A lighthearted look at the serious business of capturing the perfect sporting dog moment.
Text and photos by David Lucas
One thing’s for sure, when it comes to outdoor writing and photography, people in the Palmetto State cannot get enough of sporting dogs doing their thing. Dog images are a popular staple of the South Carolina Wildlife magazine/Hampton Wildlife Fund photo contest and display during the Palmetto Sportsmen’s classic in Columbia, and articles featuring sporting dogs are always a looked-forward-to feature in any SCW issue. Whether it’s hard-core waterfowlers, upland pointer devotees, or just regular folks, everybody loves a good dog photo. And puppies?…..don’t even get me started.
Capturing a perfectly-timed action shot of a majestic retriever bursting out of the water amid a shower of sunlit water droplets, duck in mouth and ready to make the perfect drop, or patiently waiting by its master’s side in a dove field, can be difficult under actual field conditions. Among other things, having a photographer, handler and all the necessary equipment for making a great photo trailing along behind doesn’t usually make for a very productive hunt. And yet good images of sporting dogs and their humans is a near-constant need for a variety of SCDNR publications (be sure and check out the cover of the 2020-21 SCDNR Official Rules and Regulations booklet, for instance).
So with that in mind, last winter SCW magazine Editor/photographer Joey Frazier and agency photographer (among other duties) Taylor Main put out a call for volunteers for SCDNR staff members with working dogs to be a part of a photo shoot designed to help build up our supply of “stock” hunting dog images for potential use in ads, articles, or other agency publications. Staff members from several different SCDNR Divisions answered the call, and it was a great — and VERY chilly — day of shooting that produced some fantastic images. It also produced a LOT of outtakes – “behind-the-scenes” shots that highlight just how much fun you can have on a cold winter day with a passel of pups, their owners, and some really talented photographers. SCW magazine will be featuring a photo essay of the very BEST shots from this outing in their November-December 2020 issue, but in the meantime, here’s a few that probably won’t be in the final cut.
Meet the Boss
The end goal: A perfectly-frozen-in-time snapshot of a beautiful dog – in this case SCDNR Marine Division biologist Bryan Frazier’s, Chesapeake Bay retriever, “Boss,” coming out of the water.
But first, there’s the practice run – to get all the angles worked out, and with SCDNR photographer Taylor Main handling the camera duties, Boss shows he is more than up to the task, though he doesn’t seem that happy about it.
Then you need to plan strategy, and somebody’s got to be in charge. Major Billy Downer is used to giving orders in his role as head of SCDNR’s Hunter Safety and Education programs.
Billy: “OK, here’s the plan – I’ll throw the duck, you give the command, and you two shoot the action from two angles.”
Boss: “Were’d that donut go, hoomans?”
But first, how about a posed shot holding the bird.
Billy: “Now, Boss, this is a duck. We need you to hold it in your mouth and look straight at the camera.” Boss: “Are you sure? This thing smells funny.”
Boss: “I know what you want me to do, but I don’t have to…..I’m not a trained animal, you know….. oh, wait……”
Boss: “Oh, there’s treats involved, you say? Well OK then, in that case, I’m ready for my closeup Ms. Main.”
“Ptooey…..OK, where’s that Milk Bone now?”
Thatch and Manse
Next up for portraits were Thatch and Manse, Deutsch-Drahthaars owned by SCDNR Office of Media & Outreach Assistant Director Amanda Stroud and her husband Justin. Manse is the little guy. Amanda’s long experience with keeping the OMO staff on task paid off, with the bribes to ensure good on-camera behavior coming early and often.
“Joey! quick, turn around, Manse is pointing.”
Meanwhile, a few more participants watch from the “green room” while awaiting their turn in front of the cameras, including Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Deputy Director Emily Cope, Law Enforcement Division Region III Captain Ken Simmons and his 6-month-old yellow lab, Luna.
Back by the pond, the treat strategy is paying off. Thatch is ready for his beauty shot. Manse is, well….
Manse: “HEY, what’s this bug doing!!!”
Thatch: “Yes….I am a star. Please don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Also Thatch: “Will you PLEASE get that runt out of my shot….” As Manse’s designated wrangler, Amanda’s daughter Adelaide, comes to the rescue.
Ken Simmons (SCDNR LE Officer): Good girl, Luna, get the dummy.
Luna: “Wait, what’s that clicky-clicky sound….? Heylo fren…. Do you has treats for a kiss?”
Ken Cope (SCDNR LE Officer): “OK, Coal (German short-haired pointer), I’m gonna need you to focus here.”
Coal: “I don’t think that’s a real duck, Dad.”
Billy: “OK, Maggie (black Lab), this is your big chance to be on the cover of SCW.”
Maggie: “Don’t worry, boss, I got this.”
Eventually, all the big dogs get their turn in the pond, including blacK Lab Kate, the “elder stateswoman” of the group, with owner Molly Kneece, waterfowl biologist with SCDNR’s Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division.
Meanwhile the youngun’s are taking a break by the barn.
Well, some of them at least.
Manse: “I got you now, ducky. Quick, somebody take my picture!”
Luna: “Wow! that spotted kid is really an excitable boy. Should we tell him it’s not real?”
Willie: “I have to pee.”
Adelaide: “Manse is the cutest of all time.”
Manse: “I also have to pee.”
Manse: “Look, my ears and tail fly straight out when I run too! (What are we chasing?)”
Then it’s on to some duck hunting shots.
Billy: “OK, Maggie, where’s the ducks?”
Maggie: “I don’t see any ducks over there, just that lady with the treats.”
Taylor: “😉 😊 ”
Maggie: “Maybe they are over that way.”
Billy: “OK, Willie, today’s the day you become a man-dog — your first duck hunt.
Willie: “OK, but I still really have to pee.”
Billy: “Hey! Look over here guys!”
Willie: “Why does that man keep waving his hat at us?”
Willie: “Really, we just stand on this platform all morning? Did I mention, I really have to pee.”
Maggie: “Shut up, kid, you’re ruining my glamour shot.”
Boss: “See, this is how it’s done. My human always gets his duck.”
Click, click, click, click.
Boss: “Why is that hooman still waving his hat, and how come there’s no duck – did you miss again?”
Boss: “Nice honking, but I still don’t see any ducks, Dad.”
“Don’t cry, we’ll get you in the water next time, Luna.”
Last, let’s do some dove field shots, with Luna and Luna’s other human, Dee Dee
This is how we model appropriate dove field behavior.
And this is how we don’t.
May thanks for a fun and productive day in the field to:
Amanda Stroud and Adelaide (Thatch and Manse)
Ken and Emily Cope (Coal)
Ken and De Dee Simmons (Luna)
Molly Kneece (Kate and Willie)
Bryan Frazier (Boss)
And last but certainly not least , Major Billy Downer (and Maggie), for organizing the duck hunting shots, keeping us all on track and safe, being an awesome model and a great sport, and for wielding a mean donut.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.