Interview August 17, 2018 with:
Mark Altmann of Rum Creek Setters in Michigan
Thank you Mark for doing this interview. Can you tell us a little about your occupation and any other hobbies or interests?
My first career was to work for GM as an industrial engineer in their manufacturing plants in Pontiac, Flint and Coopersville and later I served as an engineer manager. One highlight of my career was that I was engineer on the Pontiac Fiero which was a revolutionary car and we had to gut the whole plant and do it from scratch. It went gangbusters for about 5 yrs until the model ended. The new technology and product made things very interesting for me. I retired from GM and was then a sales rep for the local NAPA auto parts store for 16 yrs. In Sept 2017 I retired from NAPA and said I’m going to take time to raise puppies. I have 160 acres up north (MI) for hunting, mostly deer, but I am working on habitat for grouse and wc. I spend a lot of time up there putting in food plots, cutting trees, etc. I also golf in the summer and do a little fishing. Now that the dogs are a bigger part of my life I belong to a couple of hunt clubs that give me opportunities to run the dogs and do some shooting.
How did you come to have rymans and how long have you had them?
I got my first setter 1988. There was an article in the paper in the Outdoors column of the newspaper that talked about English Setters and what great bird dogs they were. There was a kennel near me called Yeagerlust Setters so I contacted them and got my first setter there. She had some OH bloodline in her and that was my first introduction to this type of dog. She was fabulous, orange/whte, 50 lbs and was a great dog. I was interested in breeding but she had some health issues so my vet recommended not doing so. I didn’t know enough back then so it probably was a good thing. I bought George Bird Evans books and learned more about the type of setter. Then I was in the UP one year and met up with a guy who had two beautiful blue beltons from Pinecoble so when I was looking for another dog I ended up being connected with Keith Rich, Sundog Setters (now retired), who let me get the pick of the litter he had. Her name was Aspen. I had a litter with her and kept Autumn whom I still have. My second litter with Aspen had only one puppy whom I sold to Dick Krackow who used him as a stud dog to establish Dick’s own line. Dick is now buying a tri male from my current litter. The only way I had a succesful breeding program was through talking with (the late) Joan Mizer who gave me advice on who to use for stud dogs. I used Mike McDonalds “Reid” and then a Pinecoble dog who lived here in MI. For my last litter I used a stud here in MI whose owner I met at a RGS event.
How many dogs do you own and what is your average number of litters a year?
I have two dogs now but in the past I have had 3 others. I have had 6 litters in the past 10 years and am now hoping to have a litter a year.
If you were to write a mission statement for your breeding program, what would it include?
When I look at my customers, what I ask them is “what do you want in a dog” and I hope that they are saying that a dog that is a good hunter, easily trained, good disposition, and a nice house dog. The hips and health of the dog is primary to make sure I am producing quality dogs and not just popping them out there so that when they want another dog they will come back to me. I’m not big on specific color combinations, I like to have a variety of colors in a litter. I like to have good markings because people notice and like nice looking markings.
Where do you hunt and what is your favorite bird species to hunt?
I do a lot of my hunting in the western side of the LP because it is within driving range of my house and cabin. In an hour to hour&half drive I can get into good covers for grouse and woodock. I also go to the UP for a week each fall to the Crystal Falls area. I also now go to Kansas each winter for the Ryman Breeders Gathering and hunt quail and pheasant. I will sometimes go to a preserve for some training etc. My favorite is primarily grouse and woodcock, there is not much for wild phez in MI. I enjoy the quail and phez in KS. I like a variety of species.
Of the species you hunt, which one do you feel is the valuable for evaluating your dogs abilities and why?
It’s nice to hunt variety because depending on the dog’s experience and age, the different birds can be great for different reasons. For a young dog a woodcock sitting tight is a good thing. Pheasant teach them how to ground scent when they run. My Aspen was excellent as a ground trailer. Grouse and woodcock are my favorite for the dogs but I also like the others.
Do you keep a journal or log of your hunts?
Yes I do. I have two – 3 ring binders of pages that go back to 1988 of trips to the UP and other hunts. I will put in there the day, weather, people, dogs, points, contacts, kills, etc. It is fun to look back and read, even if it was not a good day. It’s good to look back and remember a place that was good to hunt that you might have forgotten about. It is a discipline. I try to keep up with it and see what works or doesn’t and where I have gone hunting. I don’t remember who told me to keep a journal but I’m glad I did. I have changed format a little but it is still something I like to do. I do it after every hunt. The sheet that I have now allows me to log each spot/cover different. It is the discipline that is difficult to keep up.
Tell us a little about your training philosophy and approach to dog work on birds when hunting.
I don’t like a young dog to be pressured the first year. I think the first year is a year for the dog to just go out explore and have fun. If I don’t shoot any birds over it the first year it’s no big deal. The second year I expect to start shooting over it and see the dog learn a lot. The third year is when things really show up and you know what you have. The first year I run dogs by themselves, I do not believe that dogs learn from others, they learn from the birds and they will teach themselves. If the bird flushes because of what it did, it learns that. The Rick Smith course helped me to learn, I don’t say whoa or anything, just be there and get the dog out and let the dog hunt. No yelling or blowing whistles, just let the dog work. People make it not fun to hunt with if they are yelling. But you have to put the time in, you can’t just go two weekends a year and expect the dog to do it, you have to give them the time to learn and the experiences on wild birds. Half the fun is just watching the dogs, killing isn’t a big deal. I sometimes run two dogs at once but usually one. I am hands off, the dogs knows what to do and I let them do it.
Thanks to Mark for doing the interview and particularly for being the first one!