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The Old Hemlock Line (Page 2)

The tradition of woodcock hunting runs deep in New England. If you hunt over the right dogs, you learn why.

A true dog man, he often wrote about dogs and grouse hunting more than actually shooting birds. Much of his writing was what many strive for, but often fail to achieve; it was elegant and thought-provoking, with a constant flow that often left you with a hollow feeling that it ended so soon.

Old Hemlock dogs are, according to a passage on the website of the Old Hemlock Foundation, “a line of English Setters developed by George and Kay Evans using a dog obtained from George Ryman, Old Hemlock Blue, and then breeding for the type. The Evanses were looking for a companion gun dog for primarily grouse and woodcock hunting. Old Hemlock Setters are often referred to as belton setters, but belton is a color: blue belton, orange belton or tri-belton. On page 224 of the Upland Shooting Life George describes the line of dogs: ‘In our Old Hemlock line we have developed a handsome belton type averaging fifty-five pounds for the males, under fifty for the females, with a deep muzzle, a typical long, fine-boned head. They hunt almost daily through our long grouse seasons in roughest cover, and they are natural gun dogs with nose and style. They are companion gun dogs that hunt to the extent of bell range and have the fire and drive necessary to find birds but hunt for and check in with the gunner.’”

In listening to Bob talk about the dogs, that all seems a bit clinical. He speaks with the passion that I suspect runs throughout the entire Old Hemlock social strata. Theirs is a proud and protective clan. The dogs are monitored to keep the breed pure and true, and the people who own Old Hemlock dogs are fiercely loyal to the breed and to the Old Hemlock name. They meet annually to spend a week celebrating their dogs and their passions. I felt honored when Bob invited me to that event last year, and I was deeply disappointed when my schedule would not allow me to attend.

When I made that first hunt with Bob, Zephyr was nearly 10 years old. Knowing his years of hunting are limited, Bob wanted to bring along another dog, and recently he added Fionn. I hunted with Fionn a few times last year when he was still less than a year old. This dog will do the Old Hemlock line proud. He was working well, honoring Zephyr’s points and actually finding woodcocks on his own. In fact, I shot the first woodcock he pointed and retrieved by himself. No dog could have done it better.

I have seen firsthand that there are a lot of outstanding bird dogs in the world. Good breeding and proper training usually produce a productive hunting dog. But these Old Hemlock dogs move it past simple bird hunting. They preserve a long and proud tradition of upland hunting, a tradition that is fading in today’s increasingly humanized world of hunting. Certainly there is value in that.

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1 Response to The Old Hemlock Line (Page 2)

LeJay Graffious wrote:
October 09, 2013

Bryce writes about his experiences over an Old Hemlock Setter which many of George Bird Evans's readers have experienced in the field and on the page. Thanks to Bob Rose from keeping the Legacy of George alive.