The late 1950s and ’60s were exciting years for this young 24-year-old Conservation Officer in Ontario.
My first three winters in the eastern part of the province were spent doing a life study of a bird known as the Hungarian partridge. With little doubt this bird is the king of all upland birds. When I first undertook the project, I was soon contacted by the Eastern Ontario Upland Bird Dog Association offering their assistance with their game bird pointing dogs.
The first winter was spent live trapping, banding, aging and recording every second of their lives and then following them through the winter and spring months ahead. I visited the Ottawa Bird Dog Association to update them on the study and welcomed them to participate along with their pointing dogs and found that the president of the organization, John Bennet, had a German shorthair pointer with a new litter of pups.
When I went to see the new pups I was quick to point out an exceptionally small, mostly white runt of a pup. I was informed that they would be putting this mostly white critter down as it did not fit into the colour of what German shorthair dogs should look like. I offered to buy the pup, but John decided to give the dog – papers and all – to me with no payment.
The following fall, the club members were often down to Dundas Township and working their champion dogs on the Hungarian partridge. My dog, who I called The Barron, had an all brown head and a brown patch on his shoulders, but otherwise, was all white and, shall we say, not really accepted by the rich and mighty of the bird dog organizations.
To be truthful, The Barron was sort of an outcast. However, by the end of the three-year project, The Barron had worked with me every minute I spent on the project. In the fall, summer and spring months he would find where the coveys were bedded down. Other bird dogs could not find the scent of bird nests, but that was no problem for The Barron.
By the fall, John Bennett put up a proposal of holding a bird dog trial (no shooting) on the Hungarian partridge. Such bird trials did not exist in Ontario in those days. I put the proposal up to biologist Doug Clark who, at that at the time, was the head of Ontario Fish and Game Department, and who – incidentally – each year came down with his bird dog to hunt the King of all Upland Birds, the Hungarian partridge.
The field trial was set up just outside of the hamlet of Winchester, between Ottawa and the St.Lawrence, and the mayor and council, along with the town’s newspaper were advised of the upcoming event.
I was waiting just on the cross road corner of the village, for John and his fellow upland bird enthusiasts to show up when an army jeep pulled up to my cruiser and out stepped John. Then a soldier stepped out of the jeep and came to attention facing my friend John.
Now I’m bewildered. A soldier calling my friend John “Sir,” a half dozen army vehicles including a mobile kitchen, a dozen military personnel, about 30 other private vehicles following the military vehicles.
The main street of the hamlet came to an abrupt halt. People came out of the stores to see what was happening with all the army vehicles and military soldiers.
My attire did look somewhat military but had no bars on the shoulder or corporal stripes on the arm.
I called John by his first name – he was not dressed in any military attire.
“Brigadier General Sir,” the soldier said to me.
I was stunned.
This guy I had been working the dogs with, as well as hunting for two years with, was the Top Gun of the Canadian Army?
Later in the day I told the corporal that I had no idea of John’s status; he seemed just like an everyday guy. The corporal assured me that indeed he was!
The field trials started and the dogs from across Canada, as well as the United States, started the competition.
At 4 o’clock that afternoon the trials ended and John’s shorthair was the winner. They asked me to come up to the mic, as they wanted to recognize me for undertaking the research on the Hungarian partridge, as well as helping to getting permission from the government to hold the trials.
I took the mic, turned to John and asked if The Barron could give a little challenge to the top two bird dogs, that, incidentally, for some years had been Canadian Champions.
They agreed and I called out the ground rules. The handlers would only be allowed two hand signals, otherwise the dogs were on their own. All three took to the field. The two other dogs worked together, but The Barron worked by himself. None of the dogs went on point in the first field. Then The Barron stood up on his hind legs and looked at me. I rolled my arms and he went through the fence and into the next field, while the other two German shorthairs still worked the first field. Now I had used up one of the signals, getting The Barron to go to the second field. Within a minute he went on point and the other two honoured his point, but still in the same first field.
Next I held arms up over my head and The Barron immediately came back to my left side and sat down, to the cheers of the other handlers.
Needless to say, the news of this unbelievable German shorthair and the popularity of the Hungarian partridge in my patrol area spread like wildfire. Many noted sportsmen from the United States travelled to Eastern Ontario to hunt over The Barron, such as Rudy Etchen of top world shooting fame, the top dog trainer at the time from Purina Dog Food, and John Olin, who just happened to own Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which I would later become an employee of.
In addition, from that point on, many wildlife biologists never failed each fall to come down east – biologists from the Ontario Lands and Forest, including Doug Clark, a world famous biologist and Chief of the Lands and Forest Department in Ontario – and of course just happened to have their shot guns with them.
When the dog trainer from Purina Foods came up from the United States with 13 dogs, including one English pointer that was a Grand Champion in the States, he noticed my young children riding around the lawn on The Barron’s back, and shook his head saying that was no way to train a dog.
The Barron rode up front of my car with me and that was also a no-no. After The Barron would bring back a bird to me, I would attack him rolling him on the ground and then go down on my hands and knees with my head down and The Barron would put his head under my stomach and roll me over jumping all over me, to the utmost disgust of Chuck, saying you can’t train a dog that way.
At the end of the three day hunt, The Barron put to shame all of the 13 dogs. Chuck asked if a thousand dollars for The Barron would interest me. I told him to put 10 more “0s” on the end of it and it would be still no.
Chuck returned to the states and lucky for him, he did not see the other animal in our back yard that was The Barron’s best buddy – Bobby the Beaver – or poor old Chuck would have no doubt given up training bird dogs.