Twenty-two degrees, frost riming the switchgrass. While the sun struggled to squeeze a beam of light between thick morning clouds, I watched Claude sprint up the trail in front of us and leap into the dense brush with the grace of an Olympic gymnast. A fraction of a second later he was motionless. Rock-solid, intense. Eyes fixed on the ground in front of him, he had steam – actual steam – swirling off his warm back into the chilled air.
We missed that rooster but weren’t disappointed. No camera could do the picture justice, and we were content to bag a visual memory of the moment.
Claude is a handsome five year-old vizsla. His owner, Mara Fizdale, was putting him through his paces on some sneaky pheasants who foolishly thought that if they burrowed themselves deep into the tangled brush, Claude’s expert nose would overlook them. Not so. Like most vizslas from well-bred hunting lines, Claude has an excellent nose and strong prey drive.
Vizsla owners generally agree the vizslas’ hunting style is characterized by a medium pace and range, with vizslas from field trial lines inclined to run faster and further than those from lines developed for the foot hunter. Most vizslas’ pointing ability appears early, and they are natural retrievers. Upland hunting in cold weather is no problem and many viszlas are enthusiastic swimmers, but frigid waterfowling can be tough on them. Fluid and agile in their movements, vizslas are energetic, athletic hunting dogs that flourish with experience – the more field time, the better.
Claude’s stunning copper-colored fur is a perfect example of the breed’s hallmark feature. Smooth and flat, the vizsla’s coat shows its musculature well; the dogs’ overall appearance ranges from brawny to sinewy. Coat color should be uniform, although the breed standard allows white on the front of the chest or on the toes and lighter hair on the neck. The vizsla’s eyes, eyelids, lips, nose, toenails and pads should all blend with the coat color. Males average 22” to 24” in height; females average 21” to 23”, with a weight range of 45-65 lbs.
Vizslas have been called “soft” and are sometimes referred to as “Velcro” dogs. More accurately, their temperament should be described as biddable and people-oriented.
Pro trainer Ted McEachron has worked with many vizslas in upstate New York and New England. He describes them as a bit softer in demeanor than German shorthairs or wirehairs and less apt to take the pressure those breeds can handle.
“They are very biddable and eager to please a trainer with a gentle hand and kind words,” Ted said. “They are usually very happy when they know they are pleasing their Master, as evident on retrieves when their entire body is wiggling.”
Diane Bliss, who currently owns three vizslas with an array of hunt test titles, agrees with Ted. She explained, “They are beautiful, athletic, loving and lovable, sweet-tempered, smart and want nothing more than to please their people. Each of them has a different personality with individual strengths, but each of them is consistently willing and desiring to please.”
Vizslas are outstanding bird dogs on all types of upland species. They can adapt to the different terrain and strategies of pheasant or quail hunting, and work as well on the open prairie sharptail hunting or in thick woods ruffed grouse hunting.
Pheasants Forever’s VP of Development, David Bue, owns three vizslas and recently returned home to Minnesota from a hunting trip in western Montana. Midway through the trip he wrote, “The three vizslas had a spectacular day yesterday. Gorgeous points and passionate dog work. Lots of pheasants, sharpies, and Huns in the bag.”
Asked to characterize the vizsla temperament, David replied, “The vizsla is an outstanding gundog. We have owned and hunted vizslas for over 20 years, and we have enjoyed their hard-charging passion in the field, as well as their affectionate and intensely loyal spirit at home. Although I have hunted with many, many bird dog breeds, I have seldom seen a dog locked-up on point with such magnificence and pride as a vizsla.”
The vizsla’s elegance has been documented for centuries. It is an old breed. While some reports try to trace them back a thousand years, there’s no substantiated evidence to that end. The modern Hungarian vizsla was developed around 1800, flourished for a while then almost vanished in the late nineteenth century after decades of territorial conflict among Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. Strong vizsla lines endured in Hungary, however, which eventually caused a nationalist resurgence of interest in the breed. The Hungarian Vizsla Club was established in 1920. Today, the parent club in Hungary is the Magyar Vizsla Klub, with satellite breed clubs such as the Vizsla Club of America. The vizsla breed is also recognized by the American Kennel Club and is eligible for registry and testing with the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.
“I'm a second generation Hungarian, and I'd heard about vizslas growing up, although I didn't see one until I was in my 30's living in New York City,” Diane said. “I didn't get one until I was 50 and now I can't imagine living without them.”
It is true that in the U.S. the vizsla gene pool is still relatively small. Their distinctive coat makes them darlings of the show ring, which means that many vizslas’ are bred for appearance with little regard for attributes like nose, point, drive, stamina, and other qualities needed in the field. Hunters looking for a vizsla puppy need to do their research to be sure the dog has been bred by hunters for hunting. Those that are, with the right training, will hold true to the definition of a versatile hunting dog: displaying a balance of independence and dependence, a range of speeds, and an extraordinary amount of cooperation.
David summed it up well: “Besides their red coats, vizslas are renowned for their hunting prowess, being skilled on the open plain, brush-filled canyon, scrub grass or dense forest. The vizsla is a natural and smart hunter with an excellent nose and fantastic trainability.”
Story and photos by Nancy Anisfield