BY MARK BEASON
LAFAYETTE COUNTY - When most people think of a good bird dog, they conjure up images of a wirery pointer standing frozen on point.
Michael Stewart's bird dogs are know more for another type of bird, rathan than quail or pheasent. His British labs have a good reputation in the waterfowl community and they're starting to gain respect in their upland bird skills.
A pointing lab is different than a traditional bird dog. Both serve specific purposes in the field, using distinct trained and bred qualities to get the job done. In recent years, using labs on upland birds has been gaining popularity, and Stewart says the trend is growing.
"People started to recognize that some labs will freeze on a live bird and it grew from there," said Stewart, owner of Wildrose Kennels. "Now, 40 percent of my sales are for upland birds and 70 perecent are combination dogs."
Stewart uses the labs' strengths in the the field when hunting for quail or pheasents. Labs handle well in the field and retrieve much better than traditional bird dogs. That combination makes them efficient in the duck blind or chasing a covey of quail.
"Normal bird dogs are very independent hunters and you can put a lab anywhere," Stewart said. "Some setters will get in the water, but most pointing breeds won't and labs love the water. Over the years, I've lost birds that sailed over water. These labs will go get those birds."
While Stewart likes his labs, he recognizes the strengths of pointers. He likes to use a combination of dogs and let them work together. Keeping the lab at heel or in the wagon while the pointer finds birds. When birds are down or in a deep thicket, the lab can retrieve or flush birds out of cover.
"The two really work together well," Stewart said. "In a hunting situation they make a good team."
On a recent hunt at Wildrose Kennels, Tupelo resident Kevin Tate saw a pointing lab up close. Hunting with Stewart's four-year old dog named Hamish, Tate and other hunters enjoyed a good hunt. Even though he's hunted quild before, it was a different experience.
"You could tell the dog was well trained and it was different than hunting with other bird dogs because the dog worked close and hunted where you wanted to hunt," Tate said. "The dog worked well and had a good nose for the birds."
Upland bird Academy
With more people hunting labs for upland birds, Stewart is hosting the only upland bird academy of its kind. Being held this weekend, Stewart is working with dog owners to teach them many factors in upland bird hunting. They not only teach them how to start a dog, but to handle guns and getting a dog to quarter and stay in range. The academy also dips into tracking and teaching dogs how to work during a dove hunt.
"We try to cover all aspects of upland bird hunting," Stewart said. "You can't just teach a dog, as handlers, we've got to educate ourselves, too."