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For years Al, the old farmer, was treated to an occasional glimpse of the trophy ringneck strutting his stuff in the fields surrounding his farmhouse. As the seasons passed, he had come to know the old birdís crow and recognize it as though it were a greeting from an old friend.

Many had come from near and far, bringing bird dogs of every description. Each confident that they would be the one to bag this wily, old bird. All had failed. None had even come close to flushing him. But they would sometimes hear him cackle... or was that laughter?... as he craftily made his escape.

This pheasant was legendary.

Al gave up the plow long ago as his health began to fade. His once neatly groomed cornfields had now become unkempt and overgrown - returning the borrowed land back to nature; wild and thick... and high. The old man knew he had few hunts left.

My Dad, a barber in the nearby Michigan village, was impressed with our hunting dogs. And like any good barber would, he spread the word. Some customers probably thought that he took liberties with his tales and embellished them to suit his fancy. But not so. We had field bred English springer spaniels - a rarity in that neck of the woods. Most folks had never seen - or even heard of - dogs like ours. They were only familiar with show-type springers.

In a small, farming community, word gets around. It wasnít long before Al heard we had "good dogs", and extended the invitation.

Shortly before dawn, Steve arrived at Al's house with two of our springers. Trixie, a white and liver dynamo, had well-proven herself to be a capable hunting companion. Since none of our regular hunting buddies had dogs that could keep up with ours, she was accustomed to covering the ground for as many as five hunters at a time. Despite the extra duty, she was always ready for more - even after our legs had given out! Her son, Rocky, took after his Canadian sire, a large, leggy, settery-looking spaniel. His coat was all white with the exception of a liver spot on one side, a pirate eye patch, and some ticking. In the field, he carried his head high, almost prancing as he worked his pattern. Stylish. A true gentlemanís dog. Although this was his first hunting season, he was showing great promise of the hunter he was destined to become.

"Watching the trio of spaniels weaving through the fabric of the field was like poetry in motion."

The hunting party assembled. Al emerged from his house with a time-worn shotgun and wearing a big, boyish grin. The first rays of light began to stretch westward like golden fingers gently rousing nature from its sleep. It revealed an expanse of dry grass and weeds tipped white with frost. The field was edged with sassafras, aspen, sumac, and wild raspberry brambles all dressed in vivid shades of orange, scarlet, yellow, and purple. Center stage was a lone white oak, standing sentinel over the past centuryís farming activities.

The old man finished his cup of steaming coffee. He knew just where the rooster would be. The strategy of the hunt was discussed and they agreed that someone needed to block the cagey pheasantís escape route at the far end of the field.

"Iím not going down there," Dad protested with a laugh, "not with all these shotguns pointed that direction!"

"Then weíll have to send a dog," someone proposed.

"Not, my dog."

"Not mine."

"Letís send Lorettaís dog, Rocky."

And so it was decided!

Many years ago, Al had owned and trained some fine English Setters. He knew dogs. He explained to Steve what he wanted and sent him to position Rock. After instructing the dog to stay put, Steve returned to the group and the hunt was on!
Steve and Rocky following another hunt.

Dad brought his dog, Buck, a sibling to Rocky. Gary had his old, English springer spaniel - also named Buck. Steve cast Trixie off and she began to work her beautiful pattern just ahead of the line of hunters, her white coat glistening in the golden sunlight. Watching the trio of spaniels weaving through the fabric of the field was like poetry in motion. Sure enough before long, they got birdy and the clever, old rooster began to run!

Steve signaled Rocky with the whistle to work back towards the group and the squeeze play began! The grass swayed as Rock cut his pattern - quickly zeroing in on the rooster. With nowhere for the ringneck to go, Rock did what no other dog had succeeded at before. He looped into the bird and flushed the pheasant back directly towards the hunters!

Steve never saw a pheasant as large as this one... he shot twice... and missed!

Dad, normally an excellent marksman, hadnít seen a bird like this since before I was born... he unloaded his .12 gauge... and missed!

Gary, another old timer who used to have the best springer in the area, shot... and missed!

Amidst the aroma of gunpowder, a smile lit the old farmer's time-etched face putting a twinkle in his eye as he watched the old pheasant fly off into the distance... laughing.

Loretta Baughan

Loretta Baughan is the Founder, Editor and Publisher of Spaniel Journal. As owner of the Autumnskye kennel, she raises, trains and hunts her English springer spaniels. She is a member of the Northeast Wisconsin Spaniel Club. Loretta resides near Merrill, Wisconsin, with her husband, Steve, and their three children.

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