Book Review By Art Wheaton

Book Review by Art Wheaton

This new book by Walt Lesser and Lisa M. Weisse is a wonderful addition to your sporting library, whether or not you like the Ryman- type of English setter. There is exhaustive research utilizing kennel literature and a collection of pedigrees documenting George Ryman’s breeding program. The authors have unraveled the mystique and misconception of the controversial George Ryman and his setters.

They have pieced together the evolution of Ryman’s breeding program as well as its rise and fall after his passing in 1961. It depicts his wife Ellen running the kennel operation on her own before marrying Carl Calkins in 1963. Ellen and Carl then continued breeding the Ryman- type setter until 1975, when they sold to Robert Sumner and David Francis who moved the operation to Hillsboro, WV.

This is an intriguing story and sets the record straight, showing how breeders other than George Ryman changed the type of setter from what Ryman originally developed. It also explains how a small circle of breeders, who knew exactly the kind of dog Ryman achieved, continued this line in the Appalachian Mountain region.

The Real Ryman Setter also serves up a delightful mix of hunting stories in the Appalachian Mountains, with a description of the different types of ruffed grouse habitat in these mountains, including favored foods of this bird. The gunning tales provide valuable insights into handling, training, and hunting grouse and woodcocks. There is an interesting association with George Bird Evans and the Old Hemlock setters; the Worden’s Hotel in Davis, West Virginia, and the Canaan Valley woodcock cover which Evans called “The Gates.” Some who have read Evans will draw an engaging connection with a pleasing amount of detail.

The Real Ryman Setter is available from Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310, (610-593-1777) for $34.99 or you can order an inscribed copy from either of the authors by going to their website It is also available from other online booksellers.

Ruffed Grouse Society Magazine, Book Reviews, Fall, 2014

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Event

Walt will be at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge on September 13th. At 6 PM he will give a presentation on the refuge management, it’s habitat, wildlife, and hunting history. Following his talk there will be a reception and book signing. This is a great opportunity to learn from Walt’s extensive knowledge of the valley.

More information is available at the refuge web site Canaan Valley NWR or you can contact the Friends of the 500th Book Store.

Book Signing

Saturday, April 12, 2014 —   Walt will be signing books at Barnes & Noble in Morgantown, West Virginia – starting at 1:00 pm.   This store is located at 3000 University Towne Centre Dr., near the West Virginia University campus.  He is looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

Spring Training on Woodcocks

LANCE 2 (2)

Appalachian bird hunters can extend their season another month if they are content with practicing a “catch and release” form of hunting. Working your dogs on returning woodcocks without a gun is a great way to get exercise for you and your dog, and extend training time of a young dog on wild birds. Woodcocks are usually found in West Virginia lowlands after February 20, (weather dependent) while hunters are still seeking grouse the last of the season. These are males heading north from their wintering grounds and will not stop until reaching their desired breeding grounds. They perform a courtship display each morning and evening from the time they leave their wintering area. This is a display you must see, if you haven’t. It is advisable to cut off all training by the end of March to avoid causing damage to nests, even though it is legal to run dogs year round in some states.

The Five Families of Ryman Setters

People have asked us why the five families of Ryman setters are not mentioned in the book. For anyone who is not familiar with this, the story is that Ryman had five distinct families of dogs in his kennel (sometimes referred to as lines or types). Each family had its own set of characteristics- some were smaller, some bigger, some had more go, etc. Ryman’s breeding system reportedly used various crosses of these families to produce his ideal type.

The families are not in the book because we found no evidence Ryman did this. In fact, the evidence leads to the conclusion that he did not. The continuous influx of outside bloodlines, the way they were blended into the kennel, and the direction of the breeding program over the years do not fit within such a system, and Ryman never mentioned the families or used them to describe dogs he had for sale. All references to the families we are aware of came after Ryman’s time.


Lisa will be joining Walt for 2 book signings in West Virginia.

Saturday, March 1, we will be in Elkins at the Main Line Book Store, 301 Davis Avenue, from 12:00 to 2:00 pm.

Sunday, March 2, we will be in Morgantown, at Barnes and Noble, 3000 University Towne Centre Dr., near the West Virginia University campus from !:00 pm.

We are looking forward to meeting some of our readers.

The Sir Roger de Coverly Story

I knew coming into this project that a lot of the information out there about the Rymans was wrong- the main reason to write the book in the first place was to give a true picture of what they were and an accurate accounting of some of the history of the kennel. Still, I was surprised by how much of the story didn’t hold up. There were a number of unexpected moments during the research when it suddenly became clear that the records didn’t support something everyone believes about the Rymans, or about early English setters in general.

One of the first revelations came early on while checking the Ryman pedigrees against the stud book records- the story of Sir Roger de Coverly. Everyone “knows” that Ryman founded the kennel on his breedings to this dog, but that isn’t what happened. This discovery helped bring into focus how critical it was that every fact was backed up solidly by the records before making it into the book. If we were were going to avoid repeating the same falsehoods, or creating new ones of our own, everything had to be verified, no matter how common the knowledge or how many times the stories have been told. This led to much research into the beginnings of the kennel, what sort of dog Sir Roger de Coverly really was, and how the Rymans fit into the early history of the breed.


Updates Page

We have added an Updates page to the blog that will be used to correct errors in the book and present any new information we come across. The first correction noted is a printing error that omitted a bit of information critical to the story of the show dogs. The last sentence on page 53 was cut off. The full sentence is: 51 English Setters won AKC show championships during the first decade of the century, 41 from straight or predominantly Laverack type show lines.

Anything else we feel is important will be posted, so be sure check for updates.