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  • David A. Van Wie

Our Autumn Adventure

Cheryl picks up Autumn for the first time in October.

Autumn is here!

While the first day of autumn, astronomically speaking, was September 23, the first day of Autumn in our family was October 23. That’s the day we picked up our new pup, a beautiful Llewellin setter, at Blue Mtn. Llewellins in Colebrook, NH.

Ms. April was always looking for squirrels in the yard.

We decided to name her Autumn to honor our beloved dog, April. Not surprisingly, we’d picked up April in April 2002 and she lived a remarkable life with our family into her 17th year, passing on in April 2018 while we still lived in Maine. We think of her every time we hear a train whistle, as April always barked at the distant sound in the valley until she lost her hearing in her final months.

As puppies do, Autumn has been quick to fill the hole in our hearts. And already she is doing it with style and a personality worthy of her predecessor.

I first fell in love with Llewellin Setters in 2016 when I wrote a feature article about hunting dogs for The Maine Sportsman magazine. My editor, Will Lund, suggested I choose a subject based on the photographic possibilities, then write the feature around the photos. I decided it would be fun to do a photo shoot of bird dogs working in the field, jumping over logs and stone walls and pointing at birds.

Kurt with Gus and Storm.

I spoke with a hunting guide at the Maine Sportsman’s show who leads upland bird hunts with his three Llewellin Setters up in The Forks, Maine. Fortunately, Kurt Spear who guides with Maine Bird Dog Adventures, lived just three miles away from me in Gray, Maine.

Kurt and I drove up to Setter’s Point, a private commercial hunting reserve in the mountains near Bethel, Maine on a sunny April afternoon. There they set out live birds in the field to work the dogs under actual hunting conditions. Kurt's dogs would get some early season training, while I placed myself out in the fields with a telephoto lens to get some action shots.

Moxie on point.
Storm on the scent of a bird.

We all had a very successful outing with Storm, Moxie and Gus, Kurt’s three gorgeous, friendly, smart and athletic setters showing their stuff. You can read my article here and see the photos on my website here.

The following autumn, Kurt and I went grouse hunting in the Dartmouth Grant with Storm and Moxie. It was peak foliage (not the best for seeing the grouse fly) and the dogs worked the old logging roads, swam in the river, and were well-behaved in the cabin. This confirmed my impression of Llewellins as both amazing bird dogs and as loving, friendly companions.

Kurt with Storm and Moxie.

I was smitten with the breed.

Until I met Kurt, I had never heard of Llewellin Setters. I learned that Llewellin setters are a sub-breed of English Setters. Some people consider them a separate breed, but they are a special type that was bred by R. Purcell Llewellin in the 1870s to emphasize instincts and natural ability in bird hunting, rather than for show or field trial competitions. The result was a line that is somewhat smaller with shorter hair than the standard Laverack line of English Setters.

Llewellins vary widely in coloring, from mostly white to more heavily black (blue), with tan (orange), black and/or gray ticking and often black patches of different sizes and locations. Some are just tan and white, others black and white, but many are tri-color. Breeders call the ticking coloration "belton," such as a blue belton or a tan belton dog.

In my research, I came across Blue Mountain Llewellins who had an informative website and a waiting list for future litters. I joined their email list, thinking that, with April well into her twilight years, we might consider a Llewellin as our next dog. I had always wanted a bird dog, as hunting for ruffed grouse and woodcock in northern New England is futile without a trained bird dog.

Last year, we moved to New Hampshire. Our new house is surrounded by woods and fields, ideal for a bird dog. But we had to settle into our new home and adjust to career changes before we were ready for another dog.

Autumn at about 5 weeks.

In early October we had been in our new home for over a year. I got an email from Blue Mtn. Llewellins saying they had two puppies available in the latest litter which could come home near the end of the month. The two female pups pictured were adorable and seemed to be telling me “now is the time!” I showed the pictures to Cheryl and she nearly melted.

Yes, it was time. I called Jeff at Blue Mountain and let him know we wanted a pup, who turned out to be the last one available.

We made a weekend run to PetSmart for toys, new bedding, and a puppy harness, then on Wednesday the 23rd, we drove up to Colebrook, north of Lancaster, NH, about a 2.5 hour drive from Lyme. In the shadow of Blue Mountain, we were greeted by a half dozen beautiful Llewellins, including Dixie, the mom, who is all tan and white. We later met the sire, Dakota, a perfect gentleman with a black and tan handsome face.

Dixie, Autumn's mom
Dakota, the dad

Autumn was easy to pick out in the pile of puppies. Both of her ears are mostly black (like Dakota) and she has just a single, small black patch at the base of her tail. She had the most gray ticking on her back. Her face is freckled with black and tan ticking, and her four lower paws have only tan ticking (like Dixie).

DVW and Autumn at Blue Mountain kennel.

Even though we didn’t have pick of the litter, Cheryl and I believe we got the prettiest pup of the seven. Really. The others are all cute as can be, for sure, but Autumn has beautiful markings. Adrienne and Jeff Worthington, the breeders, were glad to see the pups all go to loving homes. It must be bittersweet for them.

Autumn rode home to Lyme in Cheryl’s lap for the first hour and then in mine for the second half of the trip. She was sleepy, warm, soft, and cuddly the whole way. When we got home she was quite nervous (she had never been outside her puppy kennel area), so even walking on grass was new.

And then she met the cat, Django. He was and remains skeptical, but seems to be adjusting well. Like any older sibling, he is mostly jealous of the attention that the puppy gets to the exclusion of his monopoly on lap time.

CB and Autumn under the watchful eye of Django, ruler of the roost.

We are now just over a week into our puppy journey. I’ll be writing more on her settling in and progress with training in future posts. We will be working on the basics first, with an eye toward her training and work in the field. That means SIT, STAY, COME, WHOA, GO IN EASY, FETCH, DROP and a bunch of hand signals and whistles. It should be quite an adventure for all of us. So far, so good.

Autumn sure is beautiful here in New Hampshire, don't you think? And smart too!

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