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Versatile Gundogs

Through careful breeding, many once obscure breeds, like the Pudelpointer, are becoming widely recognized for their all-around abilities.

The dream of many breeders has long been to cross a Labrador with a pointer to get the best of both worlds. With my luck I'd get a dog that points like a Lab and retrieves like a pointer.

Rather than corrupt two of the most perfected specialists in their respective categories, consider a versatile gundog, one of 27 breeds recognized by the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). Yes, the hybrid cross-breeding has already been done for us! Most versatile hunting dogs (VHDs) were formulated by Europeans in the late 1800s. A dash of scent-hound here, a smidgeon of retriever there, a generous helping of pointing instinct and the VHD was born.

Initial modifications resulted in the Weimaraner, vizsla, Brittany and small Munsterlander, but a flurry of breedings later added many more. These days German wirehairs (Drahthaars), German shorthairs (or "shortbrains" as my friend sometimes calls his) and Pudelpointers may be most popular, but the German longhaired pointer has its fans, as does the Spinone and many more.

Regardless of the breed or the country of origin, VHDs are expected to quarter, point, scent-trail, blood-trail and retrieve wounded game, feathered and furred, from land and sea. None have the pure aesthetic beauty of a setter or the style of a pointer. Few show the single-minded intensity of a Labrador or the happy commitment of a springer. But many come close in all categories. And that's what makes them so special, especially in this day and age when most of us have limited time, finances and places to hunt.

A well-trained VHD should retrieve geese from wheat stubble Friday evening and mallards from a slough Saturday morning. It should point quail Saturday afternoon and run down wing-tipped ringnecks Sunday morning. Go ahead and shoot a cottontail, squirrel or raccoon, and your four-legged utility partner will fetch them, too. And if your bowhunting buddy can't recover his buck, put a versatile dog on the blood trail and get your skinning knives ready.
A versatile dog saves time and money while increasing your success afield, which is why some snobs refer to them as "meat dogs." Sounds like a compliment to me.

With an abundance of small game and waterfowl, 20th century U.S. hunters paid scant attention to "continental" breeds until after World War II. We had plenty of open land and big yards in which to keep and run specialist breeds, so we perfected Labs and Chesapeakes for waterfowl, pointers for quail, setters for grouse, springers for pheasants and beagles for bunnies. But as suburbs spread and farmlands shrank, we began humming a different tune.

The spontaneous afternoon hunt became problematic, and weekend marathons saw us driving more hours than we hunted. It seemed wasteful to ignore a mallard flushed during a quail hunt just because our setter wouldn't retrieve from water. Passing up that cottontail our golden retriever flushed today didn't mean we'd put our beagles on it tomorrow. We were wasting hunting opportunities for ourselves and our dogs.

A few pragmatists defied convention and imported VHDs. Dock-tailed and often plodding, the strange breeds were ignored, even ridiculed at first. But they produced game and hunter interest rose so much that NAVHDA formed in 1969. The organization developed standardized tests for judging versatile dogs. Many breeds have improved markedly thanks to rigorous tests and selective breeding. Today you really can find dogs that retrieve like Labs, point like pointers and blood-trail like hounds. A few will even bay a treed coon and pour you a beer after dinner. (Okay, I made up that last part.)

An important NAVDHA distinction is that it "tests" rather than "trials" dogs. Dogs are judged against a standard rather than against other dogs. They are judged for nose, search, pointing, desire to work, cooperation and physical attributes on land and water while finding, tracking and retrieving game. It's a well-thought-out system that truly tests for the traits the average hunter needs.

This emphasis on "huntability" has given us arguably the most productive general-purpose hunting dogs in history. Through careful breeding, many once obscure breeds, like the Pudelpointer, are becoming widely recognized for their all-around abilities. If you're looking for a utility hunting companion capable of pursuing almost anything, investigate the VHDs. You may hook up with the best hunting partner of your life.

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1 Response to Versatile Gundogs

PHIL MCEVOY wrote:
April 21, 2011

THE EXPECTATIONS OF THESE DOGS SOUND LIKE A SPRINGER SPANIEL TO ME. I HAVE HUNTED WATER FOWL, PHESANTS,QUAIL AND RABBITS WITH MANY SPRINGERS. MY CURRENT SPRINGER EVEN HAD A HABIT OF POINTING, I DID NOT ENCOURAGE THIS TRAIT. SHE IS A PURE BRED FIELD SPRINGER. SHE WILL BE 15 TOMORROW, 4/22/11. SHE HAS NOT HUNTED IN A COUPLE OF YEARS BUT STILL LIKES TO GET INTO A FIELD WITH HER NOSE WORKING FOR A SHORT TIME.