Who's the Boss?
An alpha chef learns a few lessons from his alpha gun dog
When it came to selecting my first gun dog, I had one rule—and it came from my wife, Idie: “Bring home a female. There’s too much testosterone in this house as is.”
Truth be told, I needed the advice. As the son of an architect and an artist, hunting and guns were not a regular part of my Southern upbringing. When I arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1986 to work with Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar and Grill, I had yet to be exposed to quail hunting and the traditions and passions it inspires. And I certainly had never considered what it meant to own a bird dog.
After a few trips in the fields, I quickly decided that those who owned and trained their own gun dogs were enjoying the apex of the wing-shooting lifestyle. When you see a man and dog in action it’s damn near impossible not to want to experience it for yourself. So in 2001, after sixteen years of following others’ dogs through the woods, I decided to join the gun dog fraternity. Now I just needed to find the right dog.
Over the years I had the privilege of traveling to a number of great hunting camps—not because I am a particularly great shot or a brilliant conversationalist, but rather because I can cook a decent camp meal. During that time, I began to learn what it takes to find, train, work with, and hunt with a gun dog. I was given names of kennels, countless dog-training books, and tons of advice. A whole world of information began to flow from people I had never met but who had heard I was in the market for a puppy, specifically a setter puppy.
But my biggest break came when I ran into Charlie Perry. Perry is an avid outdoorsman and dog owner but also, most importantly for me, a dog swapper—a specialized dog man who curries favor with the best trainers, breeders, and plantation owners in the country in order to have access to puppies. There are lots of these guys out there, some better than others. Perry makes an art of it. For our deal, Perry wanted the right to hunt with the dog when he desired and to have a pick of her first litter.
Perry told me that Mrs. John Harbert, owner of the famous Pinebloom Plantation near Albany, Georgia, owed him a puppy, and asked if I would like to have that dog. Larry Moon had run Pinebloom’s kennel for years and earned a reputation for producing some of the finest bird dogs in the country, many of them regularly winning national field trials. To say your dog comes from Pinebloom gives you instant credibility. It was my shot at the dog of a lifetime. So off I went to South Georgia with the aforementioned set of instructions from my wife—no males.