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A Rough-Shooting Dog: Reflections from Thick and Uncivil Sorts of Places by Charles Fergus

There are many books that will tell you how to train a dog. But how many tell you about the dog? A Rough-Shooting Dog is one such book.

Written by Charles Fergus back in 1991, this book has risen to classic status. Fergus, a longtime writer of the "Thornapples" column in Pennsylvania Game News magazine, tells the story of the first season of his Springer, Jenny. The story takes place in Western Pennsylvania and starts, as it should, with the selection of the pup.

Fergus steps through the training and bonding that takes place with Jenny. One of the hardest aspects of training to define is the aspect of bonding and this book does better than any to define that. "I myself had learned, in a new and deeper sense, what it meant to hunt. I had relished, in partnership with Jenny, the thrill of making game."
2002 Mid-Penn Hunt Test at Hillendale

Rejecting the lure of the field-trail circuit, Fergus trains Jenny to be a first-rate gun dog."A hunter should have the best. He owes it to himself, and to the birds. He owes it to the dog to let her become what her blood directs her to become: not a player in a stylized game, but a partner, a collaborator, a fellow predator in the fields and thickets, on the trembling, savage ground of the marsh."

That statement might be a stretch for those who play the spaniel games, but lets face it, most spaniel owners don't. On the other, those who do play the games will recognize the descriptions of Hillendale, the home of the Mid-Penn Field Trial and Hunt Tests, as it plays a central role in the story.

"On one of the Hillendale farms lies a complex of ten or a dozen strips of cover, many of them puzzlingly similar. Into this maze, one damp November morning, Jenny and I were sent with our hunters. Crawford had shown me from the truck, in advance and somewhat hurriedly, where to hunt: up this strip, back down that one, up and down over there, turn and work these four short strips, take that one out and come back through the woodlot."

"Few dogs will tolerate direct eye contact: In the canine world the fixed, unwavering stare is perceived as a threat. As in: I am going to thrash you. Or, between species: I am going to eat you. It was something that drew us ever closer, how whenever I spoke to her she would look straight into my eyes. Others noticed it. Crawford said one day, "That dog really listens to you."

Just as we sometimes train our pups too hard, I think many trainers train themselves too hard. Sometimes it is useful to put the training manuals down and just enjoy a book which celebrates the bond that can occur between a spaniel and its owner. In many ways, the writing reminds me of the late George Bird Evans, whose books on hunting with setters were both instructive and engrossing. Fergus is such a writer.

We are fortunate that he chose to write about a Spaniel.

Copies of this book are available from:
Spaniel Journal Bookstore

A Rough-Shooting Dog: Reflections from Thick and Uncivil Sorts of Places
Copyright © 1991 Charles Fergus
First Lyons press paperback edition, 2006
with Preface to the 2006 Edition
ISBN 1-55821-128-4

Bill Fawcett resides in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, Cindy, and his Smythwicks Springers: Jenna, Beebe, Chip and Dottie. He is a hunter, field trialer, breeder and member of the M-AHSC and the ESSFTA. He maintains a public FB ESS pedigree database at

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