Last March, Manda Michaelis saw a bird dog dream come true in the piney woods of Thomasville, Georgia. At the forty-third annual field trial of the Georgia-Florida Shooting Dog Handlers Club—a group of about thirty-five prominent Black dog trainers, many descended from a long line of handlers and trainers guiding hunters through the Red Hills’ famed quail properties—Michaelis competed as the club’s first female member.
“I’m just really proud that I came into this community and can do what it takes,” she says. “I wanted to show them that I can work as hard as everyone else and that my dog is as good as everyone else’s, and now I can open the door for others.”
The bird-dog bug bit Michaelis hard after she got her German shorthaired pointer Benny three years ago and attended her first bird hunt, watching a guide working his dogs. A deputy sheriff in Tallahassee, Florida, and a busy mom, she began carving out training time whenever she could. “I eat, sleep, and dream it,” she says. “It feels like the thing I was born to do but didn’t realize it until now.”
She learned about the club during a visit with her son to the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville, which led her to Neal Carter Jr., the group’s president and one of its founders, and Durrell Smith, a member and an Orvis-endorsed wing-shooting guide. With both helping to mentor her, she went on to train Benny at various quail plantations and public lands. After a session one day last October, Carter asked her to join the group, what Michaelis calls a “teary-eyed moment.”
Now her pack is growing. This past summer she added two German shorthaired puppies, and she has plans to eventually start her own kennel and guide hunts around South Georgia and North Florida. “Training is an art for me,” she says. “The dogs perform the way they perform because of my hands. It’s how I express myself, and it gives me a great sense of pride seeing it all come together.”