Sweeping the woods clean of Grouse
By Joe Kraemer
If your looking for the ultimate grouse dog with brains and birdiness you need not look further than the Gordon Setter.
Gordon Setters are rare combination of breed which are: easy to break, have a natural back, with exceptional noses. They are slow meticulous workers and are a loyal companion to top it off. The Gordon, though at home in the north woods looking for the King Ruff, are also adept on both the pheasants and quails turf. Though Gordons do not cover the ground like their English and Irish cousins their slow meticulous pace and exceptional nose will sweep clean any grouse in the area like no other dog.
The history of the breed dates to the 1620s in Scotland when writer Markham writes of a black and fallow setting dog. From the 1600s we move to the early 1800s to see the real formation of a breed by the Fourth Duke of Gordon in Scotland. The Duke was born in 1743. When he was young he raised deerhounds and hunted the moors, or bogs, for deer. By 1800 there were no deer left so he switched to bird hunting and started to raise setters.
The Duke it has been said had a very birdy black and tan collie bitch, Maddy used in tweaking his black and tan setter breeding gene pool. Maddy would not actually point game, that was brought in through other breeding, but would hold for game when she found birds. In addition to collie and setter blood it is felt the Gordon also have some deerhound in them, which would account for their nose. At that time setters were also used to herd sheep so the collie blood was not a great stretch.
In 1827 the 4th Duke died at 84 years of age. The 5th Duke only lived until 1836, leaving no heirs at which time the castle was sold to the Duke of Richmond. Most of the kennel was sold off over the next few years.
George Blunt imported a brace in 1842 from the Castle Gordon Kennel of the Scotland moors to America. The dogs names where Rake and Rachel. Rake was mostly white with a black saddle. Rachel was black and tan and was given to Daniel Webster a hunting partner of Blunt. Rachel was a regular visitor to the U.S. Capitol. She would lie at Webster's feet as he delivered his fire laden speeches on the Senate floor. Rachel helped to promote the breed in the U.S. by being the focus of many writers pens of that time. The Websters raised Gordons until 1906.
In 1862, in England there was a kennel show with three types of setters: English, Irish and Black & Tans. The Black and Tans were recognized as an official breed by the British Kennel Club in 1873.
The first registered Gordon in the U.S. was "Bang" born in 1875 and registered in 1879. In 1891, Henry Malcom formed the Gordon Setter Club of America and in 1892 the AKC recognized the breed. In 1924, the BKC changed its' club name from Black & Tan Setters to Gordons.
In the 1950s as the new sport of field trialing was growing in the U.S. the slow meticulous pace of the Gordons drew fire from the faster breeds, better designed for the sport. Trialing was not a sport designed for the Gordons, the one man meat dog was more of its' forte. Though Gordons work slower than other pointers or setters you can bet as you pass through an area it will be swept clean of birds by a Gordon that other breeds may miss.
Gordons have always been flashy in the show ring. So with the new quicker varieties of English Setters designed especially for field trials, the ownership of small field Gordons waned.
So toward the end of the 1950s most of the Gordons were in the hands of show people. And you know what show people typically try to do with a breed. That's right seemly overnight the coat got longer and more featherly and the dogs grew taller, they lost their hunting instinct and as far as intelligence, well I'll let you decide.
Then came the coup de grace, in 1963 the Gordon Setter Club of America, by then dominated by show people persuaded the AKC to increase the maximum weight specification. And almost overnight the big clumsy Gordons came out of the woodwork. By the late 60s most of the field Gordons were gone. Thankfully a few of the larger kennels like Springset Kennels of Petaluma, California (see the Marketplace ads in the back of Bird Dog News) helped to save the field Gordons.
Gordon's are eager to please and are perfect hunting companions. The have intelligence and a memory to rival elephants, so though you may not recognize an area where there were birds last time you passed through your Gordon will. As with every good hunting tool, Gordons are more than happy to push through those thick patches that most grouse hunters would otherwise walk around. Gordons are exceedingly easy to train in the fundamentals and will work both land and water retrieves.
Chessy's have a reputation as a loyal one man dog as do Gordons to a lesser degree. Gordons don't take kindly to being "borrowed" for a day of hunting as Labs readily do. But that reputation also translates to obedience that you may not find in some duck blinds.
In a world where English Setters are bread snow white so they can be seen like a deer hunter on opening day, the Gordon can blend into its' surroundings like a commando on a search and destroy mission. But let that first snow fly and the Gordons become the deer hunter and the English the commando. Though it is late season, there are more Grouse hunting months with snow than without. With today's bells and beepers the coloring should be considered for its' beauty not its deception. Though Gordons bring an repose essence lying in front of a log fire, it is on point that their true beauty can be seen.
There are more Gordons breed for show these days than for field work. So if you want to take your Gordon off of the manicured lawn make sure you purchase from a proven field kennel. Look for Master Hunter or Field Champion breeding and you will be just fine. I prefer to see a few CH genes mixed in for the look of class and distinction but not a dominance of them. Look on the back pages of Bird Dog News and you will find several good Gordon kennels.
The breed standard for the Gordon is 24-27 inches within an inch of its cousins the English and Irish. Show dogs will be at the top of that range and field dogs the bottom. Show dogs will have long flowing manes and field dogs will be much less feathered. The weight of a male should be 55 to 80 pounds. Gordons are stockier than either the Irish or the English Setter. Gordons must be black with tan markings, a small white chest patch is allowed. A dog without black as its primary color is not acceptable for the breed standard.
A Gordon pup will cost in the neighborhood of $500 with a finished dog into the $2000 range so they are slightly more expensive than the average meat dog. If your hunting with a Gordon, odds are not great that you will cross paths in the field with another Gordon but variety being the spice of life a good Gordon can handle their own with the best of them. There are English, Red and Irish Setters but none have the distinctive style, beauty and grace of the Gordon Setter.