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A Flashback . . .

Graffiti on the Great Outdoors

Oct 16, 2021
Source: Illustration by Bill Ledgerwood Everything we have learned in 50 years about picking the best pup in the litter at age eight weeks

In 1991 the late John S. O'Neall, Jr., of Hatchechubbee, Alabama, who joined his father John S. O'Neall, Sr., in the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1984, published a booklet with the above title and comprised of some forty chapters, some of which are illustrations such as the one that graces the lead of this feature above and the caption that accompanies it.

Among one the chapters is the following.

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BACK in the late 1960s wife Pat and I visited one of the most famous bird dog kennels of the day, located in the  Midwest. Until we arrived there, our own kennel or forty to fifty pointers and setters seemed quite an operation and responsibility.

Our aim had always been to develop some top field trial dogs, but of course we sold a few puppies, started dogs and occasionally a trained dog after picking out our prospects for competition.  We thought we would get a few new ideas from the trip.

Inasmuch as you will likely never be exposed to a scene such as we saw that day, since there are few or no kennels  now of that magnitude, we want to share this experience with you.

Knowing the logistics and cost of maintaining our own kennel, our astonishment was unbounded when we looked out over the kennel we were visiting and were informed that on this day there was 742 pointers coming to supper there!  It boggled the mind to see that many bird dogs all in one spot, and brought on a sinking feeling when the daily chores of feeding, cleaning up and just the tending to the various needs of that many animals, not to mention field work, was considered.

The principal breed was English pointers, but there were a selected few "French" pointers (very dark marked), and other individuals of pointer persuasion. Yet the operation was organized and well managed. The facilities were excellently maintained; there were many innovative ideas to absorb.

This vast kennel was located on a big farm used as training grounds, utilizing hundreds of pen-raised pheasants and quail. The acreage was loaded with game, and prospective owners came to pick out hunting dogs and good prospects. The turnover in puppies, started dogs and mature trained dogs was terrific.

All the dogs were registered, or eligible for registration. Can you imagine the blizzard of paperwork that had to be handled in order to keep all this menagerie straight? Can you imagine the shots records and other veterinary products that had to be maintained in a systematic way?

This operation required some major league selling and a lot of intestinal fortitude when the feed bill came due, and believe me, there was a major league salesman in charge. He could, and would, sell you a bird dog! He never put a price on any dog ahead of the try-out in the field, depending on those having the best day to boost their own prices.

It was late summer at the time of our our visit and several buyers were lined up looking for prospects for the coming hunting season. Birds were flying, guns were shooting and most of those customers left with a handsome pointer.

A few years later I was conversing with the owner (and chief salesman) of this operation, which was now diminishing is size as he readied for retirement, and he related a story that so defines and describes the bird dog "business" I want to share it with you in the event you have the yen to get big in the kennel world and make a fortune.

It seems that one of the pesky type of customer (doesn't every business encounter them?), seeing the sheer size of the kennel and knowing it had been in business many years, insisted on pressing our friend concerning some of the more private details. Specifically, he was intrigued with the thought that this fame kennel might have set some sort of record by selling over a million dollars worth of dogs.

Our friend, who thankfully had other productive businesses aside from the kennel, gave him a non-committal answer a couple of times, but the subject kept coming up, so he finally told the awful truth.

"Yes, it's true. Over the years I have sold over a million dollars worth of bird dogs. But is cost me a million and half to do it!"

* * *

The kennel? The owner? John O'Neall does not identify the establishment or the personality involved, but the few facts he gives provides some clues.

Midwest: Springfield, Illinois. Salesman: Herb N. Holmes. Kennel: Gunsmoke Kennels.

Herb Holmes, as Gerry MacKenzie noted in a feature in October 2017, was "one of the more colorful personalities in the field trial sport."

John O'Neall mentioned his other business interests — Holmes Serum Company, which sold a complete line of products, pharmaceuticals and equipment to the veterinary profession. Its home office was in Springfield, Illinois, but there were branch offices in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

His white and black pointer male Gunsmoke, which frequented the winners' circle in the mid- and late-1950s, was his favorite, his production numbers at the time — sire of 196 winners with a total of 796 placements — were indeed impressive.

Also impressive was the election of Gunsmoke and Herb Holmes to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in the same year —1970.

Herb Holmes owned and campaigned a roster of elite winners in addition to Gunsmoke, among them: Riflesmoke, Smokepole, Cannondade, Jester and Gunsmoke's Admiration.

He relocated Gunsmoke Kennels from Springfield, Illinois to Union Springs, Alabama in the 1970s, where Herb Holmes' son Bill came into his own as a successful trainer-handler.

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