By Dave Carty
Greg Bell enjoys reciting the virtues of golden retrievers to nonbelievers.
"I’m pretty sure I wouldn't have found that duck without my dog," Bell says, describing a bird he wing-tipped last year in Missouri.
"I'm gonna say that retrieve was 300 yards, maybe a quarter mile out," he recalls. "I hit a mallard drake and it glided and glided. Casey marked it down all the way. Finally, she disappeared into some pretty heavy cover."
Casey had to negotiate deep and shallow water as well as several obstacles on dry land, but Bell never doubted she would make it. "I've had her a long time," he says, "and I was confident she'd get it. My son was there, and he was impressed."
His son—who owns a Lab—isn't the only one. Among the impressed are the men and women Bell competes against in trials and hunt tests, where Casey holds her own against Labs and other breeds. "They get after a duck," Bell says of goldens.
Time was, golden retrievers were given due respect as working gun dogs. But their pretty-boy good looks were also their biggest liability. It wasn't long before goldens were bred primarily for the bench or simply as pets. There is nothing wrong with either approach if you are not a hunter, but the hunting instinct in such pairings is rarely much of a consideration.
Today, those who want a golden puppy from hunting or field-trial stock have their work cut out for them. But the dogs are out there.
"You just have to look around for what you want," Bell says. "You can't just go to the newspaper and find a dog for hunting and competition. You just can't do that. That's true for all breeds, but with goldens in particular you have to find a reputable breeder. That's first. You can do that by self-knowledge—you may know a guy you've hunted with who has a great hunting female that he's breeding to a nice male—but barring that, you almost have to go by competitive titles: Amateur Field Champion (AFC), Field Champion (FC), Master Hunter (MH), Hunting Retriever Champion (HRCH), something that's recognized as a performance title." Bell also suggests looking on the Internet at Working Retriever Central, which includes links to several sites dedicated to goldens as well as listings of titled dogs.