We all have our stories about how bringing a dog into our lives changed it, enriched it, or sometimes made it more complicated. We have our own tale going back to the beginning of Chukar Culture and where it all got started with this one particular Brittany named Angus who is now 12-years old. Looking back at it all, because of this one dog our lives ended up taking a route that might have gone in a different direction or maybe we wouldn’t even live in a part of rural Idaho where we purposely put ourselves to be closer to abundant public lands for chukar hunting.
The reality of getting my first puppy and converting from a cat person to a dog person didn’t come until later in life. Growing up in rural Eastern Oregon, we always had a menagerie of outside cats and kittens that I’d dress up in doll clothes whenever I could catch them. We did have a couple of dogs, my Mom had a small white poodle that only liked her and my Dad inherited a bird dog, a large Weimaraner from a neighbor that lived down the street. My dad wasn’t a bird hunter or any kind of hunter for that matter, but Greta, named after my Dad’s aunt, lived in a kennel in the backyard and was never let inside the house. Every once in a while, I remember my Dad letting her out of the kennel and into our fenced back yard to run. My brothers and sister and I would all run for cover in fear of her running over our bare feet as she did hot laps around the grassy yard. At the time, I didn’t know that this would be my first introduction to high energy bird dogs.
Back in 2007, Bob and I had only been married for about four years and were both 44 years old, over the hill, I thought at the time. We both met and married later in life and this was about the time when people stopped asking me if I’d ever have children. Bob was working in the aviation industry and was in Calgary, Canada while I was home alone with a few evenings to myself. On the first night, I decided to start looking for Brittany puppies for sale. Bob and I had talked about getting another Brittany, probably another female, orange and white, just like Glenna, our only other dog at the time. Glenna was one year old when Bob and I first met, but I wanted one just weaned to experience early bonding with my own dog and to see what it might feel like, and I hoped it might fulfill my lack of not having children and the maternal instinct that I thought was deep inside me.
Sitting down at the computer I searched “Brittany Puppies Idaho.” The website Gun Dog Breeders came up and I found a link to Sunburst Brittanys. Wow, that was easy! I clicked on the link, and photos of a litter of tri-colored American Brittanys popped up on my screen. I was smitten! I loved the coloring and especially their cute caramel colored eyebrows, and — best of all — they would be ready to come home with their new owners in a week. I forwarded the link to Bob to check them out and then immediately emailed Sunburst to inquire about availability of the females. The breeder, Gabe, replied back the following morning, and informed me that of the litter of 10 puppies, eight were male, 2 were females but the females were already spoken for. My heart sunk. Later that night, I called Bob on the phone and told him the bad news. He said, “We could get one of the males as long as we can name him Angus.” He’d fallen in love with the photos of them too and wanted to go look at them as soon as he got home.
Bob returned from his business trip just before bedtime, a day earlier than expected. Excited to go see the puppies he rode his motorcycle 14 hours non-stop from Waterton Lakes, Canada to Boise with only a couple of quick stops. In the morning, we drove out to Emmett to meet Gabe at his kennel located on a hillside at the base of Squaw Butte. Interestingly, Squaw Butte, located North of Emmett, was one of the main places in Idaho where chukar flourished rapidly when they were first introduced as a game bird in Idaho back in the 1950s.
Gabe’s operation at Sunburst Kennels in the early years, as far as we could see, was just a small fenced-in area in the backyard for the puppies. We could tell right away that Gabe was very passionate about what he was doing and wanted to make sure we got the dog we wanted. It didn’t take us long; Angus was the only one that came running to us. We left Emmett that day with wee Angus, a week earlier than recommended by most authorities (42 instead of 49 days). For years, we wondered — whenever something wasn’t quite right with Angus — if we’d taken him from his litter too soon. If we did, then he and we have gotten over it. Some experienced hunters have told us he’s the best bird dog they’ve ever seen. I’m certainly not complaining (or taking credit for his ability and skill; I’d blame Gabe on that one).
When we arrived to Sunburst Kennels and met Gabe for the first time, we weren’t really looking for a hunting dog, we just wanted another Brittany. At this point in our lives, Bob hadn’t been doing much hunting because of his very busy job and because Glenna was one of those bird dogs you’d let out of the truck and then would disappear for hours before finally returning when she felt like it. When she did get the whim to hunt it was for herself, and she’d move every bird for miles into the next county. These were the days before we owned or started using electronic dog collars to control the dogs.
Glenna died when Angus was only three, and Bob finally took Angus chukar hunting for the first time. Aside from going grouse hunting a couple of times, Angus naturally pointed chukar, having honed his skills on squirrels in our backyard. From one of his first points when tagging along with Bob during his chukar hunt, I captured a photograph of Angus pointing and we knew we had something special. Chukar Culture and our blog started at this exact moment.
When Angus was eight we decided to get another Brittany from Sunburst. Bob contacted Gabe to see if any more of Angus’s line was around. To our disappointment, Angus’s line was no more. Gabe said that he was expecting a litter from a set of new totally different dogs that he was certain would be great hunting dogs. So, four years ago, we got Peat, our second Sunburst Brittany and my second puppy, and this time I got to name him. He’s a combination of American and French Brittany with a beautiful orange and white roan coat and scattered ticking on his forehead. We like his funny and affectionate personality, his smaller size, and his off-the-charts natural hunting ability and prey drive. Gabe was right, this line is fantastic! (If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know the true story on Peat.)
Bob and I sat down with Gabe and his wife Katie recently at their beautiful home and kennel, now located next to the banks of the Payette River in New Plymouth, Idaho. We got a tour of their kennel and met a litter of adorable 5-week-old puppies almost ready to go home to their lucky new owners. Katie, with the help of Praire, their 10-year old daughter, cooked Indian chukar curry from an old family recipe, sharing some of their chukar breasts from the past season. Over this and some delicious local craft beers we had some intimate conversations about life, dogs, hunting, ethics, and how it seems as we’ve gotten older the number of birds harvested isn’t as important as much as the experience of being out there hiking around public lands in some incredible places around Idaho with our family and dogs.
Gabe told us how a Brittany changed his life. A fifth generation Idahoan, Gabe grew up upland bird hunting in the chukar hills near his home in Emmett with his family, and hunting pheasant in the the empty fields nearby before they were all turned into subdivisions. Gabe became interested and fond of the Brittany breed after reading a book about them when he was a kid. When he returned from his two-year church mission following high school, he said he was a changed person. With some soul searching he said he had to make some tough choices and re-examine the path his life should take, and it started with getting his first dog of his own back in 2002, a Brittany that he named Sumac. Another choice, even more portentous, was to leave the church. He said he hasn’t regretted that decision, but that he has suffered some strained personal relationships with family and some friends because of it. During this transition, he met and married Katie, started his own family, and decided to become a Brittany breeder, all in a short period of time.
Gabe and Katie over that past 14-years have meticulously bred their dogs. Gabe has done extensive research on pedigrees and genetics, and has found what for him is the perfect combination of Brittanys not bred to be field trial dogs but bred specifically for hunting and for family pets. Their approach works, but it’s no accident and they’ve worked very hard to build their kennel to where it is today. Not everyone looking for an upland hunting dog wants a dog like the ones they breed, but most of their new litters are sold before they are even born, and their dogs are now all over the United States, as far as New York and Alaska. We’ve been lucky to have had two of them and hope to get our third in the next couple of years.
These days Katie has taken on more of a major role in managing the kennel now that their three children are in school. Besides just taking care of the dogs on a daily basis she’s learning more about gun dog training and handling and just this past season, Katie decided she wanted to upland hunt and did all the proper things to make it happen. The cool thing about Gabe and Katie is that besides breeding these amazing hunting dogs the whole family upland hunts together. This past season their oldest boy Nathan got his first chukar while out hunting with his younger brother Kurt, and Prairie can’t wait until the day her arms are strong enough to carry a heavy shotgun so she can start chukar hunting. A multi-generation Idaho upland family for the future! A very happy and wonderful family, I might add.
In the end, you look back at your choices and wonder if you made the right decisions. It was a dog that saved Gabe and it was Gabe and Katie’s dogs that saved me. In a sense, Angus and Peat are my children.
A link to their kennel can be found here. https://www.sunburstbrittanys.com/