George Ryman did not originate the idea of dual show and field setters, but his is the name history remembers because he did it best. It all started with the birth of an orange belton setter (white with ticks and patches) named Sir Roger DeCoverly in 1907 at Pittston, Penn. The dog was owned, shown and campaigned by a dentist from Wilkes-Barre by the name of Beck and eventually caught the attention of Ryman, who bred to him in 1910.
Ryman didn’t own Sir Roger DeCoverly II, either, but bred to him extensively. He did own Sir Roger DeCoverly, Junior II, and by 1915 was in business developing a linebred DeCoverly strain.
Ryman constantly sought improvement through genes from hallmark field and huntable show setters as well as superior animals from his then grouse-rich region. But these were held apart as experiments. If the pups Ryman kept developed according to his standards of natural instincts, intelligence and conformation, they were test bred. Only the minority that could reproduce their good qualities entered Ryman’s breeding population. These strict rules explain how a kennel the size of a puppy mill (175 adult dogs at its peak) could maintain high-quality production. In addition, these outside introductions helped avoid problems sometimes uncovered by linebreeding.
Ken Alexander entered the picture in the 1960s, after Ryman died and Ellen Ryman remarried to Carl Calkins. Alexander was under contract to breed puppies for the couple but not to sell them himself. He continued to breed according to Ryman’s rules, and eventually Carl and Ellen turned everything over to him, asking that he use DeCoverly as the kennel name.
Located near Scranton, Penn., DeCoverly Kennels is where impassioned hunter Bill Reid found what he wanted in a male setter after seven years of research. Later, he acquired a female from Setters West in Montana that has relatives of Ryman descent all over her pedigree. After several years with these dogs and puppies, Reid is still in awe of their native intelligence and natural instincts. These dogs learn to communicate.
In his male dog’s third season, Reid saw him on point at the top of a hill. When Reid got within 20 yards, Hunter turned his head, made eye contact, then turned his nose toward the bird and moved 50 yards into the woods. He had called Reid with a point because Reid wouldn’t have seen him locked on the bird 50 yards back in the brush. That’s reasoning, and Hunter has manifested it many times since.
A six-month-old pup that Reid kept figured out that standing at the door would get him put outside to play as well as relieve himself-sometimes at one or two in the morning. One night the pup went to the door for the fourth time. “Go lie down,” Reid said. The dog did, by the door. Reid was about to doze off when the pup walked up, looked him in the eye, squirted the tiniest bit of pee and went back to the door. Reid couldn’t deny a request communicated that well.