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Dixie: Chronicles of a Field Bred English Springer Spaniel by Chip Schleider

I am not a great shot. More often than not, I am not a particularly good shot. But on one South Dakota Thursday this past November, Dixie and I combined to make it the most memorable shooting day of my life. We hunt pheasants every year in Presho, South Dakota with Ron Brodrecht’s Buckshot Pheasants, LLC. By tradition, our guide is Gary Urban, whose understated style and warm personality make him a joy to hunt with. Buckshot Pheasants combines affordable prices with an incredible number of wild pheasants to ensure the hunter an experience of a lifetime. If you want, you can bring your own dogs, or if you feel that your canine companion is not up to the daunting challenge of wild pheasants, terrific CRP land, or formidable cornfields, Buckshot Pheasants will supply the dogs for your party. My family, close friends, dogs, and I have hunted with Buckshot Pheasants for five consecutive years, through drought and rain, wind and snow, and we have never, ever, ever been disappointed. In addition to pheasants, there have been in past years good numbers of sharptail grouse and prairie chickens to boot - all for the taking - providing one can handle a shotgun.

Our schedule was to be a little different this year, and the arrivals and departures of the hunters a little more confusing. Lynn Campbell, my good friend and my oldest son Christian’s father-in-law, would hunt Tuesday and Wednesday. Pete, my younger brother, his business partner, Scott Bedford, and one of their clients Jim Besinius, a terrific guy, were due to arrive Wednesday evening via corporate jet in Pierre, about a forty five minute drive from Presho. For the first two days of the hunt, it was to be just Lynn, me, Gary Urban, Dixie and Arwen, my little English cocker. By South Dakota standards, this was an extremely small group. It meant that when we hunted the cornfields there would be no blockers to keep the birds from running out of the far end of the field - and only two gunners: Lynn and me.

"Dixie trapped the wild and uninjured bird and delivered him to me with what I was sure was a twinkle in her eye. Score one for the springer."

Lynn and I had our usual gargantuan breakfast at Hutch’s café, and met Gary at a quarter to ten that morning. The weather was unseasonably mild with the temperature barely into the thirties with partially clouded skies. Given that it was only Lynn and I, we had to think really hard on what our strategy would be. In other parts of the country, two hunters with a dog would present no real issues. But in South Dakota, where cornfields sometimes stretch for over a mile, a small hunting party can be problematic. We decided to send Lynn on a single flank, about twenty to thirty yards up on the downwind side of the field while I handled the dogs in the middle. Gary would help by walking about ten to fifteen yards to my left. I am a left-handed shooter and we felt that this would provide us with safe, but effective, fields of fire.

Earlier in the year, I had purchased a brand spanking new CZ USA Ringneck 16 gauge side-by-side, with a semi-pistol grip, a schnable forearm, extractors and single trigger - all for well under a thousand bucks. It is superb field gun and I consider it one of the last remaining really great shotgun deals. The chokes are fixed - modified and improved - and it is ideally suited for use on pheasants and quail in open country. In preparation for the trip, I had taken it many times to the range. I found it a delight to shoot and a perfect fit. In addition, I purchased a case of 16 gauge Fiocchi Golden Pheasant nickel-plated No. 5s, perhaps the finest pheasant load I have ever shot. The Fiocchi loads had proven deadly during the previous year’s hunt. As a back up, I brought along my venerable and well-loved Rizzini 16 gauge over and under. One can never have too many guns on an extended hunt.

Lynn, carrying his Model 12 Winchester 16 gauge, was raring to go. Taciturn, cool, calm and collected, Lynn is every inch a pilot. With many years in the cockpit, he flies Boeing 737 series aircraft for Southwest Airlines, and is completely unflappable. His would be the dead calm, Texas-accented voice you hear on the aircraft intercom in the midst of major crisis. "Uh... ladies and... uh... gentlemen, we have a slight problem, and the landing might be just a smidgen rough..." as you look out the windows to the spectacle of both wings on fire, crippled landing gear, and major cracks appearing in the fuselage.

Our tactics worked perfectly. Dixie was a true standout during the first couple of days of the hunt working the CRP land extremely well. She was very manageable in the cornfields and feed plots. A veritable Statue of Liberty, she never broke during the entire five days - a significant accomplishment in itself that those who have followed this series of articles will no doubt appreciate. On the first day, Lynn and I limited out with our six total birds within an hour and half. The second day took a little longer, but we were still under two hours for the day. In less than four total hours, we had taken twelve cock birds. Lynn was dead on the targets and rarely missed. I, on the other hand, was less than a stellar shotgunner the first two days.

The clock read 10:40 PM on Wednesday night. Lynn and I were alternatively watching an old western and snoozing. The dogs were lounging on the floor at our feet - not particularly tired after the day’s short hunt. Suddenly Pete’s voice filled the entrance hall. "Hey Chip," he yelled good naturedly, "get your butt up and give us a hand with the bags."

Startled, the rich expletive that issued from my lips underscored both the fact that my snooze had slid toward deep sleep and that the dogs had registered the newcomers’ arrival with a chorus of barks. A round of Pilsner Urquells (my Czech heritage shows here) followed backslapping reunions and first time introductions. Lynn and I recounted the experiences of our first two days. Thirsts quenched and bird hunting expectations aroused, we retired.

Overcast skies dulled the distinction between horizon and landscape, as Gary started us out the next morning in a half mile long food plot. We now possessed sufficient shooters to seal off pheasant exit routes, so we stationed Jim and Scott at the end of the field as blockers. Pete was on my right wing and Lynn took his position on the far left wing. Gary, sans shotgun as always, walked to my immediate left. Both wingmen walked outside of the food plot and about ten yards in advance of Gary and me. I gave Dixie the get out command, and she began quartering beautifully. We were into birds extremely quickly. A group of four hens rocketed over Pete’s head flying into a very light wind. Dixie made scent and suddenly pushed a rooster out to my left. I had a clear shot, mounted my shotgun, and snapped the trigger. The cock crumpled about forty yards out, and Dixie made a nice retrieve.

Gary arched an eyebrow as I handed him the bird. "Head shot," he said quietly. "What did you all have to drink last night?"

I smiled, shrugging as I replied, "Just beer... but damned good beer." We continued down the field.

Dixie again began quartering and within seconds nudged another cock bird into the air. The pheasant flew off to my right and again, I had the shot. I snapped the trigger on the side by side hitting the rooster a good fifty yards out. Dixie, hupped motionless immediately to my fore, made another nice retrieve. Accepting the bird from me, Gary said, " must have been real good beer."

We finished out the field with much firing by the blockers, but a lot of misses. I have found that South Dakota tends to require a warm up period for those who have been absent from the bird hunting scene for a while. And believe me, I have had more than my share of misses as a blocker.

Dixie nailed her first cock bird just before noon. We were hunting in extremely dense cover along a dried out creek bed. I saw her move sharply to the left, and take a runner into the bush. The rooster tried to flush, but the thickness of the cover significantly reduced his runway. Dixie trapped the wild and uninjured bird and delivered him to me with what I was sure was a twinkle in her eye. Score one for the springer.

My last bird was a Hail Mary if ever there was one. We were working Dixie this time with Jim on the right flank and Lynn on the left flank. Pete and Scott were blocking. Dixie had just accomplished a very nice hunt dead and was delivering the rooster to me when a rooster flushed wild on Jim’s side of the field. The cock sailed into the air behind us, and Jim emptied both barrels to no avail. I had just put Dixie’s retrieved bird in my game bag as I heard the shots. I looked up and saw the rooster gaining altitude directly behind me. I gambled, and missed with the first barrel. Adjusting my aim point a good three feet in front of the bird, I let fly with the second barrel. The cock folded and hit the ground head first.

"Holy crap, Chip!" Jim exclaimed, "That was unbelievable. By how much are you leading these damned birds?" By reckoning of the group, the shot had to have been right at sixty yards.

As the midday wore on into late afternoon, the others picked up more birds. The group, now tired after the long day, decided on one last run of a short food plot about a quarter of a mile long before packing it in. We entered the field, and immediately Dixie got birdy. She started working a small clump of milo, diving head first into the patch. Suddenly, she emerged with a rooster in her mouth - the second trap of the day of a wild unhurt male pheasant.

The light was now waning rapidly, and we knew this would have to be the last field of the day. Once again Dixie began quartering, and a quickly produced another rooster on the right side of the field. Jim made a really nice long crossing shot, and dropped the cock bird in an open area between two fields. Dixie, her vision of the shot obscured by milo, did not mark the fall of the bird. I stepped outside of the milo, recalled her, and gave the springer an unobstructed line to the downed pheasant about forty yards away. She took four steps, and uncharacteristically turned left back into the milo field. Hitting her full stride, Dixie trapped a running rooster she had seen out of the corner of her eye. She delivered the rooster, and then made the blind retrieve of the previously shot bird. With the third trap of a wild and un-shot cock bird, Dixie had limited out.

That evening, following an outstanding chicken fried steak (I have a predilection for this dish), I sat on the floor of our house stroking Dixie’s head as it rested comfortably in my lap. Sipping a final Heinken, my elation was unabated. The sheer quantity of the birds, the magic of the day, and the high quality of Dixie’s performance had combined to give me the most memorable hunting experience of my life.

Should you wish to book a hunt, please contact Ron Brodrecht at Buckshot Pheasants, LLC., Presho, South Dakota (605) 730-0814 or (605) 730-1203.

Author’s note: this is the ninth in a series of articles that chronicle both the development of a talented young spaniel and the rights of passage of an inexperienced trainer and handler.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII

Chip Schleider

Chip Schleider is an avid amateur spaniel trainer and upland game hunter. He owns four dogs - one English springer spaniel and three English cocker spaniels. His English springer, Dixie, holds an AKC Master Hunter title, a UKC Started Hunting Retriever title and a NAHRA Started Retriever title. Chip is a marketing executive for a large aerospace company, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel with a doctorate in international studies from the University of South Carolina. He lives with his wife Door and two of his gun dogs, Dixie and Arwen, in Great Falls, Virginia. His oldest son, Christian, is an Army Captain who has deployed for his second combat tour in Iraq. His youngest son, Alexander, attends the University of South Carolina

Chip is the co-author with Tony Roettger of Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field - copies of which can be purchased through the Spaniel Journal Bookstore. He also writes frequently for journals catering to gun dog training.

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