Bird Dogs & Training  |  03/23/2022

Can Bird Dogs Save Hunting?


Let's show the world what a good bird dog is really capable of

By Shae Birkey

I’ve read a lot over the years regarding “why we hunt,” and they’ve all hit home for me and helped me dig deeper into that very subject. As I get older, the “five stages of hunter development” is more and more at the front of mind. Specifically, I find myself more interested in exposing my boys and others to the joys of hunting over my more selfish and solo hunting years of limits and antler size. I’ve always been a more conservation-minded hunter, especially given my education at the University of Illinois. My Masters Degree is in Conservation Biology, and learning how the natural world works and why each and every plant, animal, and living thing has its place has stuck with me. Learning the food web as a kid translated to a deeper dive through ecology in college.
Books on the subject of why we hunt are numerous and I’ve read a lot of them, but one that I consider a “must read” is Michael Sabbeth’s “The Honorable Hunter.” Jim Shockey was the first person I heard reference it during one of his shows, and I’m an avid reader, so I thought I’d check it out. I always enjoy Shockey’s take on hunting’s “why.” Sure enough, it was a winner. It not only helped me craft a message and responses to anti-hunting rhetoric, but it also made me realize that we need to be teaching our young (and old) hunters these same tactics. We cannot lay down in the face of an attack on something we hold so dear and that we know has deep value. What we do is worth standing up for! Not speaking up in the right way is giving the other side power against us. Is it just me or does it absolutely enrage anyone else to think that your son or daughter might lose the chance to pursue game and be PART OF nature?

OK, so now where do bird dogs fit into this conversation? Well, as Sabbeth’s book explains, there are many ways to advocate for our great pastime. Whether it’s speaking its value to other hunters and non-hunters, spending resources with a conservation organization like NWTF, or doing what we love to do legally thereby purchasing the guns, ammo, licenses, permits that actually fund the majority of wildlife conservation in this great country of ours. Having owned two outstanding Drahthaars over the past nearly 18 years as a NAVHDA member and officer, I’ve introduced hundreds, if not thousands of people to hunting over a good dog. Many of those folks were kids, and all of them were thrilled to see a dog working in the field. Being “one” with a dog in pursuit of game is an amazing feeling and not an experience that people forget. 

The cool thing about dogs is that nearly everyone has one or has had one in their lifetime — in other words, they’re relatable to many people — unlike hunting where only about 5% of the total population here in the U.S. actually hunts. I was reminded of this recently when a local news station showed up at our chapter training day. The reporter was in her 20’s and when I asked her why she was covering our event she smiled and said, “Everyone loves puppies!” Although I found it comical at the time, upon reflection she is right! Now let me wrap this all back together—I firmly believe that a well-trained hunting dog can be used to educate, enthrall, and engage potential hunters of any age. The biggest hurdle, in my opinion, is ensuring that we, as NAVHDA members, are doing the work to get out there with our dogs. There are so many ways to do this—through our NAVHDA chapter hosting a youth event or in cooperation with a local sponsor chapter, like Pheasants Forever. Don’t forget that NAVHDA has funds available to host such an event! 

The truth is that hunter numbers are declining, and hunting is an integral part of the North American Model — without hunters and hunter dollars we simply would not have the abundance of game and non-game species that we now have. It’s up to you as to whether or not you are going to lay down and let this decline in the activity we so love happen or stand up and show the world what a good bird dog is capable of!

This article originally appeared in the August 2021 Issie of NAVDHA's magazine, Versatile Hunting Dog.