Joining the Elhew Club

I made a mistake around 1989, I took my young Brittany to a field trial and placed him second in a 30-minute walking derby stake.  It was an American Field sanctioned event and he was one of the few short-tailed dogs entered.  I soon realized that if I really wanted to compete, I would have to run in AKC events or get a long-tailed dog.  I hunted with a couple of guys that bred setters and who were successful in trials.  They gave me my first setter and I did well with them for a while even winning two runner-up championships at the Southeastern (now Southern New England) Woodcock Championship with Stokely’s Mikey D.  I was very much an amateur at the time and the cover dog circuit was dominated by a number of pro trainers.  As I attended more trials, I became more and more enamored of some of the pointers I was running against.  And, it seemed like every time I asked about the breeding of these dogs, I was told that they were “Guard Rail” dogs.  Guard Rail had died in a vehicle accident late in 1984, but his owner Gene Casales had a couple sons that were producing well and had collected Guard Rail a number of times (I even had a Guard Rail daughter that I bought and she was whelped in 2008.)

            As I competed more and more in cover dog trials, I became friends with a few guys that were having success running Elhew dogs.  The first Elhew dog I saw win in the woods was Elhew Cassie, Bob Stewart ran her for his friend Dick Shear who was also there.  This was at the Northern New England Woodcock Championship in the early 1990s at Fryeburg, ME.  I can still picture Cassie’s strong race and one of her finds where she was standing in ferns so tall all you could see from the gallery was the tip of her tail.  Many of those who walked that brace were amazed that she took Runner-up instead of winner.  Dick Shear had been running Elhew dogs in the woods for a long time and won the Grand National Grouse Championship in 1962 with Rich Tuttle handling Elhew Lucy Brown.  Dick then went back-to-back in 67 and 68 handling Elhew Holly that he co-owned with Bob Wehle.  Bob Stewart switched from setters to pointers in the 90s and then won multiple times with Elhew Flicker.  Another New Yorker, Bill McFadden, joined the “Elhew Club” and had success with Elhew Hustler and other Elhew dogs.  Dr. Dave Calcagni from Massachusetts also won extensively in the woods, first with Elhew Gamemaster, then Autumn Elhew Gold and Elhew Autumn Whisper (Zoe).  Zoe won the Grand National in 1996 and 1998.

            It was by chance that I ended up with my first Elhew dog.  Bob Stewart and Bill McFadden along with some other friends shared a lease in Texas and I was invited out to quail hunt with them.  In January of 2001, I was at the lease and Bill had a young Elhew female that he called Lady.  At the time, she was about 10 months old and hadn’t had a whole lot done with her.  Bill had lost her in the woods of western NY in the late fall and then twice more in Texas. Bob Wehle had given him the dog and Bill was concerned with what he was going to tell Bob about Lady.  I spent some time with Lady on a check cord and just hanging out with her.  As I was getting ready to head home, I suggested Bill tell Bob that I would take the dog and get her going in the woods.  Bill wasn’t very receptive to the idea and I assumed that was the end of it.

            Towards the end of the quail season at the end of February, I got a call from Bill.  He had talked to Bob and Lady was mine if I wanted her.  The only catch was I had to go out to Texas and get her.  Another member of the lease (a friend here in NH) had been there when I had bonded with Lady.  I called him and we made plans to fly out to Texas and fly home with her.  This was back when you could just show up at the check-in counter with a dog in a crate and they would fly it as checked baggage.  Three of us went and we took two dogs with us so we could hunt the last few days of the season and then flew home with three dogs.

            I wish I could say that I performed a quick miracle and Lady immediately became a perfect bird dog.  But that wouldn’t exactly be true.  That spring we did daily yard work with a lot of time on a check cord and once collar conditioned, we started going in the woods.  I kept her close and thought we were really making progress with her handling and bird finding skills.  Come the regular Mother’s Day trial at the Maine Bird Dog Club, I entered her in the puppy just to get a sense of where we were.  She was a handful but stayed with me for 15 minutes and looked great. Unfortunately, it was a 20-minute stake and she was gone after those first 15 minutes.  Fortunately, about 45 minutes later, she came back into the parking area and I like to think she was looking for me.  There was still work to do.

            That summer we worked extensively on wild birds and she had staunched up mostly on her own and handled well with only an occasional reminder with the e-collar.  That fall I took her to Canada and ran her in the Miss Leslie Anderson Derby Classic.  She looked great hitting the cover hard and handling well for about 25 minutes before we crossed an old railroad track that had been converted into an ATV trail.  She took off down the track in one direction and was reported about a mile away.   She was next seen about a mile away in the opposite direction.  She basically turned a 30-minute stake into an hour and a half run before she showed up back at the truck.  After that, we just went home and hunted for the rest of the fall and she finally settled in when we started shooting birds for her.  The following spring, she got a couple of derby placements.

            As a first-year shooting dog I ran her in a couple of cover dog championships but when she came in season late in the fall of 2003, I remembered what Bob Wehle always wrote and said about breeding bitches early to see what you had.  Unfortunately, Bob was gone by this time or I would have consulted him on picking a sire.  I looked around the cover dog circuit and was enamored of one young dog in particular that I had seen many times.  Wynot Ace had been bred by Andy Cook and Al Robbins over in Maine.  They had bought a bitch from Pat Labree that was line bred Guard Rail and bred her to Elhew No Trump that Al Ladd had on his string at the time.  No Trump was Elhew Fibber McGee X Elhew Miss America.  Lady (Elhew Liebotschaner) was Elhew Fibber McGee X Elhew Gypsy Rose.

           Ace was a wunderkind, winning two national amateur championships (the National Amateur Grouse Championship and the International Woodcock Championship) that fall as a derby.  I watched his winning run at the Amateur Woodcock in Woodstock, NB and that solidified my feelings about the dog.  Of all the Snakefoot sons that get touted, I felt and still feel that Fibber was the best producer.  Ace brought that hybrid vigor that everyone, including Bob, liked to talk about and gave us Fibber top and bottom.  Often it seems, that those early breedings produce the best offspring and that was the case with Ace and Lady.  In the end, Lady would have four litters by Ace producing 31 total puppies and 1/3 of those puppies placed in trials garnering 55 placements but it was two dogs in the first litter, Wild Apple Jack and Autumn Moon, that had the most stellar careers.

            Wild Apple Jack was my personal dog and I remained an amateur throughout his career which included five Cover Dog Championships and one Runner-up Championship.  The first of these was the Grand National Grouse Championship in 2007.  During his career he received five invitations to the Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational.  Autumn Moon was owned by Jack Harang and run by Scott Chaffee.  Moon had 7 Championships including the Grand National in 2008.  Five of Moon’s Championships were won on wild birds and two on quail.  Most of the dogs in my kennel today go back to that Wynot Ace X Elhew Liebotschaner breeding either by Jack or Moon.

            All of the great bird dogs of the next generation demonstrated the traits we have come to attribute to the Elhew Legacy – biddability, intelligence, speed, and style.  Many look at these dogs and also see that distinctive Elhew look.  The star of that next generation was Tim Kiseliski’s bitch Wild Apple Calvados – Brandy.   She was by Autumn Moon out of Cover Dog Cover Girl – Mariah.    Mariah was Wynot Ace X Four Rivers Covergirl who was Elhew Sinbad X Miss Elhew Awesome.  Brandy won three cover dog championships for us and produced one litter when bred to Elhew Black Dose, a dog I had gotten from Mel Pfiefle at Hampshire Kennels.  This brings forward two threads to my Elhew Journey – Mel’s breeding and my liking of what Sinbad seems to bring to my dogs.

            This story would not be complete without a discussion of Elhew Snakecharm.  Currently I have two Snakecharm progeny in my kennel – a female – Wild Apple Snakecharmed and a male – Elhew Snakewood both have been bred and produced as expected.  But back to Snakecharm – Charlie – whose breeding Mel Pfiefle and Martha Hayes collaborated on.  As I understand it, they had one straw of Snakefoot semen and wanted to try and reassert the direction that Bob had been headed before his death.  The AI Vet was not optimistic about the viability of the semen but they went forward anyways.  Amazingly they got one puppy – a liver and white male.

            I had been working some dogs for Mel when Charlie was whelped and hoped that I he would come my way.  When he did as a puppy, I was not disappointed.  He was the spitting image of his sire – full chested and straight tailed. He is highly athletic and extremely intelligent.  He won both as a puppy and a derby displaying power and style on the ground.  Charlie is everything I have admired in an Elhew dog since I saw Elhew Cassie run all those years ago.  It was my hope that Mel would continue to support Charlie as he developed into a strong contender on the cover dog circuit.  However, for a number of reasons that have been discussed elsewhere Mel took him home and to the best of my knowledge has kept him there.

          The biggest question I had about Charlie was would he produce the next generation of Elhew dogs successfully?  Mel bred him sparingly and I was fortunate to get some of his offspring.  Elhew Snakewood (Cobe) is, as Bob Wehle would say, my current “brag dog” who obviously bears the genetic stamp of his illustrious grandsire, Snakefoot, and his sire Snakecharm.   As a puppy he won repeatedly in Kentucky where he was always an eyeful taking the edges of the big fields in Berea.  He went on to get both derby and shooting dog placements but has yet to break through on the cover dog circuit.  This is in part due to the fact that Covid caused the cancellation of many trials and at the same time I had personal health issues.  I’m fine now and hopefully Cobe, who turned six in January (2024) will get his chances in the next couple years.

            In addition to Cobe, I bred Wild Apple Samantha (Wild Apple Jack X Wynot Belle) to Charlie.  Sam had been a grouse savant in her hunting life with me, but had not really run big enough to win at the championship level.  We got four puppies from the breeding and I kept one male.  He was every bit as nice as Charlie and his ½ brother Cobe in all but one characteristic – his race is much more like his mother’s.  Great for a really classy foot hunting dog but not enough for a competitive cover dog.  He has moved on to a hunter and by all reports is doing well.  They even bred him to an Elhew-bred bitch and the litter is showing promise.

            My third Charlie dog came from Illinois and is a bitch named Wild Apple Snakecharmed (Peppa).  She has a very interesting pedigree from my point of view.  Her dam is Xenia Elhew Sinbad Jessie who as her name suggests was sired by Sinbad who I’ll get to in a bit.  Jessie’s dam is a dog named Xenia Elhew Halle who is Wynot Ace X Elhew Jesse McGee.  McGee is a littermate to Elhew Liebotschaner giving her a different roll of the same genetic dice that produced Jack and Moon.  Peppa who is the same age as Cobe was often overshadowed by him taking second or third in puppy stakes.  She also has derby and shooting dog placements and when bred to CH Wynot Atom (Wild Apple Jack X Wynot Belle) produced a really nice litter with a couple young dogs that are being campaigned in the woods.  Peppa displays all the attributes of her father and the rest of the Elhew-bred dogs I admire while also having the drive and high energy that I have come to find in most dogs with Sinbad fairly close up.

            Elhew Sinbad was one of those outcrosses that seems to have served the purpose that Bob Wehle touts in the Snakefoot book.  He has added a certain amount of vigor to the line when it was drifting more and more towards producing gun dogs.  There is obviously a place for gundogs in the greater scheme of things and for the most part they are very satisfactory for the average bird hunter.  The commercial success of numerous hunting dog “Elhew” breeders is the proof in the pudding.  However, my experience with Elhew dogs and discussions with Bob Wehle late in his life when I visited with him at both the Henderson (NY) and Midway (AL) kennels was that he was always seeking shooting dogs like Snakefoot and Fibber and quickly sold puppies that looked like they wouldn’t measure up.

            Elhew Sinbad looked like he was headed down the road of other Elhew dogs like Swami (Sinbad’s dam) and her ½ sister Sunflower and had ended up on Shawn Kinkelaar’s string of winning shooting dogs.  Unfortunately, his owners made the decision to move him up to the all-age circuit.  It’s a temptation that is hard to resist when you think what winning the National Championship can do to the prestige of a dog and his subsequent role as a stud dog.  And unlike many all-age venues, Ames Plantation requires a more controlled race and excellent bird finding abilities.  They were able to get Sinbad qualified at least once but he soon faded from his early winning ways and ended his career with only 12 wins – 2 of which were championships.  He has produced, according to one of my recent pedigrees, 92 winners that have garnered 527 placements.

            Occasionally, I bring puppies in from other breedings to augment the blood I have in the kennel.  One was the aforementioned Guard Rail daughter.  We had two litters with her – one with Wild Apple Jack and one with Autumn Moon.  The Jack litter produced a dog I called Wild Apple LJ who seemed at first to be what I was looking for.  As a fall derby, he took first in 3 out of 4 wild birds derby stakes only being left out the one time he failed to produce a bird.  Unfortunately, he became aggressive around other male dogs and couldn’t be field trialed.  He went to a hunter with full disclosure of his aggressiveness to other male dogs.

            I also bought a puppy out of a Elhew G Force that I named Wild Apple Molly McGee who was a nice dog but not what I wanted in my limited breeding program which brings up another reason it is so hard to continue what Bob started.  At its peak, Elhew Kennels would have more litters in a year than I will have in my lifetime.  It was not unusual for Bob to have upwards of 100 puppies to look at in a year.  The trick was to pick the few that would move the program forward.

            My most recent outside puppy is Wild Apple Hazelnut.  There were two reasons I bought this puppy.  A friend was very high on a puppy from a previous litter with the same breeding and the sire on the dam’s side is a dog named CH Autumn Snow.  Snow was a son of Autumn Moon bringing me back to another dose of Wynot Ace X Elhew Liebotschaner genes.  It was only after I’d sent in the deposit that realized Kat had been bred to Chelsea’s Thunderbolt.  Bolt has a lot of Elhew on his bottom side including Sinbad in the second generation back.  His topside was Whippoorwill Wild Agin.  Despite all the Elhew descendants throughout her pedigree I would not say she is classically Elhew in looks, but she is definitely a bird dog.  In her first hunting season, which started when she was about 8 months old, she pointed 75 woodcock and by the end of the flights was naturally retrieving to hand.  She has the intelligence and biddability that I look for and will probably be bred to Cobe next year if not next fall.

            I am not a big breeding kennel and my plans are primarily to find dogs that keep me supplied with what I consider Elhew dogs.  Some years I don’t even have a litter although I’m hoping to be a little more active in the short term while I can still develop young dogs.  The problem with the whole idea of Elhew dogs is that too many of us have different opinions of what that actually is.  In reality, what I breed are Wild Apple dogs the only dogs I’ve had with Elhew in the name came from Bob Wehle or his surrogate Mel Pfiefle.  All the dogs I’ve bred and some that I’ve bought carry my own prefix and don’t have Elhew in their registered name.  Bob Wehle died 22 years ago and some feel the line died with him.  I understand their point, but feel like some of us are doing our best to breed dogs that try to live up to his ideals and vision.

Posted in Current News.

One Comment

  1. Good essay, thanks for sharing. A lot of hard work through the years on your part. Bob did mention before he passed in an American Field Christmas issue, that he was pleased to see “Elhew Breeders” out there.

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