Fifteen bobbed tails wag in chaotic unison as Brad Stoll enters the kennels at Upstate Gun Dog. Molly, Maverick, and Jack whine with delight to see their master. Mackensie’s eyes shine with pride between her feathered, floppy ears, as she dotes on a litter of six puppies in a whelping box. “This all started with Coco,” shares the Abbeville businessman. “A friend gave us our first Boykin 18 years ago. We had her as a pet, loved her, and said, ‘Let’s start raising some.’”
CAROLINA MADE Boykin spaniels were bred out of need in South Carolina in the early 1900s. Traveling hunters on the Wateree River, east of Columbia, needed a dog to access waterfowl along the river’s game-rich corridor and swamps. Traditional retrievers were too large to fit in the hunter’s small section boats that collapsed to fit in a wagon, or train car. A Spartanburg banker found a small, stray spaniel with a keen aptitude to hunt. He named it Dumpy and sent it to his Midlands hunting partner, Lemuel “Whit” Boykin, encouraging him to experiment with crossbreeding to create a similar-size retriever.
Boykin used Chesapeake Bay retrievers, springer, cocker, and American water spaniels, and several pointing breeds to develop the dog now named after him. The Boykin is larger and rangier than a cocker, but more compact than a springer. Resort-goers and gamesmen visiting the Camden area noticed the new breed’s skills, and word spread of the medium-size dog’s ability and versatility to work as a retriever and upland hunter, flushing birds into flight.
One hundred years later, the Boykin Spaniel Society has documented another jump in demand. “Monday, I registered 14 litters,” says executive secretary Dawn Crites. “Usually, it’s eight to nine a week. We’ve registered more than 38,000 Boykins. I think social media has really put an eye on the breed. People are posting photos of their dogs, and people see them and say, ‘Aw, they’re so pretty.’”
The society is also working to eradicate genetic defects. “Hip dysplasia is our number-one issue,” reveals Dawn. “They can also have heart-valve problems and juvenile cataracts. We fund research, and we reimburse owners for health testing before they breed their dogs.”
WORKING DOG Growing up in Abbeville, Brad always had hunting dogs running around his feet. Beagles and hounds trailed alongside his everyday outdoor adventures, until he hit the hunting grounds with a Boykin. “They are really intelligent,” he explains. “They field-train well. For retrieving duck and dove, it’s so nice because they are going to go out and pick them up. They have a lot of satisfaction when they do it right. They take a lot of pride in what they do.”
Between Upstate Gun Dog’s 1,500-square-foot kennel and three-acre play yard, the dogs have plenty of room to romp around. “It’s pretty cool to see them out enjoying each other and the outdoors,” he says. “That’s something about a hunting dog, they are so good with things, especially being outdoors with active families who spend the day on the lake, or at the beach.”
FAMILY AFFAIR While Coco came into the Stolls’ lives early in their marriage, more Boykins and kids have come along since. Running Upstate Gun Dog is a family affair with Brad, his wife, Rachel, and their five children. “My oldest daughter Hailey does a lot of the website design,” Stoll shares. “Bradley does general chores, feeds, and puts the dogs out. All of the kids interact with the puppies. It teaches them job skills and responsibility.”
The Stolls also improve the lives of sick children through The Outdoor Dream Foundation, which delivers high adventure to youngsters facing terminal illness. “These kids are going through a lot in their life,” reveals Stoll. “To be able to pick up a puppy and take it home, that’s a pretty neat experience to provide. They’re just always there for you, and they’re not going to judge you a whole lot. They’re going to be happy to see you.”
Kelly-Ann and Kit wander up for an ear rub, their golden eyes sparkling in the sun, playing off their silky brown coats. Brad smiles. “They make excellent pets,” he declares. “They’re great with families. Great with kids. God did pretty good when he made dogs.”
To meet Molly, Maverick, and the Stolls, visit UpstateGunDogs.com.