At the tender age of 6, one of Chris Mullins’ favorite pastimes was watching his grandfather Bill Moore interact with his English Setter dogs, which he has raised and trained since 1979. Now 20, the former FFA member from McNairy Central High School in Selmer, Tenn. has 35 of his own English Setters, and he raises and trains them to compete in national shoot-to-retrieve field trials like his grandfather.
“My granddad has taught me everything I know about the dogs. He has won 12 national championships, and three were in the same year,” says Chris, who works part-time as a video editor for a news channel in Jackson, Tenn. when he isn’t working with his dogs. “Nobody has won as many times as he has.”
Each of Chris’ dogs has a name, though he admits he confuses them with one another “every now and again.” His favorite is Lou, an 8-year-old female who won the National Shoot To Retrieve Association’s (NSTRA) championship title “Dog of the Year” in 2010.
Mullins and Moore travel to national competitions at least twice a year. Moore has been called the “Babe Ruth of the NSTRA” by others in the industry for his many championship wins.
“I’ve raised all the dogs I’ve competed with, and the dogs and I are a team – you can’t win otherwise,” Moore says. “A dog also has to be in condition, and I’m a fanatic on condition. We swim the dogs in the summer when it’s too hot to run. Otherwise I exercise the dogs five to six miles a day, six dogs at a time.”
In his heyday, Moore raised and trained legendary champion bloodline dogs and built a successful breeding business. One of his puppies would sell for between $500 and $1,000.
“I’ve been around my granddad’s dogs all my life, but I got more involved in high school when he was diagnosed with cancer,” Chris says. “The dogs have been a great way for me and him to bond. He’s had two rounds of cancer, but he’s beat it both times. He’s cancer-free now.”
The grandfather/grandson duo start training the dogs when they are just puppies.
“We get a bird wing tied to a string and throw it out, and we’ll get the pups chasing it,” Chris says. “Once they’re 6 months old, we’ll let them chase pigeons in a fenced-in area to get them interested in birds. Later we ease them into quail, and they’ll start pointing.”
The term “pointing” refers to the dog’s tendency to stop when they smell a bird and raise their head and tail in the direction of the bird.
“Almost always the bird will be five to 10 feet directly in front of them,” Chris explains. “Once you shoot it, they’ll retrieve it.”
In competition, dogs are judged on how well they point and retrieve, how obedient they are and how stylish they look when they point.
“The more stylish they are as they do it, the more points you get,” Chris says. “A lot of it has to do with breeding, but also training. When they’re young and start pointing, we set them up by hand so they’ll do it by themselves when they get older.”
Like people, no two dogs have the same personality.
“You’ve got to be able to read the animals and really pay attention to what each dog needs,” Moore says. “Some dogs require more intense training and others want to please more.”
Several years ago, Moore was offered $60,000 for two of his championship dogs by Japanese breeders, but he wouldn’t sell them.
“I love the competition, and I love to win. I’m just boneheaded,” he says with a laugh. “All I’ve done since I had cancer is play with dogs.”
At 69, Moore continues to compete with – and against – his grandson at nationals.
“Chris and I compete hard, and I’ve taught him to do that,” he says.
Chris plans to continue raising and training English Setters and is talking with outdoor cable channels about launching a TV show about the dogs.
“We’ve already filmed promos for the show, and we’re getting sponsorships,” he says. “We are hoping to have it on-air by early 2015.”
For Chris, making connections with his dogs is one of the best rewards.
“Nothing excites me more than seeing a dog smelling a bird and working up to hunting it,” he says.
As an FFA member, Chris competed on soil and land judging teams, received his American FFA Degree in 2013 and was a national proficiency finalist in 2012.
“I also got to go to Costa Rica on the national proficiency trip, which was by far my favorite FFA memory,” he says. “But I enjoyed the friendships what were developed while learning valuable skills. FFA taught me that with hard work and determination, you can achieve any goal you set your mind to.”
– Jessica Mozo