2019 Ryman Breeders Gathering & Hunt

Due to a lack of internet access during the week, this year’s report of the 2019 Ryman Breeders Gathering is being presented as a single summary with photos.  We hope that you enjoy.

It was a hard core group of hunter/breeders that got together in Kansas last week.  I say hardcore because this year threw plenty of obstacles in our path but the efforts paid off nicely with good bird numbers and dog work.  Several of our members had to cancel their trip to Kansas, some due to work commitments (apparently the economy is booming and keeping everyone extra busy!) and a couple of folks had family/health issues/puppies that prevented them from coming.  We certainly missed those folks but know that they will be back in January 2020.

Our commemorative caps became a familiar sight to the locals in town as we started every morning at the local Casey’s for the RS tradition of coffee and ice cream.

There was plenty of cheer, good food, stories and conversation each evening.  Important topics of conversation included breeding plans, stud dogs, health news, but also great information was shared regarding whelping practices and raising litters.  When you have a group of ryman owners who between them represent over 100 years of breeding experience there is more to learn than there are days in the week.  More detail on these topics will be shared in the RS private forum for Breeder Members .

The weather proved to be a challenge this year, delaying a couple of arrivals and everyone headed out a day early in front of storm Harper which was forecast to deliver snow, ice, bitter cold and high winds.  KS mud roads are notorious anyway but repeated snow and rain have kept them in gumbo all season with farmers kept very pulling hunters out of the mess – 4×4 doesn’t cut it in KS gumbo.  Even the normally good gravel roads required caution and we tried to travel in pairs just in case.

There’s a reason no one has driven down this part of the road….time to turn around
One of our members narrowly avoided needing a farmer’s tractor. Lots of effort and 4 wheel chains finally got them out.
No shiny city trucks in Kansas     

Frozen fog is a ‘thing’ in Kansas







Quail have had a couple of good years in a row in Kansas.  In good years like this, wild quail offer great opportunities for developing bird dogs since you can have multiple covey finds, with large (often 15-20 birds) coveys allowing for dog work on singles as well as some good, conservative shooting.  Every dog hunted had multiple opportunities and each evening there were stories of veterans and youngsters alike showing their stuff.  Although our hunters focus on quail, there were some pheasant finds and successes as well.


We know you’re here      




As it has been each year now, the Gathering & Hunt was social and educational but of course was all about the dogs.  We will be back in Kansas next January for the 4th Annual Ryman Breeder Hunt!!




Breeding Announcement: Belle x October River

We are very excited to announce the planned spring breeding of Belle to October River.

Belle is a proven grouse and woodcock dog, has an excellent nose, reliable retriever and just about everything she does is natural. Belle hunts at a medium range, very athletic, checks in naturally and is very cool headed when it comes to handling birds. Belle is 60 lbs., hips OFA excellent, elbows OFA good, thyroid normal.

October River’s profile can be found here: https://octobersetters.com/males/

We have a few spots left on our waiting list to qualified hunting companion homes. If you are interested please email chuckrobinson@optonline.net


Meet Breeder Member: Sugar Creek Setters, JC Smith

As hunting season is winding down we have the time to get back to our interviews with our RymanSetters.com Breeder Members.  We hope that you enjoy this series as we all look forward to learning more about these hunting men and women who are committed to continuing the tradition of the ryman-type setter as a wild bird hunting dog.

Interview January 10, 2019 with:

JC Smith, Sugar Creek Setters, located in the finger lakes region of New York

Thank you JC for doing this interview, particularly since I know you are busy with puppies about to go to their homes plus you are packing to leave for the annual RS Breeders Hunt in Kansas.  Can you tell us a little about your occupation and interests/hobbies?

I am half retired at this point but I continue to work in regional water quality activities.  My career has always focused on water quality work in the finger lakes or greater NY region in agriculture, watershed management, and water quality monitoring.  I started out wanting to be a fisheries biologist and wandered away from that and went into broader issues.  At that same time I was sneaking out to go grouse hunting at Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area .  (Connecticut Hill is a very large wildlife management area in NYS that was the primary location for early ruffed grouse management research.) This is a very interesting rural area where I live.  I fly fish and am often working in my wood lot  and in a small way I am living the dream at this point. We also have a 60 acre farm where we can do dog training when we want.   I am lucky that my wife and I got together later in life and I am able to do a lot of these things because although she is not a bird hunter herself, she helps with all of the details, inconveniences and burdens that go along with breeding and raising dogs.

How did you come to have rymans and how long have you had them 

Shortly after college I joined a skeet club where a member had an English Setter .   I did not know anything about hunting with bird dogs although I was trying to be a grouse hunter.  I did not have a mentor or any basis for reference but this guy raved about his dog, which happened to be from Warren Sheckells of Pinecoble. (note: Pinecoble is a well known but now retired ryman kennel)  I believe his dog was sired by Pinecoble Case who was Warrens first important sire. I had the good luck of calling Warren when I was looking for a puppy and he had acquired a pick puppy from Pine Wild which was a kennel of early ryman- type setters. I ended up getting a 5 month  old female from Warren and he encouraged me to breed her, in part because Pinewild Kennel was basically disappearing after a 55 yr tradition of breeding English Setters.  Warren had quite a bit of that blood in his early program but it was so far back that now you would have to know which dogs to look for to find them back there.  Somewhere around 1993, George Bird Evans wrote an article in Pointing Dog Journal about Mrs. Hunt who was behind Pine Wild Kennel. That article launched some notoriety for the line and encouraged my own interest and involvement.  

I did not know how to handle a dog, I got lucky by running across other grouse hunters with English Setters and I became part of a Grouse Camp tradition that was based in northern NY in an old maple syrup camp.  That area is still a stronghold for grouse and woodcock shooting. One of the things that attracted me to breeding was that I was in control of all of the standards and decisions for that breeding and I liked the personal challenge of that.  When I took a job down here by the lakes I stepped away from breeding for awhile due to career responsibilities. The interesting coincidence is that the first time that I called Warren, I got what I believe was the last of the Pine Wild line.  Then years later, when I was considering buying a dog from Warren,  I was able to luck into a pick female from the last breeding of Pine Coble just before Warren retired from breeding.  That lucky pick is my Josie.

How many dogs do you own and what is your average number of litters a year?

Our plan is to have 2 or 3 ES at a time, we will never be in a position to do more than a litter a year.  We also have an Australian Shepherd dog

If you were to write a mission statement for your breeding program, what would it include?

We breed to make a very meaningful contribution with the individual litter and to the presence of this style of bird dog at large.  Success depends on cooperation with other people because we are obviously not offering any great volume in puppies. Communication and investment in time and relationships can still contribute on the whole to something that is meaningful and produce dogs that have all the genetic potential and opportunity to become a well bred companion and bird dog.  Choosing dogs that balance health, conformation and field performance and temperament is a given but it deserves being said again.

Where do you hunt and what is your favorite bird species to hunt?

I got started grouse hunting as a boy with my father but didn’t understand much of it.  I explored that a little more in college in the finger lakes and my primary focus remains grouse and wc.  That is the wild bird venue that we have at home. We still have pretty good grouse hunting opportunities in northern NY and actually excellent wc.  We have abundant opportunities for bird contact with the woodcock while hunting grouse which makes for a good formula for the dogs. Some days you shoot a limit of 3 birds and walk back to the vehicle and the dog is trying to figure out why you are done.  If you have a good dog it is not hard here to find enough wc for the dog work: hunt grouse and the wc will take care of themselves. Now with retirement I am forecasting prairie birds and have hunted Kansas pheasant and quail at the RS Gathering. I like grouse and wc  because it offers the standard of hunting that I enjoy. I do not want to be competing with other people for space in the woods when I am hunting but my grouse hunting is different and – the best moments of the sport are more out of reach and more delightful.

Of the species you hunt, which one do you feel is the most valuable for evaluating your dogs’ abilities, and why?

Our venue locally is grouse and wc and I think hands down that a dog handling ruffed grouse, the dog pinning the bird down, knowing when to move or stay on point, is much more discerning with grouse than wc.  WC are good for developing a dogs desire and it is a delight to see a dog readily retrieve wc since some dogs don’t like it. WC seem to run more now than when I started but they are not the tremendous challenge that grouse are.  I cannot speak for the other game birds that I look forward to experiencing.

Do you keep a journal or log of your hunts?

Not any more.  I realized it was,for me, an interesting idea that just felt like I was adding too many expectations onto every experience.  I admire people who do keep a journal. I also take very few photos in the field any more: I enjoy the moment more than trying to photograph it.  

Tell us about your training philosophy and approach to dog work on birds when hunting

I think for myself and for many others, keeping it very simple and elementary is most successful.  The two or three commands that are important to me are: come, whoa, and for a dog that has a lot of experience working birds – okay.  I use okay as a release to continue searching as when the dog is on point but its posture says something is going on and it needs to be released.  My training philosophy is keep it simple. I have had success working w pen raised birds but I don’t do much of it. I think it is easier to train bad habits than it is to train good ones and I’m fortunate in that I can run my dogs on wild in late winter and transition from summer to fall when it is not a shooting season.  Running a dog in a field, a little whistle work, blank gun to celebrate flushing after a point and 95% of dog training is learning how to behave in the presence of your own dog. I do not diminish people who are interested in steady to flush, etc but for my hunting I want the dog to be following where the bird goes.

I believe that, the more dogs that you have had, the more you learn about how to behave with your dogs and controlling your own projection of emotions and state of mind is probably more important than the mechanics of training.  There are a lot of mechanical ways to train a dog but your state of mind and emotions are what you transfer to the dog. But like most people, the best dog is the next dog that I will have because I am learning how to behave better from each successive dog.

Thank you JC for taking the time for the interview. Safe travels and happy hunting out in Kansas.


Hello from MN!


This is my Jack, 65 pounds OFA Good and Normal, he is a true grouse dog.

We are a couple years away from having our first litter, as we are still proving our young dogs. I am thankful to be here, and look forward to what the future holds for these wonderful hunting companions.

Jason & Aimee Dufresne

Alder Tangle Kennels – Sandstone, MN.


What About Elbows?

Is Elbow Dysplasia a concern in the Ryman-type setter? Although Hip Dysplasia (HD) is the most well known inherited health problem in English setters, it certainly is not the only serious disease we need to guard against, and Elbow Dysplasia is a prime example. Much of what we will discuss in our continuing series of articles on HD will also apply to Elbow Dysplasia (ED), so lets take a look at elbows before going on.

The OFA reports an incidence of about 15% Elbow Dysplasia in English setters. We don’t know exactly how Ryman-type setters compare to the breed as a whole, but we know that ED does occur.

What is Elbow Dysplasia?

A dog diagnosed with Elbow Dysplasia will have one or more of three abnormalities within the elbow joint:

  • FCP-Fragmented medial coronoid of the ulna
  • OCD-Osteochondritis of the medial condyle of the humerus
  • UAP-Ununited anconeal process of the ulna

These defects cause secondary arthritis and/or instability in the elbow joint. They are polygenic traits that are inherited independently from each other. RymanSetters.com member Walt Cottrell, DVM, wrote a summary of the conditions here:
English Setter Health Testing
You can also read more in-depth info provided by the OFA:
Elbow Dysplasia
Read more about Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow Dysplasia tends to be a more serious disease for the dog, and for the owner, than Hip Dysplasia typically is.

Compared to HD, Elbow Dysplasia:
  • is more likely to have an early onset of signs; most clinically effected dogs are diagnosed by 18 months.
  • is more likely to cause debilitating, intractable arthritis and pain, and is expensive to try to manage. In its milder forms it can also remain undetected.
  • is more difficult to diagnose.
  • has a somewhat higher heritability estimate in most populations studied.

The higher heritability estimate is an important consideration.

Do not misconstrue this to mean that the disease is more “inherited”. Both Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia are inherited diseases. We will go over heritability estimates and how they are used in a separate post. For now here is the main thing to understand regarding this discussion:

When selecting for or against polygenic traits like HD and ED, heritability estimates tell a breeder how much importance must be placed on the status of a potential breeding dog’s relatives. The lower the heritability estimate is, the more important the relatives become. Counterintuitively, if a trait has a low heritability estimate the status of a dog’s relatives can be an even better window into the genes a dog is carrying than the dog’s own status is. With higher heritability however, the relatives are less important.

Because heritability estimates are higher for ED, selecting an individual dog with normal elbows may help reduce the incidence more effectively than it does with HD. On the flip side, if a breeder uses a dog that has ED, its offspring are more likely to be affected by the disease. As with HD, breeding a dog with an unknown case has the potential to cause significant damage by spreading the genes before the problem is recognized. Plus, studies show that as the incidence increases, the severity of the cases goes up as well1,2. Using dogs that have ED, or have never been evaluated, is a significant risk to any breeding program.

Elbow Dysplasia in Real Life

To illustrate the impact ED can have, we asked RymanSetters.com breeder members Legh and Jenn Higgins of Twombly Setters to share their personal experiences with Elbow Dysplasia. Their story should give pause to anyone who is considering breeding, or buying a puppy out of, a dog that hasn’t had its elbows evaluated as normal by the OFA.

“Personal Experience with ED

30 years ago, we trained and trialed Labradors. Our dogs trialed and were hunted hard, 50+ days of hunting alone for several years. Back then hips were x-rayed and rated by the OFA, but not elbows. We purchased a male pup from a “responsible breeder” and at 7 months he was crippled with what we learned was Elbow Dysplasia. He had very expensive surgery and had a recovery time of at least 6 months, in a crate and not training, learning working or hunting. His joint problems never got better, only worse, and he lived with us in pain all his life, never realizing his potential as a hunting companion.

Recent Experience as Breeders

This litter would be different – sired by a dog outside our bloodlines. The male dog’s owner wanted a puppy to replace the aging dogs in his string of 4 English Setters. This gentleman had cancer and wanted to carry on his bloodlines to give to his grandchildren as a reminder of him: a noble mission, so we agreed to proceed. We drove 800 miles to see and evaluate the potential sire. First off, no OFA documentation for hips or elbows; the owner agreed to have X-rays done and evaluated by the OFA – we had plenty of time to get the results before our female would be ready for breeding.

The owner passed away, and transferred ownership of the dog to his caregiver. The time came for our female to be bred, we were told the X-rays were “all good”. I asked to see the paperwork from the OFA which was locked inside the estate home, and it became an issue to retrieve during the “Will being settled”. After looking at the OFA website and finding the hips were “Good” but there was no information about the elbows, I called the OFA and spoke with Dr. Keller. They couldn’t disclose the results of the elbows as the owner had not authorized the OFA to release the results…end of discussion. At this point we had bred the pair and really wanted to get to the bottom of this, and demanded the papers from the new owner/caretaker. Finally he retrieved them and brought the documents to us.

  • Hips: Good.
  • Elbows: Elbow Dysplasia Grade III (worst grade) Left and Right.
    Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) Left and Right.

The air left the room. This is not what we had anticipated. At this point we realized how grave a mistake it was to assume and take someone’s word that the X-rays were “all good”. We had all the upcoming pups spoken for, but after exploring all our options, we only had one course. The pregnancy was terminated and our female can no longer have pups, since the safest way to end a canine pregnancy is with a OVH, or complete hysterectomy. Telling many committed potential owners that there weren’t pups for them was difficult, but far worse for us was the loss of our best hunting female in our breeding program. We were and still are devastated.

We would like to see the OFA publish ALL results of submissions and not withhold information from people who need accurate information to make the best/most responsible choices they can. Hopefully our terrible misadventure will help someone else down the road.”

Legh and Jenn Higgins

In addition to driving home the importance of screening for ED, there are a couple more takeaways from this wrenching story:

  1. When a dog passes its final OFA evaluations the results will always be made available to the public. They can be verified by searching the OFA’s online database or by calling the OFA directly. If a dog’s results are not in the public database it was either never submitted, or it failed.
  2. Trust only OFA results that you have personally verified. From simple lies to forged OFA certificates, dishonesty regarding OFAs is all too common. It is an unfortunate fact that you must confirm OFA results via the OFA.

Obviously ED should be taken seriously and the Higgins’ experience is a wake up call for everyone interested in English setters. On the surface the fact that ED is relatively uncommon may sound like a reason to ignore the issue. However, in reality this makes an even stronger argument for screening in order to prevent Elbow Dysplasia from becoming a more significant health problem for our dogs. Our members agree that every breeding English setter should have its elbows evaluated by the OFA.


1JAVMA, 1997; 210: 215 – 221. Prevalence and inheritance of and selection for elbow arthrosis in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Rottweilers in Sweden and benefit: cost analysis of a screening and control program. Swenson L, Audell L, Hedhammar A.
2Elbow Dysplasia FAQS