This Versatile European Breed Is Evolving To Suit North American Hunters
From a distance, the half-dozen gun dogs romping in a cut clover field looked like a bunch of English setters. But up close, the genial pack of long-tailed, long-haired black and white canines were clearly different in their body shapes, head sizes and running style from the more familiar setters.
Setter-like in appearance when viewed from a distance, the Large Munsterlander is a versatile hunting dog that hunts and points upland game birds, tracks feathered and furred game and retrieves both waterfowl and upland birds.
"These are just some farm dogs we use for hunting," Curt Shreve tells some of the people who casually ask what kind of dog he is using to point ruffed grouse and woodcock in the northern Minnesota woods or to retrieve ducks and geese out of cattail sloughs in the southern part of his home state.
"I don't mean to sound flippant," Shreve says. "But I do get kind of tired of explaining that these are not weird looking English setters but are Large Munsterlanders, originally developed in Germany as versatile hunting dogs and brought to North America in the 1970s to hunt upland game birds and waterfowl."
For 20 years, Shreve has had a kennel full of Large Munsterlanders, a breed that he chose for hunting woods grouse and prairie grouse, ringneck pheasants and bobwhite quail, plus all the species of waterfowl in this country.
"My initial interest in these gun dogs came about because of their status as versatile gun dogs produced by the German Large Munsterlander breed club in Europe to hunt and point game birds, track all species of feathered and furred game and to retrieve any type of small game shot with a gun," Shreve says.
"Though I was generally pleased with the first LMs I got 20 years ago, I could see early on that the line we had needed some re-focusing of prey drive and improvements in pointing abilities. So our breeding group started to import some LMs from Germany we thought would bring in the blood we needed to get a more methodical, consistent search for game birds and a more dependable point from our dogs," Shreve recalls.
The conformation standard for Large Munsterlanders is flexible enough to include a fairly wide range of sizes, weights and body types while still maintaining definite standards in coat color and hair length. The Large Munsterlander is a "pointer" first and foremost, with the dog's pointing instinct firmly embedded by 100-plus years of breeding in Germany.
"Land sharks" was what Shreve called some of those first imported LMs because their prey drive made them want to hunt everything with a heartbeat. "Some of these imported dogs came from parts of Germany where hunting big game was a major objective. Those dogs had been bred as trackers that would follow wounded wild boar, bring them to bay and kill them if necessary," Shreve says.
"Many of the early imported LMs, when brought to Minnesota, tended to chase deer and moose in the woods and fight with raccoons and predators anywhere the dogs could find them. They were not hostile toward other dogs or sharp with their handlers, but they were certainly strong to the stage of being overly aggressive at hunting anything with fur," Shreve says.
"On a quail hunt down in Texas, we actually had one of these dogs take on a full-size wild steer and probably would have won the battle if the dog's owner hadn't intervened.
"This hard-to-control exuberance for getting game, in addition to making them hard to handle, compromised their pointing abilities," Shreve notes. "So in our breeding program, we re-directed the prey drive by pairing these hard-charging German Munsterlanders with some of our more cooperative American-bred LMs.
"The results have produced a line with strong hunting and pointing instincts combined with good tracking and retrieving abilities — all traits that have produced gun dogs good for upland game and waterfowl hunting. Not every litter inherits all these traits, but in each litter there are more pups showing what we're after," Shreve says.
"When all the genetic history has been worked out and the breeding programs are finished, the most important final result that really matters to me are those that produce good hunting dogs.
The German breed club's emphasis on prey drive clearly shows up in the Large Munsterlander's intensity on a duck search.
"The good-hunting-dog-factor applies as well for training and testing. A well-trained dog is important, along with top prizes in NAVHDA Natural Ability and Utility tests. But in the end, a dog that will hunt is most significant to a majority of the LM owners I know," Shreve adds.
"My hunting buddies and I open the Minnesota ruffed grouse season in September when the leaves are still up, making shots at the birds tough to impossible. But we go anyway because this is a great chance to give our dogs some good exercise and experience for later when the leaves are gone," Shreve continues.
"Then we go to North Dakota for ducks, geese and prairie grouse and then to South Dakota for pheasants. In December and January, Texas is the place for bobwhite quail and waterfowl. By February our Munsterlanders may have been in the field from 50 to 70 days during the whole season. This is the final exam and the real test of their genetics and our training."
Owning A Large Munsterlander
"Do your homework!" is Mike Melotik's advice to anyone interested in owning a Large Munsterlander. As president of the Large Munsterlander Club of North America (LMCNA) and owner of LMs for nearly 20 years, Melotik tells anyone interested in this breed to thoroughly research these dogs before acquiring one. "Educate yourself on this breed in general so that when you search for a puppy you don't impulsively buy one from the first litter you find," Melotik advises.
Also, read the book The Large Munsterlander: Twenty Years In North America by Joseph Schmutz, Breed Warden for the Large Munsterlander Club of North America.
The breed standard for Large Munsterlanders includes males from 24 to 28 inches in height and 59 to 76 pounds in weight and females from 22 to 26 inches tall and 50 to 60 pounds. Coat color is black and white with ticking in either color and mostly black heads; the coat is dense hair of medium length. From left to right with their Large Munsterlanders are Tiegan Shreve, Curt Shreve (Tiegan's father), Don Orke, Pete Hagedorn and Mike Melotik.
"The best breeders will be asking you questions about Large Munsterlanders and why you want one. So be ready to impress them with your knowledge about these dogs," Melotik suggests.
"Study up on the Large Munsterlander by going to the Large Munsterlander Club of North America Web site: www.LMCNA.com. There you will find a detailed description of the Large Munsterlander, a complete bibliography of reading material and a list of breeders who are in the LMCNA.
"If at all possible, make arrangements to see Large Munsterlanders at a couple of breeders' kennels. And for sure watch the dogs at work in the field and on the water. Spend time with the dogs and the breeder to be certain this breed is a good choice for you," Melotik emphasizes.
"Plan to actually hunt with someone's well-started or, better yet, finished Large Munsterlander so you can see how they handle upland game birds or waterfowl. If the regular hunting season isn't open, go to a hunting preserve for pheasants, chukar partridge or bobwhite quail.
"Or buy some pigeons or pen-raised game birds and set them up in a field just so you can see how these dogs handle themselves on live feathers. Likewise, purchase a pen-raised mallard, shackle its wings and then let the bird go in some water. When the duck is 75 feet out, release the dog so it can show its prey drive and tracking ability," Melotik adds.
Recovery of game after the shot is an important facet of Large Munsterlander breeding, training and performance in the field and on the water.
Another way to learn about LMs is to join the Large Munsterlander Club of North America and the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association to learn about this breed, to see the dogs at work in training sessions or at tests and to meet the people who breed and train Munsterlanders and hunt with them. This advice comes from Pete Hagedorn, an upland game bird and waterfowl hunter from Anoka, Minnesota, who has owned LMs for 12 years.
"By joining the LM Club and NAVHDA, you might be invited to go on a pheasant or duck hunt with Large Munsterlanders and their owners," Hagedorn says. "Seeing these dogs in action could be the best way to decide if owning, training and hunting one of these dogs is for you.
"Plan on training with NAVHDA methods and testing by NAVHDA standards to get the best results in developing any Large Munsterlander as a hunting dog," Hagedorn adds. By using the NAVHDA training techniques to pass NAVHDA tests, Hagedorn feels he has learned a lot about this breed and how to shape them into better pheasant, grouse, quail and waterfowl dogs.
"Training for both the Natural Ability and Utility Tests in NAVHDA is directly related to actual hunting for any kind of game birds. Even if you don't get a great score or don't pass at all, you will learn exactly where you and your dog need more work. And with most Large Munsterlanders, almost all training problems are fixable once they are identified," Hagedorn feels.
|Large Munsterlander History|
|Though the forerunners of the Large Munsterlander go back to the Middle Ages, the breed as it appears today was not formally recognized until the early 1900s in the Munsterland region of northwestern Germany. Prior to that the LM was considered a color variant of the predominantly all-liver German longhaired pointer (Deutsch Langhaar).|
The Large Munsterlander is a 53- to 76-pound black and white dog of medium hair length. Coat color is variable ranging from all white with dark spots and ticking to nearly all black with white spots and white ticking.
Reported to be a breed of calm and stable temperament, the LM can be a companion-type housedog good with its owner's family.
In the field, the LM is described as above average in responsiveness to its handler, naturally ranging 50 to 150 yards in a methodical search for game.
LMs are also well known as eager and efficient retrievers on land and in water and have a solid history of tracking all types of game in a wide range of habitat.
The first LMs were imported to North America in the late 1960s. The first litter of LMs in this country was born in 1970 and a breed club was formed in 1977.
By recent estimates, there are around 1,000 LMs in the United States and Canada with about 250 members in the Large Munsterlander Club of North America, which is the only officially recognized registry for this breed in North America.
LMCNA uses the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association testing system to qualify its dogs for its breeding program. LMs have a 75 percent passing rate in NAVHDA Natural Ability and 70 percent in Utility, which is equal to most other breeds.
To be eligible for breeding by the Large Munsterlander Club of North America, a LM must have passed the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test, be certified hip dysplasia-free, be of certified sound health and proven stable temperament and conform to the international breed standard. Likewise, any breeding must be approved in advance by the LMCNA breed warden to prevent inbreeding genetic faults and to maintain breed standards.
Active Large Munsterlander breeders are listed on the LMCNA's Web site, which also has information on registering the breed according to Club policies.
"Several LM breeders in the Large Munsterlander Club of North America will buy a year's membership in NAVHDA for any puppy purchasers as a way to encourage them to train and test their dogs according to NAVHDA practices and standards," Hagedorn adds.
"If you've committed to having a Large Munster-lander, look for a line that fits your lifestyle and hunting purposes," says Don Orke from Plymouth, Minnesota, owner of Zulu, a three-year-old female Large Munsterlander.
"As a guy in his 60s, I wanted a gun dog that would stay in sight and hunt up close for ruffed grouse and woodcock. I also needed a dog that would retrieve ducks out of cattail sloughs and in big lakes when necessary. But I also liked a dog with the temperament for calmly living in the house most of the time and quietly staying in the outside kennel for short per
"When I explained all this to several LM owners, they understood what I wanted and a couple of them referred me to a breeder with a line that produced my kind of dog," Orke says.
"Some comments are occasionally made about the lack of uniformity in the appearance of the Large Munsterlander; long, tall, slim dogs next to shorter, stouter, heavier-boned males and females were cited as evidence of an inconsistent breed standard," Curt Shreve says. This is the reason some people mistake the breed for strange-looking English setters or plain old farm dogs.
"As with most breeders, I'm now personally more concerned about maintaining and developing the Large Munsterlander's genetics in pointing, tracking and retrieving. Though a breed standard is important in our breeding program, looks can come later," Shreve says. "As with all the versatile breeds of gun dogs, the Large Munsterlander is a work in progress and the breeders on this continent and in Europe have made a lot of progress so far. Most LM breeders are certainly not ready to say we're finished or that these gun dogs today are as good as they will ever get.
"Our breeding group in this country wants to maintain 100 years of old German standards yet develop a versatile gun dog that serves the needs of North American upland bird and waterfowl hunters. Evolving the Large Munsterlander toward this goal won't be easy or accomplished without controversy. But in the next couple of years we will see the product of our efforts."