Francais Pyrenean.
The Pyrenees version, and probably the most common Braque in both France and North America. A smaller, brown and white dog with shorter ears, less “jowl,” and only 19 to 23 inches tall at the withers. Coloration is a rich and deep brown or chestnut, and white, often with generous ticking.
Braque du Bourbonnais.
A mostly white Braque, featuring light brown or fawn-colored ticking, and ears in a color to match. Bourbonnais dogs first reached North America in 1988, and have been growing in popularity ever since. They are sized similarly to Pyreneans.
A larger dog, sized more like a Gascogne, but mostly white. These Braques have long ears and are jowly, and are likely closely related to Bracco Italianos.
This Braque, from the mountains of its namesake region, is white and black. The head and ears themselves are always black. This dog was developed to hunt chukars in the rocks and scree.
Braque du Puy.
This Braque has been lost, but was interesting in that it hailed from the lowlands, and was built more like a greyhound than a pointer. Old artwork shows the dogs with barrow noses and short ears.
This old breed dates back to the 1800s in France’s St. Germain region. Dogs are white and orange, with white dominating. The head and ears are orange.
The Italian pointer, from that country’s side of the Pyrenees. Braccos are excellent pointers, well established in North America. They are different than Braques in the spelling of their name only. Braccos are large (23 to 27 inches tall, up to 80 pounds) and very hound-like in appearance. They could be the closest breed we have to the original, early Braques.
Entire articles could be written about each of the Braques breeds. But they all share qualities as efficient hunters and loving pets.
“I am constantly amazed at how acute their sense of smell is. It is unmatched in the pointing dog world, in my opinion. I have consistently seen Braques locate birds from farther away than other dogs, and locate birds that other dogs missed,” says Boisen.
“Braques love to retrieve,” he adds. That was a requisite trait when lost game meant a lost meal. “Rare individuals that aren’t 100 percent natural retrievers only take a little encouragement.”
“By and large, they love water,” he adds. Dump a rooster in the drink and a Braque is on it. “Combined with retrieving sense, they make great early season duck dogs. But the short coat keeps all Braques on the sidelines for cold-weather water ducks.”
“Braque breeds are easy to train,” adds Boisen. “They figure pointing out by themselves. The trait is just in their genetic makeup. Get them in the field and on a few birds. That’s it. You can’t keep a Braque from hunting. Neither you can’t keep them from loving you up at home.”
Braques are versatile. They’re adept in big country (thinks Huns, chukars and desert quail), and effective on sneaky rosters. But many hunters take Braques into the grouse and woodcock woods, too.
Point and Lock
A Braque is A Braque. The versions may look a little different, but they share virtues. It all comes down to that one word, braque, which in French describes the ideas of point and lock. Is there any simpler or better way to describe a bird dog? Any Braque is worth exploring as your next hunting companion.
Grand Ciel Lodge
Club du Braque Francais North America
Braque du Bourbonnais Club of America
Bracco Italiano Club of America
Tom Carpenter is Digital Content Manager at Pheasants Forever