Join us as we delve into the fascinating world of hunting and dog training with Durrell Smith, a teacher who found solace in hunting and training dogs.
Drawn in by the beauty of bird dogs and upland hunting, Durrell found inspiration in his mentors and has since dedicated himself fully to the pursuit. In this interview, we'll explore his journey, from his first bird dog competition to how he handles setbacks in dog training, and more. Get ready to immerse yourself in the captivating world of hunting and dog training alongside Durrell.
Q: How did you get into hunting and dog training?
Durrell: I got into hunting dog training shortly after I became a teacher and needed a mental break from the very tough circumstances that kids were dealing with in their lives and the trauma that came as a result of it. So I wanted to get into hunting as a way to get away on the weekends and focus on something other than work. Originally, being from Atlanta, I’d come up training pitbulls here and there and was fairly good with the dogs, and rode horses as a child around the Greenbriar area of Atlanta from a small group of Black horsemen. So, throughout my introduction to hunting in 2016 there were images of bird dogs and upland hunting that really caught my eye, and in 2017, I was grocery shopping and picked up the June/July issue of Garden & Gun magazine and saw an awe-inspiring photo of my now mentor, Neal Carter Jr., handling a beautiful white Pointer off a silver white Tennessee Walking Horse. And the following page was a photo of another mentor, Curtis Brooks Sr. looking like King Arthur posing up his Pointer on the back of a truck tailgate. From that point I had to meet them and learn from them, and they took me under their wings and it was 100 miles per hour ever since.
Q: Do you remember your first bird dog competition?
Durrell: Yes I do, it was a field trial at Rocky Creek FTC, hosted by my good buddy Daniel Howell. I didn’t own a horse at the time, but was blessed to borrow one from a good friend, Tom Hennes, who was also an old timer with a great number of stories. I didn’t have a scout either, and my friend Terry Chastain Jr. offered to scout for me somehow, in addition to scouting for his handler Ben Stringer. He was too kind for offering, and Lane Hodges stepped in for Terry and helped me out. And, for all the help I was offered, the performance itself on my end was a bit of a trainwreck (HA!). I was running my first Pointer, Honeymoon in “Vegas”, who was still a puppy running up a level as a derby dog. He was dead broke and hunted on wild quail before, but had never been run much in front of a horse and hadn’t quite learned to handle yet off horseback, but I turned him loose anyway when the judges called for the release. I didn’t know what singing was and Vegas was hanging much too close to my horse and I, but my goal, despite all the chaos, was to do my best to help the dog find birds and keep broke points (steadiness to wing and shot). And he did just that. We made it through the brace without having to pick up, but I learned that day how bad it is to fall behind. But everyone was supportive of my experience and offered great insights for trials down the road. And Vegas became a better dog because of it.
Q: Do you ever have a bad day of dog training?
Durrell: Oh gosh yes, performance-wise, sometimes dogs just do doggone things, and you live with it, you learn from it, and you do better the next day or give them some time off. But there’s never an actual “bad” day when you are in the field getting it done, putting feet on the ground, and most importantly…learning.
Q: How do you shake off a miss or a bad day of hunting?
Durrell: I think about a bad day of hunting as a day to have gathered my thoughts about the next time I go out. It’s bad not because of a lack of harvest, but because maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to the dogs, maybe I wasn’t gentle enough to my horse, maybe I was too in my head about placing shots instead of being in my flow, or maybe simply not being present enough to observe good habitat which leads to missed opportunities. But I shake it off when I can go home, and write out my notes and observations. I end up writing more about the day than I realize I actually took in, filling the pages of my Sporting Life Notebook. Those pages make it all come back together, turning a seemingly bad day into a whole lot of good.
Q: Do you have any advice for young dog trainers and bird hunters?
Durrell: I would say just two things.
- Wild birds, exclusively…WILD birds make a bird dog.
- Whatever you do, honor your call and pursue things you are passionate about with intense, artful reverence and humility.
Q: What is a type of hunting that you’ve never done but really want to?
Durrell: I absolutely want to hunt Perdiz in Argentina and if possible, on horseback with some really dope Gauchos and great bird dogs and my Parallelo!
About Durrell Smith
Durrell Smith got into hunting dog training as a way to unwind on the weekends and focus on something outside of work. Originally from Atlanta, Durrell had experience training pitbulls and riding horses as a child around the Greenbriar area. In 2016, he was introduced to hunting and was immediately drawn to images of bird dogs and upland hunting. After seeing a photo of his now mentor, Neal Carter Jr., in a magazine, Durrell was inspired to meet him and learn from him. Neal and another mentor, Curtis Brooks Sr., took Durrell under their wings and mentored him in the art of hunting dog training.