|  01/28/2021

Dog Handlers on Track


Bird dogs don't care how we get around. They just want to hunt.

Story by Nancy Anisfield, lead photo by Renata Canaday

Bird dogs don’t care if we shoot fancy side-by-sides or beat-up old autos. They don’t care if we’re having a bad hair day or a new case of zits. Fancy upland styles or hand-me-downs make no difference. As long as we take our dogs hunting, they are happy. Doing what they’re bred to do is bird dog bliss no matter the details – including the means of their handlers’ mobility: Bird dogs just don't care how their hunters get around.


Dick Hodge (pictued at top), a long-time member of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), has an 11 year-old German Shorthaired Pointer, a great bird dog with high scores in the NAVHDA testing program. A disabled vet with Agent Orange exposure, Dick had to give up hunting when health issues made it impossible for him to continue. According to Dick, he “wrestled with the idea” of training one more puppy. “Common sense lost out and my wife and I got a little GSP girl that is just perfect,” Dick said. Not so long after, he got an Action Trackchair which reopened his access afield for training and hunting. Fast forward several months, and that little puppy, Dani, received a Prize 1 in her NAVHDA Natural Ability test. Wasting no time, Dick planned a trip to North Dakota to introduce her to the world of pheasants. 

“We left New York for North Dakota on Friday, October 16th and  arrived in Dickinson on Sunday. My wife Jackye (who doesn’t hunt but is a great cook) along with dear friends Daniel and Tracy Novoa without whom I could never have made trip. They helped me both in getting equipment ready and hunting. If it’s true that you can tell a man’s character by the friends they keep I must have outstanding character.”

“Birds were few and far between unlike previous years when we got three-bird limits almost every day.  The high point for me was when Dani went on point in wheat stubble. Tracker saw her and honored like the true professional he is. I motored over and stood up to shoot. Seven or eight young hens flushed and then, after it was to late to shoot, I realized I had blown a great opportunity to take a sharpie or two.” 

Unfortunately incoming weather sent Dick and his hunting party home early. With 10-12 inches of snow forecast, they packed up their campers and “ran like we stole them.” Summing up, Dick added, “All things considered, weather, no birds, expenses, 14 day quarantine, distance… I would do it again in a heartbeat and without the trackchair it would be impossible.”


A member of NAVHDA’s Southern Minnesota Chapter, Nicole Peterson also uses a trackchair, having lost mobility from the waist down following a car accident many years ago. Before getting her trackchair, Nicole wrote:

"Hank ran his NAVHDA Utility test this past August at the young age of 2.  He spent all summer training with his NAVHDA breeders, Paul and Angie Coenen.  When test day came, due to the location of the field I was unable to see any of his field work." 

Rod and Nicole Peterson enjoy a hunt.

"However, from the verbal reports that I got back from [my husband] Rod and Angie, Hank had a good field day with only one hiccup. From there we drove to the pond where the duck search was going to take place. I would be able to watch him from across the pond from our vehicle. Using a pair of binoculars I could see Hank perform his task with ambition and determination. I had never seen a duck search before but I felt that great feeling of joy and pride come over me like I experienced all those years ago with my horses and knew this was a well done search by my Hank. I couldn’t help but think, ‘what if I was right there with him and not watching from a distance’ and tears filled my eyes.  I was so happy and proud of him and his accomplishment with Paul…but…I longed to be there.”

With the trackchair, Nicole not only can be right there for her dogs’ training and testing, but she is in the field hunting with Rod, Hank, and their other German shorthair, Morgen. Nicole found the pheasants in Minnesota much more cooperative than Dick’s experience in North Dakota. “Well, the pheasant season just got going in MN. We had luck this past Saturday and got our limit within an hour!” Nicole reported in October. She and Rod also took the dogs up to the northern part of the state grouse hunting with great success.
The Peterson’s GSPs, Morgen and Hank.

Nicole and Dick received their trackchairs through the Anisfield-Wilson Track2Wing Project – a program that grants Action trackchairs to individuals with mobility challenges who want to train and hunt with bird dogs. The Track2Wing Advisory Committee is comprised of NAVHDA members with experience as a dog trainer, NAVHDA judge, hunter using a trackchair, physical therapist or combination of those skills. NAVHDA has also been instrumental in launching the Track2Wing Project. 


Ellery Worthen, a former Lab guy turned Pudelpointer enthusiast, has been an active member of NAVHDA’s Zia Chapter in New Mexico for 15 years. A daunting list of mobility issues – spinal, limb, COPD – made it nearly impossible for Ellery to train and hunt his dog in recent years until he got his trackchair. He and Ullur trained with pigeons in the cool morning hours this summer. In early October they ventured up to 10,000 feet in search of blue grouse, which Ellery claims are the best eating white meat birds around, especially in a cream sauce with wild mushrooms. His plans (at the time of this writing) are for some duck hunting and going after Montezuma (Mearns) quail in southern New Mexico.
Ellery Worthen and his Pudelpointer Ullur.

For hunters hoping to access state wildlife management areas, getting permission to hunt from a trackchair isn’t always easy. Dick learned that permission to use the trackchair in New York management areas required a separate application for each management unit, and the trackchair is considered more as an ATV than a wheelchair. (Hopefully legislation like New York’s recently passed Outdoor Rx Act will improve the accessibility process.) Other challenges include the trackchairs’ low ground clearance, learning to shoot sitting down, and needing more storage space for shells, dog gear, water, and of course… dead game. 

Dick said his confidence level has increased as he gets more used to moving the trackchair across rough ground. He’s added accessories and plans several more modifications. “Actually, thinking, planning, modifying, etc. is part of the joy in getting ready and anticipating a great hunt,” Dick added. “Way better than feeling sorry that you can’t go. I can do, and I do!”

Nancy Anisfield is an outdoor writer and hunting dog photographer, creative director for the Ugly Dog Hunting Company, former member of the Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever Board of Directors, and co-owner of the Track2Wing Project which grants Action Trackchairs to individuals with mobility challenges who want to train and hunt with bird dogs. She and her husband live in Hinesburg, Vermont, where their lives are governed by their German shorthairs and German wirehairs.

This article originally appeared in NAVHDA’s Versatile Hunting Dog magazine.