By Kevin Tate/NEMS Daily Journal
As accomplishments go, Mr. D. Hoyle Eaton’s decades of dog training experience include countless field trial wins – more than 50 Open Championships, 36 endurance championships featuring heats of one-and-a-half, two and three hours duration and building four different bird dogs into National Champions. He’s garnered a number of hall of fame recognitions and captured six Purina Award Plaques, the top laurel awarded in the discipline, earned for training and running the top bird dog of the year in all of America in major circuit field trial competition.
Along with the accomplishments, those years also included an incalculable amount of joy derived from a pursuit he’s always loved, and it’s the enjoyment of the game that keeps him engaged still today.
Growing up on a cotton farm in Prentiss County’s Pisgah community, Eaton was one of 11 youngsters in a household that worked with animals every day. From food to field work to basic transportation and more, the livestock that lived on the Eaton farm in the 1930s attracted his attention early on.
“I always enjoyed being in the field working with animals, but my dad didn’t keep bird dogs,” Eaton says. Instead of bird dogs, he trained the animals he had at hand. First a collie he saved his own money to buy, then later his first horse.
Bird dogs though, pointers in particular, were love at first sight. Eaton was about seven years old when his family had a get-together at his grandparents’ house.
“Two of my uncles bird hunted,” he recalls. “They drove up and opened their cars and let the pointers out, and the sight of the dogs fascinated me. The pointers were so sleek and graceful and pretty. I asked if I could go with them on their hunt and they told me ‘no’ because they thought I couldn’t keep up. Not knowing any better, I said I’d pick up their birds for them, but obviously that didn’t get anywhere and their answer didn’t change.
“This was one time I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer, though. When they left, I let them get almost out of sight, then I followed from a good distance and hung back until I was pretty sure we were so far from the house they’d be afraid I’d get lost if they sent me back.
“They let me walk along with them and, I tell you, watching the dogs point, then the uncles shoot and the dogs retrieve was absolutely fascinating to me, and it still is.”
Though Eaton once routinely kept and trained as many as 200 bird dogs at a time professionally, he’s cut back to around 15 adult dogs and a number of puppies these days.
“It’s a young man’s game,” Eaton says, and it may be, but oh to be the owner of one of those 15 – because, even in a brief visit, it’s plain the heart and mind that’s guided so many champions is guiding still.
Kevin Tate serves as Creative Director for Mossy Oak Productions in West Point.