Old Hemlock Setters: The Legacy of George Bird Evans

By admin On October 8th, 2016

The foundation is pleased to announce the release of of our video Old Hemlock Setters: The Legacy of George Bird Evans. The video, produced by local company Flying Arrow Productions, covers the development of the Old Hemlock line and how the tradition continues thru today.

Editor Note: The following is a review by Gregg Barrow of the Old Hemlock Setters video. Gregg is a friend of the foundation and has many years of experience training dogs and raptors. I appreciate his time and energy to write this review of recently released effort to document the history, breeding and family atmosphere of the Old Hemlock Line of English Setters. LeJay Graffious

Being afforded the opportunity to review the new DVD “Old Hemlock Setters: The Legacy of George Bird Evans” has been exciting if not a little daunting. Oddly enough, introductions, reviews and critiques have always been of special interest to me and I normally prefer them short, sweet and to the point. But apologies up front because I do not see any way of maintaining my own standard here. When Soo, the lovely bride, and I moved to West Virginia four years ago, we got caught up in all the normal chores of settling in and getting established. It was several months before we finally planned a day out but Soo wasn’t surprised when I suggested a visit to Old Hemlock. She had purchased the DVDs and audio CDs from the Old Hemlock website as Christmas presents and I had recently purchased a new copy of “Troubles with Bird Dogs “from the “Bird Dog Foundation and Field Trial Hall of Fame” to replace my old and well-worn Ebay copy.

We arranged a visit with LeJay and Helen Graffious and enjoyed their wonderful hospitality, a tour of the facility, the grounds and finally, George and Kay’s home. We concluded the day by listening raptly as LeJay and Helen shared tender memories of George and Kay while we sipped freshly brewed hot tea. This was the crowning moment to an almost perfect day and everyone tolerated the middle-aged man who distinctly resembled a child on his first visit to Disney World. I tend to be a right brain romantic who enjoys nostalgia and the only thing that could have made the day even better would have been to spend time alone in that well-loved home meditating upon the passages from George’s writings which were shaped and created by my surroundings. The crisp fall evening, the hunter’s moon, woodcock aging on the porch, setters stretched out on the hearth and vying for space on the couch, while George viewed the flames through his glass of sherry considering the day’s hunt before chronicling observations in his Shooting Diary.

This is important why? I grew up in southern Ontario and spent most of my time outdoors getting nicked, bruised, wet and dirty; away from the modern horrors of cable TV, broadband internet and gaming devices of any sort. No one in my family hunted; I can’t recall any recent ancestors who hunted out of passion or duty. During high school I played all the team sports and was blessed with the opportunity to attend the University of Florida on a football scholarship and played a few years in the Canadian Football League. It wasn’t too long after leaving football that I stumbled upon a used copy of Wilson Rawls’ “Where the Red Fern Grows” in a trunk in the attic. Flipping through the pages, I became engrossed in this iconic children’s book and read through it that evening, only to return to it the next two nights as well. Thus was started a near obsession for gun dog literature, training information and essays on the hunting life. My first find was Bill Tarrant and Delmar Smith’s collaboration. The second was an article written by George Bird Evans for a hunting magazine……I wish I could recall which one. Delmar did the trick for the “how to” but in George I found technique masterfully interwoven with history, ecology and a true love and admiration for the dog. George led the way in my graduation from Mr. Rawls and he bears some responsibility for what has become a thirty year passion for “messing about with dogs” (to absolutely destroy a quote from Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”). Since that time, I have worked with many retrievers, pointers and police K9s but the passion for Setters and Hounds remains. Oddly enough, Er M. Shelley and Earl Crangle shared an appreciation for scent hounds as well.

This DVD, “The Legacy of George Bird Evans” is a significant accomplishment on several levels. It is historically accurate, enlightening, entertaining and a first rate video production that simply gets better every time one watches it. George’s history and passion is captured exceptionally well and provides a fitting prelude for how the Old Hemlock line of setters was developed. The narrator provides sound information that is beautifully illustrated by dozens of historic photos and Kay’s videos. The viewer is treated to images of Kay, George and the dogs at home and in the field. We should all give many thanks for Kay’s decision to trade her shotgun for a trusty camera. The documentary is honest about the dogs. George admits, with candor and frankness, wrong decisions and missed opportunities. It covers key litters and explains why George selected certain dogs and details the traits he sought as he made adjustments and kept moving towards his objective “to create the ultimate Grouse and Woodcock dog”. For the owner of an Old Hemlock Setter, this section alone is a very nice gift.

The DVD transitions seamlessly to a reminder – one man alone cannot continue to improve on a line. If a breeder has been able to avoid that dreaded “kennel blindness”, has kept to his ideals and refused to compromise to the whims of fashion and fancy, he discovers like-minded people are drawn to his dogs. Among them, he will find one or two who share his vision with regards to the future of the line. George was blessed to meet men like Roger Brown who not only appreciated the Old Hemlock line of setters but cherished George and Kay’s friendship. This shared vision and deep camaraderie resulted in many hours of conversation regarding the strain and its future. In Roger, George and Kay found a worthy heir who would keep to the ideal while striving to improve upon each generation. Roger’s task is not an easy one when you consider that the perfect Old Hemlock Setter didn’t live merely in George’s head or on a notepad in that old wooden desk. George’s goal was spelled out in vivid detail between the covers of 19 Upland Gunning books, countless magazine articles and the audio and videos now produced by the Old Hemlock Foundation. For many readers, owning an Old Hemlock Setter brings with it visions of Amwell and Dr. Norris, a pilgrimage to Worden’s Hotel and West Virginia’s version of the Glorious Twelfth, perilous bridges and fast water in mountain streams and staunch points in a heavy thicket, a flush, and shot with a retrieve to hand. The heritage and history that comes with an Old Hemlock Setter is a tremendous blessing, and no small responsibility. I have always believed that a breeder’s true strength is in his owners. You cannot keep them all nor would you want to. But Old Hemlock dogs are responsibly placed in the hands of people who understand the investment of time, sweat equity and the years of planning they represent. Owners who are committed to providing the best possible chance to thrive and grow, as companions in the field as well as the home. These men and women represent the future enduring worth that will be built upon George and Kay’s foundation. And the DVD rightly closes with testimonies from many owners of Old Hemlock Setters who not only appreciate what they have, but have a strong desire to see the line continue to thrive and grow stronger.

I am certain Roger, LeJay, Helen and all of the Old Hemlock owners agree “..I see in them all of those ancestors, not just the bloodline and shape of the skull, but the character, the way they feel.[…] They are all in my heart, not gone to some vague afterland to enjoy a happier life, for they were happiest with me. If I could have kept one of them with me for all Time, it would have meant missing all the others” (Grouse Along the Tramroad, 1986) and I am assured George and Kay would be deeply satisfied with the next chapter in the Old Hemlock Legacy.

Gregg Barrow Fair Mountain Farm West Virginia