By Dr. Ben McClelland
As told through the women’s words
During the past fifteen years female participants in shotgun sports has increased 61.1 percent, according to Chris Batha, “Shotgunning Women’s Movement,” Shooting Sportsman. Field clothing for women has been designed to meet the new demand, as well.
Of course, for several years there have been some women wingshooters in the Wildrose pack, including Associate Trainer Sarah Barnes Reffert, whose was pictured afield in Covey Rise some time ago and Associate Trainer Erin Shay Davis. However, in the last few seasons the number has grown significantly. In this article we feature the stories of some in their own words. You may expect others’ stories to follow.
Crystal Hines, Wildrose Finn, Wildrose Rusty
Growing up, Chris had always wanted a yellow lab, so in 2017 we drove to Oxford, MS, where our story with Wildrose Kennels begins. The grounds were grand and immaculate. It was obvious that the dogs had an impressive level of care. The kennels were bustling with the staff and that day we met Tom Smith, Mike Stewart, and Cathy Stewart. My husband, Chris had called in advance and requested a tour. Tom gave us a tour with Big Red and WR Dixie in the back of his side-by-side. We also met WR Taz and several stud dogs during our visit. In the beginning, we were interested in looking for a yellow lab as a companion and hunting dog. After seeing “Big Red,” I was hooked. I wanted one! This idea of a yellow lab having another label of “Fox Red” was a new concept for us. We were happy to sign up for several litters and place our deposit for a yellow puppy to add to our family.
In June, 2017, we picked up Wildrose Finn at 8 weeks old. He was an active little yellow lab playing with his littermate. WR Finn’s parents are Scottie and Beretta. Scottie is a male “Fox Red” Yellow Lab and Beretta is a female Yellow Lab. WR Finn has a nice blend of the two parents’ colors and we refer to him as a lighter “Fox Red” color. WR Finn has so much energy and drive, and has proven to be an asset in the field. He loves the water. He is our “high jumper” entering the water to retrieve birds. Chris signed up WR Finn for additional training at 7 months old with a Wildrose Trainer and invested in the training book by Mike Stewart to learn the “Wildrose Way.” We dropped WR Finn off for his training as he joined Blake Henderson in his new forever trainer bond. WR Finn learned the basic obedience and gun dog training. We had a few months of puppy time at the house and a Basic Handler’s class and WR Finn was back at Wildrose again. Blake has transformed WR Finn into an impressive gun dog. Blake understands his strengths and weaknesses and has a sweet spot for WR Finn through all of his challenges during training. Wildrose is not just about selling a dog. There is more to the kennel than just running a business. There is the emotional connection and the rewards and successes of all the hard work it takes to create a true gentleman’s gun dog. Wildrose has proven to be more of a family and friends community. The trainers have a passion for the dogs and working to build their skills. The Wildrose classes and FB groups allow for bringing the Wildrose family (pack) together to help support each other through ideas and suggestions. The classes offer the basics for the beginner owner and puppy to the more advanced training for both the dogs and owners. In addition, Wildrose offers experiences such as the Adventure Dog program that gives you and your dog an opportunity to build a closer bond while having fun on an adventure!
We signed up for training classes and visited Wildrose several times over the last two years. There were times we worked other Wildrose dogs as loaners while WR Finn completed his training as a pup. As fate would have it, Chris had the opportunity to work with Rusty, a new import at the time. Rusty was learning the ropes at Wildrose to become a future Wildrose stud. We knew we wanted a second pup to add to the family, so we added our names to another litter for the future. After our first visit, I was sold on Big Red. That was until Wildrose purchased Rusty, a “Fox Red” yellow lab. We knew his litter would be a great one. He had the best laid-back personality and had the ability to turn it on for hunting. He had the best of both personalities. This would be perfect for me. I was looking for a calm pup that would be my “lap dog” when I wanted and also be excited for adventures.
In 2018, we got the call. Tom asked the best life-changing question: ”Would you be interested in Rusty?” I was so excited. Rusty was available for purchase. The decision was made to sell Rusty versus breeding. It was fate! We drove down the very next weekend. I wanted to see him. Tom gave the presentation of all Rusty’s skills and honestly, this was the first time I touched a “real” dead duck. Just to be clear, I have never hunted and didn’t really expect that this would be something of interest for me. But there we were… Rusty was swimming back to me with the water retrieve of the wet duck, I had to step up and grab it from him. He was very excited to bring this back to hand. Wow! It was a turning point for me to begin “handling” the dogs. After a few minutes of discussion, Chris and I agreed that Rusty was the best dog for me. He was calm and patient. He could make our family whole.
Another Wildrose event, called “Double Gun came about in October, 2018. This event was more for Chris to improve his skills and work with Rusty and WR Finn. Since WR Finn was not ready for the competition-hunting portion, Chris worked Rusty. This was a new experience for Chris working with Rusty in this environment with a shotgun. I held onto WR Finn during the training exercises, just to be around and as supportive as I could. I was a spectator for the competition-shooting portion. It was a fun two-day experience learning and making more friends.
The next event we signed up for was the Covey Rise Pheasant Tower Shoot in Louisiana. This was in January, 2019, and was the first hunting experience that I had ever gone on, so I was excited and nervous. I was depending on Chris to handle the dogs for the hunting/retrieving part and I would be a spectator or support. It was a five-hour trip for us to travel with both pups to learn handling skills with our pups in a series of training exercises. The trip would end with a day hunt for pheasant from a shooting tower. It turned out to be more than the Louisiana experience. It was an opportunity for all attendees and trainers to bond and have a great time. One thing that stood out was that all these Wildrose dog owners had such well-behaved companions lying on their place beds. Distractions were everywhere with lots of people around and music during the social events. The Wildrose dogs were gentlemen. I was also impressed that our dogs were also well-behaved in a different environment than our normal life. During the training event, I found myself separated from Chris in a training group based on the dog’s experience. Rusty is one year older than WR Finn, and their experiences are varied. I was up for learning something new and Rusty was a pro at the exercises. He surprised me on all the skills he has. I was feeling a bit better about being away from Chris and working on our skills after the first few exercises. Also, everyone was so nice and supportive. There were several other Wildrose pack members with their dogs. It wasn’t as though I was alone. I was just not with Chris and this was one of our first training/exercise experiences. On the hunt day, Chris took WR Finn and his shotgun and went his way. He asked Sammye Pisani to work with me to help support and empower me to work with Rusty. Sammye took me under her wing and we worked WR Valentina and Rusty with pheasant retrieves. This worked out really well. Again, I was impressed by the entire experience. Rusty did great! I was not prepared to handle “dead” birds. I didn’t even have gloves. Sammye was so kind. She let me borrow gloves and I was able to handle Rusty with recalls, etc. This was a step of growth and independence for me, and a great opportunity to bond with Rusty. He listened and took direction very well. I was intrigued by the shooting part of the experience, even though I am not an avid hunter. I wanted to learn more. I have enjoyed shooting at targets with handguns and rifles in the past, but this was a different type of shooting. The targets (clays/pheasant) are moving in the air vs. a stationary target. I took a lesson onsite at Covey Rise before the event ended to see if this is something I would be interested in pursuing. The instructor, Mike, gave simple instructions and made it very easy to understand. Once it was time to practice shooting at clays, I was enjoying myself. It took a bit of practice understanding when to pull the trigger, etc. But once I got it, I was having a blast. Those clays went down left and right in shreds. It was a high point. Needless to say, I have asked for my own shotgun. Chris has purchased a new stock for me to try his shotgun and make sure this is something I will truly be interested in. Just a note, we just purchased a clay thrower last weekend. I am easing into the process.
Next will be the hunting apparel. I have noticed there are some Wildrose pack members that have some impressive hunting apparel. I enjoy shopping, so this may be my next expense after the shotgun purchase, of course. I have been given some great suggestions for shotguns and apparel for when I begin looking for shooting/hunting items. As far as the type of shotgun, Chris uses a Beretta Silver Pigeon(over and under). He is giving me his Benelli (automatic) and adding a different stock. The stock will be a compact stock with a 12 inch LOP (length of pull). It is important to find the best fit for you. When I took my first lesson, the instructor measured my arm. I was loaned a 14 inch LOP shotgun that was too long for me. So, the instructor had one that was just my size, which for my short arms is 12 inches LOP. So, if anyone is thinking of looking for a first gun, make sure to get some advice before purchasing.
Since we live close to Wildrose Kennels and have developed such a great bond with the trainers, we often return to visit and train. We have sent WR Finn back for additional on-site training after his initial obedience and training to be a gun dog and will continue to send WR Finn and/or Rusty back for conditioning, as needed. In the offseason, Chris and I have taken WR Finn and Rusty to the lake and the beach. Both were great opportunities to build on water and land retrieving skills. Our house has two acres and we train on the weekends at home, Wildrose, or Chris’ hunting property.
We attended the Wildrose Dog Handler’s class in March, 2019. There is a basic and an advanced level class. This time Chris and I signed up for both levels. I had Rusty and he had WR Finn. We were separated again. We worked the exercises on different ends of the Wildrose Kennel property. This time, I had adjusted to being away from Chris and was excited to learn new skills and work with Rusty. I am thoroughly impressed with Mike Stewart, Tom Smith, and all the trainers. Rusty and I needed the basics class, but really enjoyed the advanced portion of the classes. Rusty was challenged and I was thrilled. He made the best hunts/retrieves that I thought were difficult or impossible. For example, the brush pile that seemed to be twelve feet high was not the impossible retrieve for Rusty. He returned with the bumper I had thrown with just a little smart maneuvering over and under the branches. It was daunting watching him, but he made the retrieve and was thoroughly happy making the return to me. There were times during training that it took both a focus and understanding of the task and the expected result of many firsts for me. But Rusty was a professional. It is a nice balance of my novice skills and his expert skills.
I was intrigued with the Adventure Dog program for all the tasks and experiences it entails. I relate this program to a “pup” scouts type of structure. There are a variety of skills and tasks to earn badges. We signed up for this program and attended the Adventure Dog Training event in April, 2019. I will say this was a standout moment for me. Our adventures included bicycling, kayaking, airplane ride, trails, fishing, etc. By the end, we managed to have Rusty and WR Finn with Trail Rated badges and because Rusty has done additional tasks when he camped with us in the past, he took home an additional badge of Adventure Dog. We will continue to work on WR Finn to add his Adventure Dog badge soon. The next level is Master Trekker. I was impressed by all the participation in the program. It is a special experience to have your dog beside you as you paddle your kayak, run beside you as you bike down the road, or sit with you on a plane. That was a personally exciting time. Thanks to Wildrose and Danielle for creating and coordinating such a fun bonding experience. I will never forget the bass pond. Those who were there will know what I mean. I would argue that, even if you are only interested in gundog activities, try the Adventure Dog event. It will strengthen your bond and give you and your dog other activities to learn similar behaviors. It is very much about trust. You have to trust your dog and they need to trust you in both activities.
In April, 2019, a few weeks later, I was asked to participate with Chris in the 2019 Continental Pheasant Shoot at Little Q. This was another adventure I had not anticipated my true participation in. I expected to walk along-side Chris and WR Finn and watch while he handled both dogs, as needed. As it turned out, there were plenty of shooters that day. They needed more handlers in the field to retrieve the birds. So, here we go again. I am now out in a field handling Rusty during gunfire, but away from Chris. It was another level of independence. Luckily, Rusty has been such a true hunter/retriever that it made this experience a great one. He was excited to be there in the midst of it all. I believe we both have a great sense of trust in one another. At one point in the hunt, I glanced over to Chris and saw WR Finn spot a pheasant on the ground that tried to take flight. WR Finn jumped mid-air to catch it. I wish I had more time with the camera to catch all the amazing times. I have been able to capture some moments, usually after the victory. In the coming year, we have signed up for Double Gun in October, 2019, and Covey Rise Pheasant Hunt in January, 2020. We would encourage anyone who enjoys spending time with their dogs to attend the Wildrose events. It gives the dogs and owners such great opportunities to learn and have experiences that are hard to replicate on your own.
I am at the beginning stages of becoming a shooter/handler but have been inspired to learn new things and take on additional tasks that were intimidating before. I would say, take a chance and try something new. Don’t miss an opportunity.