Dave Mull: Munsterlander springs from trailer failure

Jim Gilsdorf poses with a grouse his munsterlander Fritz retrieved while bird hunting in the Upper Peninsula earlier this week.

RAPID RIVER — This was to be the year we figured out how to catch splake from Munising Bay during our long-running annual bird hunting camp in the Upper Peninsula.

While most of the 10 regulars at this week of bird hunting pursue grouse and woodcock with a passion, the past few years I’ve mostly fished, bringing my MirroCraft so I could take our oldest member fishing since he no longer hunts.

I was loaded up with planer boards, lots of trolling rods and all sorts of spoons and minnow baits. We were going to get into serious harvest mode and learn how to catch these hatchery hybrids of lake trout and brook trout.

You might say the wheels fell off of that plan.

I left for the central Upper Peninsula early Sunday morning with both Gabe the golden retriever and Gus the wiener dog in the truck and the boat behind. Just over 50 miles out of Paw Paw and almost to Grand Rapids, cruising along at 70 mph, a blue pickup pulled alongside my truck.

“Hey!” the guy driving screamed when I lowered the driver’s side window. “You just lost a wheel off your trailer!”

I got off on the next exit and sure enough, only three of the four wheels on the tandem-axle trailer remained. Due to not repacking the bearings with fresh grease, a hub on the driver’s side apparently overheated and sheered off. The fellow who told me the news said it went across the passing lane, hit the median and then bounced all the way back into the ditch. I’d had no idea it happened and thank God no one was hurt.

So here’s a tip: Even if you rarely use a boat due to being hooked on kayak fishing, you still should repack trailer bearings every year.

Long story short, I limped back to D&R Sports in Kalamazoo on three wheels, dropped the boat and trailer, proceeded back home to Paw Paw and unloaded all my fishing stuff. I was back on the road three hours after the my initial departure, having added 111 miles to the trip.

They say everything happens for a reason. I’ll buy that as I spent the whole week hunting birds and rekindled my love of the sport. Moreover, I hunted with a new-to-me pointing breed that was one of the best dogs I’ve ever hunted behind. With my faithful golden retriever Gabe now retired at nearly 13 years old, I was waffling about whether I wanted to invest time and money in a new hunting dog. Now I’m quite certain I will not only get another, but that a breed called a “small munsterlander” is at the top of the list.

This became clear Thursday when I hunted with Jim Gilsdorf, a retired surgeon from Ann Arbor. Jim has the first munsterlander I’d ever seen in person, and I was enthralled with the dog Fritz’s athletic ability, work ethic and friendly, laid-back personality.

Jim, a longtime fan of German shorthairs who also trained and hunted behind a number of English setters, said Fritz was the easiest dog he’d ever trained. At just 15 months old, this pup hunted close in front of us among the aspen thickets, locked on point over both woodcock and grouse, and found and retrieved both a grouse and a woodcock that I shot.

The breed is not common in the U.S. Considered a “versatile hunting breed,” its European forebears are expected to both point upland game and retrieve waterfowl in water as well as hunt rabbits and even track big game such as deer.

On this side of the pond, munsterlander fans focus on feathers, wanting their dogs to point upland birds as well as sit patiently in duck blinds and retrieve downed waterfowl from lakes and rivers. The “small” munsterlanders (there’s also a large version) grow to be 40 to 60 pounds—Fritz weighed about 50, Jim said. He said that compared to setters and shorthairs, his munsterlander hardly shed, too.

Sounds pretty perfect. Of course being carefully bred, the dogs aren’t cheap—Fritz cost $1,400. That’s still a lot less than you can spend on popular hunting breeds. I just priced hunting cockers at $2,000, and Gabe the golden cost more than that from a well-known golden retriever kennel more than 12 years ago.

So, in a way I’m glad I lost that trailer wheel. If I’d spent this week fishing, I’d not have realized how much I still enjoy bird hunting. And I probably wouldn’t have seen the awesome performance of a munsterlander named Fritz.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.