In bird dog circles I sometimes hear the chatter about god and magic and unexplained phenomena. But a wider perspective tells me that what I feel with my dogs is not magic or divine.

If I could peer into the twists of double helixes deep inside the cells of my dogs I am confident there would be no Monsanto signature. No corporate trademarks. No sign of the tiniest of tweezers selecting one protein and replacing it with another. And if Teddy, Ruark or Aldo could probe me on a cellular level I am equally confident that there is no Monsanto chicanery to be found within the twists of my mitochondria. Yet here I am GMO and proud, and there are my dogs, modified to act in ways that would make a modern geneticist smile.

Fifteen thousand years ago before big ag was even a glimmer in banker’s eye, a few of our ancestors and few of our dog’s ancestors started toying with each other’s genes. Some brave wolf sauntered up to some open-minded hunter. Then few smart hunters began using wolves to help on the hunt. That’s where it started and before long the slow guys in the tribe had labs and the smart ones had pointing dogs. This all happened over generations but was no less effective than a scientist engineering corn DNA to resist the active ingredient in Roundup.

Bird hunters often marvel at the magical connection we have to our dogs. Some even claim divine intervention. I admit to being struck dumb as a stone at what I believe to be nearly unexplainable moments of beauty. Once on a windswept Montana ridge my first great birddog crept then locked then trailed and locked again over and over as he tried to hold a running covey of huns. He was two and I was trying to control him. To whoa and break him and teach him all he needed to know. As he locked on to one more point, he held but the birds had broken again, and he looked over his shoulder as if to ask for permission. I waved and muttered and he started a half mile loop which culminated in him cutting into the wind and locking the huns between us at about 500 yards. I ran up and dropped a couple birds. As he scurried to pounce on a wounded bird I remember standing there almost in tears at the wonder I had just witnessed. If the water in my Nalgene bottle had turned to wine I would not have been more amazed. I now know that it was not permission he was asking. Rather it was him telling me he was in on the same secret. We were both products of the same science. We were literally bred to do this.

I sometimes like to think us bird hunters have a corner on the canine connection. But the hunter’s genes are spread throughout our population just like those from the first few domesticated wolves. Granted it can be hard to identify in flushing dogs and semi auto shooters but it’s not hard to see glimmers of our shared genetics if we just observe.

Grandmothers proudly bend rules to allow Bichon Frises to ride on airplanes with them for made up mental health reasons. In those cases, the dogs clearly demonstrate their relative mastery of the gene modification process. Most kids, or at least those with any hope in life, are automatically drawn to a puppy. I’d bet a case of shotgun shells that they all have roots in the same hunter gather tribes that spawned Teddy, me and other bird hunters with their dogs.


Genetic science clearly demonstrates that distinguishing traits and behaviors can be bred into a population in just a few generations especially in small populations. Oh yes, both dog and human have long been GMOing ourselves the old-fashioned way. In small tribes and with trial and error. We picked the ones that held points and retrieved with a soft mouth. And the birddogs were modifying us too. Selecting out those who would feed them let them lounge on couches with us.

In bird dog circles I sometimes hear the chatter about god and magic and unexplained phenomena. But a wider perspective tells me that what I feel with my dogs is not magic or divine. It is even more powerful. Its bred into us. Our species have been honing this relationship for millennia and it is locked in our genetic instruction sheets. Maybe that’s why my excitement about a big runner with a staunch point on a sharpie comes as natural as my next breath. For me, both the breath and the excitement are of equal importance. Guess I am just gonna have to be OK with being a GMO.

Author: Ryan Busse

Funhaver. Chaser of wild birddogs and wild fish. Lover of wild country. Cooker of wild food

8 thoughts on “OMG I’m A GMO”

  1. “…before long the slow guys in the tribe had labs and the smart ones had pointing dogs.”
    Ha ha! Loved it! Way to lob a grenade over the wall there, Ryan! Now let’s hear about how Wirehairs are the only truly good dogs, Setters are delicate prima donnas and the 28 gauge is the only manly choice for hunting tundra swans and pterodactyls. I’m going to pop some popcorn, open another beer (at least) and stay tuned to watch the show!
    Oh, and that moment with the huns when your dog looked back at you, what he was really saying was, “Try to keep up, cupcake!”
    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go vacuum my wirehair’s couch.

  2. True story: I once saw a bumper sticker on a truck driving down Sheridan Avenue in Cody, Wyoming that said “Friends don’t let friends hunt with Labs”

  3. When it comes to wit, you either have it or you don’t. And when you don’t, it’s just awkward. This was a swing and a miss, a failed attempt to be funny and stir the pot while poking fun at your buddies. It did nothing but perpetuate the Snobby Upland Hunter stereotype. And please, don’t try to explain the failed punchline or ridicule the criticism – it only makes it worse.


  4. Great writings, Ryan. I was growing weary of Reed. Not really, I took some friends by Pony to buy some of his books and his Setter, I’m afraid now in Bird Dog heaven, took a C Note out of my hand and delivered it to him for multiple copies.
    I’ve hunted Elhew pointers since Bob Wehle started breading. Best genetics and records ever. I have English setters also.
    Now about Labs. My Labs come from Super Chief . They bring me a lot of dead upland birds. Easy on the slow.
    If you let a good dog train you, you’ll be a lot more successful.

  5. Your “first great bird dog” was the product of breeding (as opposed to genetic modification) and that mysterious X factor that comes in to play when dog suddenly begin connect the dots and realizes, “Yes, this is what I can do! Herd sheep! Let’s herd some sheep!” — or find sharp-tailed grouse, or whatever.

    By genetic modification, I mean inserting outside genes in the lab. I sincerely doubt that you or your dogs carry genes of fish, cabbages, or something like that.

  6. Some people prefer to “split hairs” as to the vehicle of modification, differentiating between gene splitting in the laboratory and selective breeding over the centuries- I suppose it gives them a feeling of superiority. “All GMO’s are bad!!” Try telling that to the mothers and fathers in arid countries that they are better off not growing modified crops that will produce in that climate, and instead watch their children slowly starve.
    Yes, I know, everyone saddles up the high horse on occasion, we should just use it more often to follow a big running, well bred bird dog!

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