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A Hunter's Book of Days by Charles Fergus

Perhaps this book could be considered a sequel to A Rough Shooting Dog. This book takes off where Rough Shooting ends, as Fergus recounts the transition from and contrasts between his springer "Jenny" to her successor "Caillie". Fergus, in the contemplative writings of his hunting memoirs, has become the George Bird Evans of the spaniel set.

I know that I keep making that comparison, but having just re-read Evansí An Affair with Grouse, the similarities, right down to the naming of coverts, are uncanny. But to my own prejudices, Fergus does it the right way - with a flushing dog. Alas, George was never converted.

I have long been a fan of Fergus' writing style, having been treated to a monthly dose in his long-running Pennsylvania Games News column Thornapples. Fergus, like Evans before him, bemoans the loss of grouse coverts - a loss which, quite frankly, has changed the nature of the bird... and the hunt. Never have I been able to not take these writings personally; Evans hunted in my backyard, Fergus in the land of my adopted training grounds and the home of my wife's family. And so it is with great sadness that I read of the demise of coverts that I recognize as those not unlike my own. Ironically, the highway that pushed Fergus away from that area (I-99) is the same highway that now permits me to make quick weekly trips to train my spaniel on a nearby preserve. Nothing is ever simple.

The book is captivating, from the descriptions of hunts, the illustrations by Rod Crossman, to the appreciation of fine guns.

"I do not apologize for the fact that I like guns - or at least, good guns. The smoothness of barrels and stock, and the roughness in just the right places, such as the checkering on the wrist and fore-end. The shape, which is utterly correct and devoid of any superfluousness as any predatory animal. Even a gunís smells transport me: the aroma of stock polish and the tang of cleaning solution, the acrid whiff of burnt gunpowder that you get when you open the gun after firing it - all signals reminding me that life is short, and, as much as possible, one ought to enjoy it, and the very best way of enjoying life is to spend it out-of-doors."

I chose a bitterly-cold snowy winter weekend to read this book - too severe to hunt but just right to savor a collection of hunting stories and experiences. And such is the nature of this book. It is a good book for a soft chair in front of a warm fireplace with a spaniel nearby.

Fergus' apt description of some of his favorite coverts reminded me of coverts of my own; places in western Virginia that I have shared with a succession of hunting dogs over a quarter of a century. Because of the similarity (and proximity) of my mixed oak and hickory forests with those which Fergus hunted, there was a numbing year-by-year correlation between the decline in grouse numbers reported by Fergus and my own experience. And I'm not sure what to do about it; I don't think that we should all move to Vermont, as Fergus recently did. It might get a little crowded.

And so the book leaves me with mixed emotions, somewhat depressed about habitat depletion and yet, appreciative of the joy that only a spaniel can bring. The book is not a book about spaniel training (Fergus continues to wish his was steady) but rather about spaniel hunting and the bond between hunter and a close-working dog.

"Caillie, however, has ways of seducing me. A lick on the hand. Sitting down next to me and leaning against my leg. Lying by the door and giving me a sidelong glance." As I read these words, my own spaniel was lying across the living room, "giving me a sidelong glance". And so it is with the book. If you enjoy spaniels, and if you enjoy grouse hunting as experienced in the Appalachian coverts of Pennsylvania, Maryland or the Virginias, you will undoubtedly enjoy this book.

Copies of this book are available from:
Spaniel Journal Bookstore

A Hunter's Book of Days
by Charles Fergus
Countrysport Press
ISBN 0-89272-615-6

Bill Fawcett resides in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, Cindy, and his springer, Jenna. He is a hunter, field trialer and member of the M-AHSC. He also maintains a public FB ESS pedigree database at

In his other life, he is an electronics manager for the Commonwealth of Virginia and has been active in the field of radio communications for over thirty years. He is anxiously awaiting retirement so that he can play with dogs full time and leave those stupid radios behind.

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