column By: Glen Blackwood | August, 17
The time has come when we all are focusing on fall. Minds begin to wander as mornings become cooler and dew replaces the dryness of summer. Exercising dogs and sorting gear become necessary tasks, taking priority over the last few honey do’s. A punch list of bells and beepers, shells and shotguns, not to mention gloves, glasses, hats and other sundry items can be helpful. Not only in making sure you’re organized for opening day, but also to help you remember what you misplaced last season. The one item that is always on my list is what I call a “travel book.”
What is a travel book? A volume that can be loaned or lost, and although strong in content, not a valuable piece of one’s collection. Reprinted editions are perfect travel companions. I suggest removing their dust jackets, as they inevitably become tattered. Along those lines, I also select titles that are 6 by 9 inches in size since they are easier to pack, and the print is large enough for tired eyes to read in dim light. Most important is diversity of topics, so no matter my mood, location or situation, there is an essay or two that will capture my attention. Illustrations are another criterion, for a book’s line drawings whet my appetite for the author’s words.
One book that fits these specifications is Gun Dogs & Bird Guns by Charley Waterman. Waterman’s voice is that of an old school outdoor writer. Throughout his career he wrote 19 books and numerous magazine articles for Saltwater Sportsman, Florida Sportsman, Gray’s Sporting Journal and others. A combat photographer in World War II, he became one of the most respected outdoor journalists in the U.S. Residing in both Florida and Montana with his wife Debbie, he was adept not only with rod and gun, but also with storytelling, describing both landscape and quarry with detail, while injecting humor and practical know-how.
Gun Dogs & Bird Guns was originally published by Gray’s Sporting Journal in 1986 and reprinted by Countrysport Press in 1995. In the 25 essays, the author discusses a wide range of wing shooting topics, each chapter accompanied with an illustration by Fred W. Thomas. One essay from the premier issue of Gray’s entitled “False Points, Blind Retrieves and Other Mysteries” is included in this book. The author’s words walk his reader to dove shoots and quail plantations in the South, as well as the stubble-cut grain fields of the mountains in the West. He introduces his audience to quail dogs, “Hun” dogs, pheasant dogs, Brittanys, setters and pointers, with names like Kelly, Duchess, McGillicuddy and Tex. These dogs and the landscape that they run are the center of each essay. From the chapter titled “Fetch”:
My old Brittany Tex (guess where he was raised) turned into a pretty good bird dog, but he wouldn’t retrieve. He’d hunt long and hard if necessary for a dead bird, but when he found it, he’d carry it off and drop it – maybe 40 or 50 feet away. He would never find it again for me, no matter how hard I pleaded or threatened. I had to do that myself while he looked on encouragingly as if he were proud of my progress.
Or from the chapter “Buddies, and Others”:
We don’t shoot the camphor tree birds any more because there’s a church just a little way from where they live and there are some new houses too. The joggers go by on the road just a hundred yards away, but the quail are still there. In spring, I drive down the lane beside the trees and hear the lovelorn cock birds yelling their name as if life depended on it. Perhaps it does.
Waterman was not only a sporting writer, but also a bird hunter who traveled. With his writing of vistas, points, birds and companions, Gun Dogs & Bird Guns is diverse in subject matter while maintaining a wing shooting theme, the perfect combination for a travel book.