feature By: John W. Mackay | June, 17
I am writing this book to help you enjoy a wonderful hobby in the years ahead–through your own efforts. I know that you are already most interested in helping me to raise and hold game birds and in training and looking after our hunting dogs. I know, too, what a tremendous thrill was yours–as well as mine–one Thanksgiving at Patience Island when you brought down several flighted mallard ducks with the same 28-gauge Parker shotgun that your Grandpa gave me when I was twelve years old.
It has taken forty years of study and work and, of course, trial and error to provide me with enough practical experience in this dog training–game-bird holding–shooting field to tell you about it in detail; but my era has been a more leisurely and a less complicated one than yours promises to be.
And as I look back over these forty years, I am convinced that “leisurely” is the word!
At the age of eight I was given the opportunity by my father to learn to shoot on his quail hunting property at Jamestown, North Carolina. It was at that age that I was confronted by a new and thrilling world which revolved solely around the doings of pointers and setters and bobwhite quail and double-barreled shotguns.
The country itself in which all of this activity took place was magnificent in its tranquillity–orange-yellow-reddish banks on either side of the many small streams which led to Deep River itself and then on out to the sea; forest after forest of pine trees, murmuring contentedly to each other at the slightest breeze; field after field of weedy cover, punctuated occasionally by a briar thicket–and now and again a remote little farm, with smoke slowly rising from a chimney in the center of a small primitive cabin. There was always a dog of questionable lineage on the porch; he must have had some hound in him, judging by his mournful howl. A persimmon tree in the yard and a peach tree or two nearby … and a group of scared children who ran for the “house” as soon as the dog began to warn them of the approach of strangers; a cordial smile from the corpulent mother, as she paused in her task of hanging up the laundry on the line to watch us pass by in our quest for “birds”; and a short distance away the father chopping firewood as his mule gazed sleepily at us and chewed some choice weed stem! That was the North Carolina I knew.
Later on came Gardiner’s Island. At the eastern end of Long Island in Gardiner’s Bay, your grandfather had this famous island under lease from the Gardiner family for twenty-two years … from 1916 to 1938. Life there, too, was leisurely … but in a different sense, for this was the north. However, when I was there, the only thing that seemed important was that we were going to shoot ducks or pheasants or catch the latest flight of woodcock during their brief stay on the Island during fall migration.
On Gardiner’s Island the retriever and the spaniel were substituted for the pointer and the setter used in the south; and the hunting for ducks, geese, woodcock, pheasant, and deer was substituted for the pursuit of the North Carolina quail.
The contrast was tremendous; but the two places together gave me a firm foundation and a well-rounded background in the shooting way of life I enjoy so much. After all, if you like something as much as I liked this sport in those early days and you are immersed in it to the extent that I was, you are bound eventually to find yourself “majoring” in that field.
And thus it was, at Gardiner’s Island, at the age of eleven, that I trained my first dog, an Irish water spaniel, and at the same time began an intensive study of the ways of the various species of game that abounded there.
I can still remember the sunrises, silhouetting the old windmill used by the Gardiners for so many years to grind their grain, and my perpetual enthusiasm for each individual duck shoot–certain to be better in one way or another than the preceding one. And you know, Pat, it usually was!
The earliest records of pointing dogs being trained professionally show that a Mr. John Armstrong, who was born in 1800 in Cumberland, England, was one of the leading dog trainers of his day.
His son, Edward Armstrong, also was well-known, for it was he who trained the famous champion pointer, Drake, known at the time as the fastest pointer that ever lived. (Incidentally, this dog was sold at the age of seven years in 1874, in London, for what was then a tremendous sum, 150 guineas, roughly $766.50 in those days). This Edward Armstrong’s son also was a professional dog handler; and he worked in North Carolina for my father in that capacity almost all of his life.
It was both a great privilege for me as a boy, as well as a wonderful education in the art of handling shooting dogs, to observe this man in the field. I am sure that these influences of a third generation of dog handlers is the chief reason why I have such a strong belief that practical work for shooting dogs makes the best sport.
It is logical, therefore, for me to feel very strongly that there is nothing quite comparable to the thrill of shooting live birds in as wild a state as possible, with a dog you yourself have trained to find these birds for you; nothing quite comparable to watching him mark the fallen birds accurately and then see him go on to use his own capabilities coupled with the result of your training to complete the job efficiently.
Today, however, we live in a far different economic era; and if we are to enjoy a fraction of what I was fortunate enough to have in abundance years ago, then we are going to have to “cut the sail to fit the cloth.” But in so doing, let us strive insofar as possible to come as close to the real thing as we can. Do not let us be led down what I believe to be the wrong path by some dog-training enthusiasts who think that the artificial competitions which are currently in vogue are an end in themselves. I too believe in training my pup to perform amazing feats in the field, but I see no reason to limit this effort to one of dog handling only. Rather, I want to see these feats made practical so that they result in the coordinated teamwork between both gun and dog which is currently practiced throughout our land on so many commercial game farms. In this way it is the dog who works entirely for the gun, and the gun then receives the entire benefit of a good bird harvest.
The shooting operation on the present game farm is the modern version of what took place, for instance, toward the close of the seventeenth century in England. At that time shooting birds was a means of securing a varied diet. Thus it was that woodcock or pheasant were acquired for the table not only by the use of the shotgun but also in large part through the aid of either the cocker or the springer spaniel. (The springer spaniel derives its name from the fact that. it was used in those days to spring pheasants; and the cocker spaniel derives its name from the fact that it was used to flush woodcock).
Now these chapters having to do with the shooting of pen-reared birds are not intended for those who are fortunate enough to be near game that is both completely wild and plentiful. Such Utopias for sportsmen are, unfortunately, vanishing all too quickly, a situation due chiefly to the tremendous increase in population in so many metropolitan areas throughout these United States. This human congestion, with its many diversified ramifications, has literally forced feathered game out of existence in large sections of the country surrounding cities and towns.
For most people, then, the only chance to indulge in the sport of upland bird shooting is either at a commercial game preserve or else on a smaller scale, on a “do-it-yourself” basis, with a congenial group. The latter is what I have outlined for you in the following pages.
This “do-it-yourself” plan has been most successful not only for economic reasons, but also because it creates tremendous personal satisfaction, from being able to coordinate head and hand to produce something of use.
I see no reason why these same principles should not be applied to acquiring a small shooting area for you and your friends to enjoy. It can also be the means for one day passing on to your children some of the things that you learned as a child–in the good old days when the out-of-doors meant much more than just cooking a steak on a fancy grill only twenty-five yards from the house!
There is another aspect of this “do-it-yourself” plan which should appeal to those who are interested in conservation. It is the fact that the birds which are to be harvested are pen-reared in the first place; in other words, nothing is taken from the natural resource of birds by this method. Actually, some additions to wildlife will be made, since some pheasants and some mallard ducks are going to get away.
In other words, the shooting plan detailed in this book will add to, rather than take away from, the natural supply of wild game.
I have lived the genuine shooting life; I know it and love it deeply. You too can have your sport and hobby in almost as full a way, as you will see in the following pages. It is my belief, however, that if you are going to enjoy your shooting to the greatest extent, you are going to have to take some short cuts. Otherwise, in the fast-moving days of this generation you won’t have enough time to master what you must in order to bring this about. That is the reason for this book.
I believe you will enjoy the fruits of this effort and that the further you progress in this dog-training–game bird-holding and shooting hobby, the more you will be laying a solid foundation for yourself and your dog so that both of you will have a really sound basis for enjoying the outdoors no matter where your shooting trails should eventually lead you.
Remember, however, that it is you who will have to do it! The know-how I am passing along to you is nothing more than a good clear road map. It is you who will have to apply this knowledge in order to find the way. …
And so, Pat, “GOOD SHOOTING!”
Long Island, New York
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