by Randy Lawrence
Author's Note: When I submitted this essay for
consideration in "Firelight Reflections," Lynn Dee thanked me, but
confessed to being uncomfortable, thinking it was too much about her to be
posted on her own blog. I responded with my usual light, empathetic
touch: "Get over yourself. It's not about you. It's about the
dogs and how we can all always get better at handling them in the field."
Then I offered to write a disclaimer. Here it is: "If this
gets posted, know that it was over LDG's ingrained New England reticence and
The cover was at least a week away from being
frost-flattened. Aspen brakes shimmered
with a full head of gold leaves. Any dog
working more than 30 yards away was a faint impression moving through
brush. Whatever shooting to be had
would be fast, with birds started over a dog’s point hurtling behind a thick
But it was October, it was familiar North Woods cover in a
decent ruffed grouse year, and my dog Deacon and I had come to jump start our
bird season, guests of Lynn Dee Galey and Deacon’s Firelight Setters kin. As bonus, we’d enjoy ringside seats to a
breeding program arranged around one woman’s notions of how best to make game
with a particular kind of pointing dog.
The pace is measured. Lynn Dee knows cover, knows
and trusts her dogs. She walks with her little
gun broken over her arm because for her,
shooting is a points-only enterprise.
When the bell stops or beeper tones, there’s plenty of time to load and
close the action while walking to the dog.
Lynn Dee doesn’t talk to her setters on point. She doesn’t fondle them on point. That way flagging and false pointing lie. She tries to walk in on, rather than by, the
stand, and she’s all business when she does.
When the dog is stopped, Lynn Dee moves.
Her part of the bargain is to put
the bird up, and she is brisk and thorough, doing all she can to make certain
the bird either gets into the air or has given us the slip.
A Firelight hunt is quiet. There’s no manic whistling or shouting to
“handle the dogs.” To an observer, it’s
more like her “handling” is about trust and support. The dogs hunt; she intrudes on their business only when a
change of course is needed.
I came to grouse hunting without much background. In the beginning, I wanted a dog I could see
all the time, preferably in gun range (couldn’t risk missing a chance to shoot,
don’t you know). I would lose my mind when
my first setter, a wispy, trial-type goer, showed any semblance of initiative.
It took a couple of years of angst and a day tagging along
with a truly legendary Ohio grouse hunter named Nelson Groves to set me
straight. Tired of my constant hacking
and checking and cautioning the dog, we stopped to regroup. That was when I asked for input. Nelson quietly suggested stuffing my whistle
in a place where surgical removal would have been necessary later.
“Let the dog go,” Nelson Groves chided. “He’s supposed to hunt. You’re s’posed to keep found, keep up, and
kill the bird when you find him standin’ there.”
Nelson weaned me into rangier dogs that “checked in without
coming in.” Lynn Dee’s Firelights work
like that, swinging ‘round in fast, sweeping casts, keeping track of her even
while they are pushing on. Within that
general program, each setter she put down during my weekend visit flashed his
or her own signature run under the Firelight marque.
Lynn Dee’s senior crew member, Storm, is a big dog with a
smooth, reaching gait that belies her size.
Storm stitches cover in wide, fast swaths and goes to game with a bold,
almost arrogant, swagger.
dam Sally hunts a little differently with casts more linear and deeper than
Storm’s on this day, but quickly settling into an efficient, deadly earnest
rhythm. She did, however, make one
opening hegira that might have triggered a less savvy hunter into full metal
Not Lynn Dee. She
waited. She listened. She checked the GPS collar and rolled her
But she knew Sally would come looking for her, sooner rather
than later. She didn’t stand there
blowing whistle blasts that only give some dogs a reference from which to keep running
their own program. Instead, Lynn Dee kept
quiet, and when Sally came looking, Lynn Dee called her into our line of march
and on we went.
But it was Firelight Seth behind whom I'd most wanted to hunt. A clownish, almost anxious fellow
when he’d spent some time with me earlier in the year, I’d seen firsthand what
one flight of woodcock had done to his dormant “on” switch. Months later, he was more confident, more
relaxed, than I’d seen him. When it was finally his turn to be down, Goofy Partydawg Seth
hardened into a business-like stager who virtually punished the dense cover,
lasered into looking for a bird to point.
I left Michigan a day later with a better sense of what Lynn
Dee has spent her adult life trying to accomplish with her setters. Over the years, I had become increasingly
disenchanted with much of what was being passed off as a “Ryman-type setter.” Too often, that designation seemed to have
been appropriated by ponderous dogs that for all their classic looks simply
weren’t built physically or mentally for hard hunting in tough country with
The late Robert Wehle once described for me how an imported
outcross strain of his great Elhew pointer line came a cropper: “It was as if
they didn’t care whether school was in session or not!” I became convinced that very few of today’s
“George Ryman setters” could have made the cut in their namesake’s hunting
string a century ago.
That won’t do. When
the school bell rings, I want a dog that rises to the head of the class - a
bird dog athlete with a quiet mind that trains naturally. I want a dog that hunts and points with a
fever, one I can admire on the move and in repose, one that claims me as a full
partner. By Firelight – Storm, Sally, Seth, my Deacon and the rest - I believe
I’ve found that sort of companion gun dog.