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    Tailgate Review

    Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels:

    Proven Techniques and an Upland Tradition

    by Reid Bryant with Ronnie Smith and Susanna Love; photography by Brian Grossenbacher

    Universe Publishing

    www.rizzoliusa.com

    212-387-3400

    $45

    256 pages

    ISBN: 978-0-7893-3679-8

    Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels introduces and promotes the “Smith Training System” (aka “Silent Command System”), first developed in the 1950s by Ronnie Smith, Sr., and his brother Delmar. In that sense it’s like any other hunting dog training book: The author espouses and explains a specific teaching method with which he has had success. But that’s where the comparisons end.

    This book is unlike any other training book we’ve ever run across in over 40 years of building our sporting library.

    In the first place, it’s not a little paperback you can roll up and stash in your jeans, keeping it handy for quick reference when you are on the training grounds. And it’s not even the kind of hardcover book you’d want to take notes in or risk spilling coffee on.

    In size, heft, appearance and production qualities, Training Bird Dogs is nothing short of a “coffee-table” book. Richly illustrated by Brian Grossenbacher’s stunningly beautiful photographs of dogs, bird cover and puppies — plenty of puppies — this book first beckons you to sit down and just look at it.

    Next, notice that Reid Bryant, wing shooting services manager for Orvis and a writer widely published in outdoor-themed magazines, gets top billing as the book’s author. Oh, the concepts and methods and ideas are Smith and Love’s, all right. But they were wise enough to hire Bryant to massage those thoughts into good writing. So after looking at it, you’re going to just want to read it.

    In fact, after you read about the history of Ronnie Sr. and Delmar and before you read about any of Ronnie Jr.’s philosophy or training methods, you probably will want to start with page 242: There, Bryant has summed up for you what you should have learned throughout the book. Read it first so you understand what you are supposed to be learning.

    What you’ll find is that Smith and Love’s instructions sound more like conversations than lectures. The discussions of canine development and psychology make sense, and the methods that lead from those insights seem as right as rain. They explain that in their system, the handler watches and learns from the dog, not only vice versa.

    Unlike many trainers, Smith and Love don’t include any calendars or timetables for when a dog should be doing something. While they do break the formal training into three levels — foundational, intermediate and advanced — they specifically note, “It is important not to get frustrated with pups. They will blossom at their own speed.” They describe their step-by-step method as “progressive and linear without being rigid.” So rather than saying a dog should be doing something by a certain age, they mention benchmarks it should meet before you move it on to the next step in training: “Gently yet firmly guide your dog to success, go at his pace, and do not overstimulate him.”

    Training Bird Dogs is simply a beautifully produced piece of work that offers quite a bit of insightful and logical discussion about how we might go about training and understanding our dogs.

    Just one side note, if you don’t mind. Feel free to skip the foreword. Each of the first three sentences on the page use the word buried, as a lead-in to an essay by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III about his dead English cocker spaniel Josh.

    You were warned.



    Center Drive Plus

    Gerber

    gerbergear.com    

    800-950-6161

    $125

    •  One-thumb opening system

    •  Closed length: 4.6 inches

    •  Open length: 6.6 inches

    •  Weight: 9.5 ounces

    •  Premium leather sheath with bit holder

    As with most multi-tools since the beginning of time, the Center Drive Plus includes a needle-nose pliers, partially serrated knife blade, screwdriver and assorted other tools that are stored in and flip out from its handle. The first three tools are pretty much full-sized and can be accessed without opening the handles. The real innovation comes in its design and is most evident when the screwdriver is put into service: The driver handles more like a regular screwdriver than those in traditional multi-tools, which usually handle awkwardly. This is because the driver opens on the center axis as opposed to off-center and, as a result, becomes more balanced in use. Another feature: several magnetic bits in flathead, Phillips and hex styles instead of foldouts with a single size of each. A side pouch in the leather sheath holds a dozen bits plus the tool has spots to hold two more, ready for action. New for the Center Drive: a fold-out scissors.

    While we found the tool to be heftier than what we wanted to carry around on our woods walks, we noticed that every time we set it down after handling one job, someone else was picking it up for another — even though his own tools were nearby.


    Fastball

    Gerber

    gerbergear.com    

    800-950-6161

    $100

    •  S30V premium Wharncliffe blade

    •  Aircraft grade aluminum handle

    •  Internal stainless steel ball bearings assist a super smooth, fast opening action

    •  Blade length: 3 inches

    •  Overall length (open): 7.1 inches

    •  Weight: 2.7 ounces

    Gerber bills the Fastball as a knife for EDC (Everyday Carry) purposes, and it’s easy to see why. Its negligible weight means it will ride in your pocket or clipped to your belt, and you’ll barely know it’s there. The ball bearings make it easy to open the blade quickly with one hand. Its utilitarian Wharncliffe blade can handle most cutting jobs. Plus, couple it with the aircraft grade aluminum handle and you end up with what Gerber says is a knife that “lives in the place where precision and polish meet.” It is a fine knife for EDC, and it just plain looks good. We used it on a number of occasions without complaint. It would probably be a better tool for cleaning birds and small game than it would be for big game.

    Wolfe Publishing Group