A Rough Shooting Spanielby R. Michael DiLullo
“Dear to me for his stout heart, faith in me, and an absorbing devotion to the gun.”
This line from Nash Buckingham’s essay “Not Unsung” in his classic book “Tattered Coat” about his Springer “Chub,” has for me, always summed-up the essence of the English springer spaniel.
While walking along the leaf littered banks of an old New York State canal system dike those words were resonating in my mind as I watched my little black-and-white companion sniffing the ground ahead. She still has a youthful exuberance about her, especially when she is in the field. She is ten years old now and has begun to show some of the wear and tear that nine hard seasons of hunting can place on a little dog, although you could never tell from her drive or desire. I think that is the main reason I embrace this breed the way I do…
But, upon closer examination one will see the way she slightly throws her left leg out to the side when she runs, the result of a torn tendon that never healed properly. Her hearing has been weakened by thousands of shotgun blasts and it sometimes takes more than one peep of the whistle, even a little yelling to get her attention. Beneath her coat there are countless scars from branches, thorns, briars and barbed wire, a few of which required a trip to the vet and sutures to close. But, she would still gladly dive through the thickest of brambles in search of game.
In those nine seasons, we have hunted in six states from Maine to Virginia, for more than 100 days each season. I wish I knew the numbers of pheasant, chukar, quail, grouse, woodcock, doves, rabbits, ducks and even a few geese she has had shot over her. I had always meant to keep a journal, but have never done so. She hunted for many clients at shooting preserves while I was guiding and never had a dissatisfied customer. I have worn out several pairs of boots, a coat and two pairs of Filson Tin pants walking behind her. But, I would gladly buy them all again for another nine seasons with her. For I know the day will come when she will not be able to hunt. I see the cloudy haze building in her kind eyes and the graying around her muzzle and I know our time afield together is limited. That one day one of her daughters will replace her and begin a whole new series of special memories, but she is my special Springer.
She earned both her AKC Junior and Senior Hunting test titles during the mid-nineties. I had always seen her as a champion, even though in reality she was not a trial prospect. To most she was a just a “Meat Dog,” but she was a damn good one. And she seems to want to prove it every time we go hunting!
All of my dogs hold special places in my heart, from my first gundog; a fire-haired Irish Setter who shared my High School years, to my newest Springer puppy. None will ever be replaced. For each one is an individual and each has been part of some very special moments, which have built an album of fond memories in my brain. In fact, if it was not for my dogs I would not have started writing again. But, “Bess” and I have spent more time together afield than any of the others. We have shared some very special places and exceptional times together. We have experienced the traditions of southern dove shoots and quail hunts, the autumn colors of the New England grouse and woodcock woods. We have chased pheasants in the farmlands of New York State and spent many early mornings in both blind and boat awaiting dawn and ducks.
The memories of time spent afield with my Springers will be forever etched in my mind as some of the happiest I have known. I look forward to many more seasons filled with the explosion of a flushing pheasant; the flurry of a quail covey as it breaks from cover and of flights of ducks on dawn’s horizon. These “most versatile hunting dogs” have taught me some valuable lessons about love, loyalty and perseverance. For these little dogs seem to enjoy hunting even more than I do. But, I actually enjoy watching them do what God intended more than anything else...
I fully understand what Mr. Buckingham meant.
We come to the end of the dike and cross the dried-up ancient canal bed. At the top of the dike’s far bank I load-up the twenty and whistle-up “Bess.” Below us near the swamp’s edge I hear a rooster pheasant cackling, we’ll leave him alone today. We are here for woodcock, and her slower pace seems to give me a little bit of an edge on Mr. Timberdoodle, after all, I am not getting any younger myself!
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