He was not like any dog I had ever seen. The pose was borrowed from an Elhew pointer – one foot cupped beneath a muscled chest – but the colors were entirely unique. His short coat was densely ticked with liver but also showed faint streaks of orange. He was almost impressionistic, a dog from the brush of Monet. Except for one brown ear, nowhere was there a spot larger than a plum.
ﾠI was looking at a picture of a Braque du Bourbonnais while working on a breed feature for GUN DOG. Readers may recall a recent feature on another "braque," the Braque Francais (Dec./Jan. 1999/2000). How does the Bourbonnais pointer compare with the other braques? Well, they are the same in some ways, and they are different in others. In fact, the Bourbonnais pointer is a truly interesting and unique breed, different in some ways from any of the other braques.
ﾠIt has been several years since the Braque du Bourbonnais was extensively profiled in this magazine. To prepare an update on the breed, I spoke with Lonn Kuck of Idaho, and Dan Larose of Connecticut. These men have a longer history with the breed than any active breeder in America. Both are avid hunters. They have also enjoyed success with Bourbonnais pointers in the field trial and hunting test arenas. Their input will help us understand the proper place of this unique breed on the American scene.
ﾠHISTORY OF THE BREED
ﾠThe origin of the Bourbonnais Pointer is somewhat obscure. The breed or it's close progenitors likely emerged in France in the 1600s. At that time, speciation of numerous pointer varieties occurred throughout France, originating from common ancestors. Selective breeding in localized areas resulted in the divergence of distinct breeds, each bearing the name of its French province. In the Bourbonnais region of France, the local pointer became known as the Braque du Bourbonnais (Bourbonnais pointer).
ﾠBy the late 1850s, the Braque du Bourbonnais was noted in literature as being "skilled at hunting partridge." According to information from the Federation Cynologique Internationale, (FCI), old-time authors described the Bourbonnais pointer as an "agreeable hunting partner," born tail-less or short-tailed, and having a white coat "completely covered by fine lines of maroon or fawn." It is quite probable that the Bourbonnais pointer was used as foundation stock in the development of the Epagneul Breton (French . Brittany). The French Brittany may, in part, owe its orange color, short-tailed birth, and pointing instinct to the Bourbonnais pointer.
ﾠBut this skilled partridge-pointer nearly went the way of the Passenger Pigeon. Eventually, registries placed such emphasis on short-tailed birth and coat color, that working ability was virtually ignored. This caused many breeders to lose interest in the breed. By the late 1960s the breed nearly disappeared altogether and, was dropped from the registry of the Societe Centrale Canine (SCC).
1970 the breed had one dedicated booster left. His name was Michel Comte. Under his direction, a group of breeders organized with the goal of bringing the Bourbonnais pointer back the brink. A national breed club was formed in France. By 1973, the breed was again recognized by the SCC. However, barely two dozen dogs were registered by the end of the 1970s.
In the 1980s, Beth and Ron Cepil of Pennsylvania accomplished the first importation of Bourbonnais pointers to America. The Cepils have disbanded kennel and are no longer active in reed. However, Lonn Kuck and Larose each began their kennels dogs from the Cepils in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Additionally, Lonn Kuck imported six more Bourbonnais Pointers from France. Today, approximately 350 Bourbonnais Pointers live in the United States.
ﾠTRAITS OF A GOOD ONE
ﾠThe American Kennel Club does not recognize the Braque du Bourbonnais, and that isn't likely to change any time soon. Dogs may be registered with the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) or the Field Dog Stud (FDSB). None of the above organizations has a published standard for breed. Rather, the FCI standard (No.179) is accepted as the breed standard on this continent.
ﾠThe FCI standard calls for males to stand 20 to 221/2 inches at the shoulders, females running generally an inch shorter. Weight ranges from 40 to 55 pounds for males, and 35 to 48 pounds females. Thus, the breed is very similar in size to the English pointer.
"Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the breed is coat coloration. The standard notes that "shades of faded lilac and wine are achieved by the overall effect of maroon-colored spots and lines blended together to give a mottled effect." The standard further describes the appearance as "streaked." Lonn Kuck used the word "marbled" to describe the breed's appearance. Acceptable colors are liver ("maroon") and orange ("fawn") on a background of white. Large blotches of solid color are not acceptable. Consequently, a symmetrically masked appearance, common in Brittanys and other "braques," is not seen in Bourbonnais pointers.
Beyond these basic physical parameters, Dan Larose says, "They're thick, with a short neck and serious haunches-they look like a pointing pit bull [terrier]." He says the breed's tremendous muscle mass results in great athletic ability and terrific stamina.
ﾠLonn Kuck describes Bourbonnais pointers as "cobby and stout," and says they are "a lot of muscle in a small package." This extreme muscularity differentiates the breed from some other braques, which tend to be more lithe and sleek.
ﾠAlthough the breed was originally born tail-less or short-tailed, standards no longer require this feature. Today, the tail is docked to one to three inches (adult length). Dan Larose says, "The tail should be just long enough to cover the anus."
ﾠTo date, hereditary health problems have not been rampant in the breed. However, hip dysplasia and entropic eyelids do appear occasionally, as they do in virtually every breed. Additionally, Dan Larose cited only one known case of inis coloboma, a rare eye disorder.
ﾠLonn Kuck describes the Braque du Bourbonnais as "affectionate but a little aloof with strangers." He says the breed is gentle and quiet, with a strong desire to please the owner. Dan Larose echoes this description, noting the breed's excellent qualities as a watch dog.
ﾠ"They know their environment totally," says Larose, "so any changes, noises or strange people will sound the alarm a houndy bark-bawl-but they will shut up if told to."
Larose and Kuck agreed the Bourbonnais pointer makes a fine family pet, and is extremely intelligent and trainable. Kuck stated that the Braque du Bourbonnais may not be quite as soft-natured as the Braque Francais and can perhaps tolerate more regimented training. However, he cautions that the breed is still softer than some other European continental breeds.
"German dogs are fighters," Kuck says, "but French dogs are lovers."
ﾠLarose also warns that the breed is "not hardheaded" and requires relatively gentle handling. He emphasizes the breed's ability to sense the mood of the handler, seeking eye contact at all times.
ﾠWho Should Own One?
ﾠMost of Lonn Kuck's hunting is for western upland birds-Huns, sage grouse and chukars. He says the Braque du Bourbonnais handles hot weather very well, and his dogs "cover a lot of prairie." However, the breed's desire for continual contact with the handler keeps them close in heavy cover.
ﾠDan Larose is an Orvis guide at the Sandanona Shooting Grounds in upstate New York. Consequently, pen-raised pheasants constitute a large share of his bag. Additionally, he enjoys an occasional trip to Canada for woodcock and ruffed grouse. He has found the Braque du Bourbonnais particularly adept on woodcock. However, Larose said his male, Darne, needed a little coaching to recognize woodcock as game on his first trip north.
ﾠ"I shot a woodcock, and he ran out pick it up," Larose recalls. "He picked it up and immediately dropped it. He seemed to say, 'You want these things?' It was pretty funny!" Larose said Darne learned quickly that woodcock were game, regardless of how they might taste. "We didn't lose a woodcock on the whole trip," he said, "and we shot quite a few."
ﾠAlthough the breed can handle ruffed grouse adequately, Larose notes a tendency in Bourbonnais pointers that probably disqualifies them as ideal grouse dogs. "They point pretty close to their game," says Larose, "and grouse are awfully jumpy."
ﾠBoth Larose and Kuck lauded the water-working potential of the Braque du Bourbonnais. "You almost can't keep them out of the water," said Kuck. Both Larose and Kuck stressed the importance of NAVHDA testing as a tool for evaluating genetic quality. Kuck's dogs have excelled in NAVHHDA testing. In fact, Kuck owns the only NAVHDA Utility dogs in the breed-all of which scored in excess of 200 points. Larose has also been a NAVHDA participant. His dogs have twice posted perfect scores in Natural Ability tests.
ﾠThe Bourbonnais pointer is also a competitor in foot-hunting field trials. Registry with FDSB makes the Bourbonnais pointer eligible for non-AKC field trials, such as those sanctioned by the National Shoot To Retrieve Association (NSTRA). Lonn Kuck took second place in a NSTRA trial with one of his Bourbonnais pointers.
ﾠ"These dogs are very fast and can compete with big runners in some situations," Kuck said. He quickly added, "But they have shorter range in tight cover, since they always want to keep eye contact with the handler."
ﾠLike most other versatile breeds, the Braque du Bourbonnais excels at tracking. Dan Larose knows game tracking ability when he sees it. For 19 years, he has also bred and hunted English springer spaniels, a breed known for its ability to track and recover wounded pheasants.
ﾠ"The Bourbonnais is the best tracking breed I've seen," said Larose. "If you put something on the ground, you're not going to lose it." He cited the example of “Jet," a Bourbonnais pointer owned by Jim North, a California big-game hunter. North uses Jet exclusively to track and recover archery-shot big game.
ﾠFinally, the Braque du Bourbonnais offers something unusual for versatile dog fans smitten by the "everybody has-a-wirehair" bug. With only a few hundred on the continent, you aren't likely to run into another hunter with a Braque du Bourbonnais. For some folks, that's almost reason enough to buy a Bourbonnais. Lonn Kuck admits this was a strong attraction for him.
ﾠ"I wanted a bird dog, and I wanted something different," said Kuck.
ﾠHow to Find a Good One
ﾠMost Bourbonnais Pointers are good ones. However, you may have to wait if you want a Braque du Bourbonnais born on American soil. Lonn Kuck has raised only three litters since 1991. Dan Larose has raised just five litters since 1993. But both men can connect potential buyers with one-time breeders elsewhere. Additionally, litter advertisements appear occasionally in the "Trading Post" section of this magazine.
ﾠThere is no official breed club for the Bourbonnais pointer in North America. However, Braque du Bourbonnais aficionados across the country occasionally gather for a "Bourbonnais Rendezvous" in Nebraska. These gatherings create a well-networked group of enthusiasts, most of whom are willing to freely share information and refer potential buyers to each other when pups are available.
ﾠInterested parties may also wish to contact NAVHDA to learn the names of individuals with recently registered litters of Braques du Bourbonnais.
ﾠIt would indeed have been a shame if we had lost this pointer made of marble. But, thanks to a corps of devoted fans, we may see more fawn and faded lilac afield in coming years. If you are a versatile dog fan with a penchant for the unusual, the Braque du Bourbonnais is a workable “Jacques" of all trades!