By Tom Davis
The single most influential agent in shaping the American sporting-dog scene has been the ring-necked pheasant. Labrador and golden retrievers originally were brought to these shores to serve as pheasant fetchers; springer spaniels and Continental pointing breeds were imported expressly to solve the pheasant “problem.”
Of course, there’s no perfect breed for ringnecks, and a lot of it boils down to what we’ve grown up with, what we’ve fallen into and simply what we like. Do we hunt behind the dogs we do because of their functionality, or do we fashion a narrative of functionality to put a credible spin on what is essentially a romantic entanglement?
This question is at the heart of Pheasant Dogs, Keith R. Crowley’s celebration of the canine partners whose presence adds drama and meaning to the upland experience. A widely published photographer and author of an award-winning biography of Gordon MacQuarrie, Crowley sat down with two dozen pheasant hunters—men and women, younger and older, newbies and veterans, famous and not; flushing-dog people and pointing-dog people—and basically said, “Tell me about your dogs.”
Their stories map out the craggy emotional journeys our dogs take us on. There are the heavenly highs and the hellish lows; the seemingly insurmountable struggles and the tiny victories that accrete to become transformational; the daily gifts of humor, grace and gratitude that compose the warp and woof of our shared lives.
Lavishly illustrated with Crowley’s photography as well as images contributed by his interviewees, Pheasant Dogs is published by Wild River Press. The book costs $59.95, with 50 signed, numbered, leather-bound copies available for $250 each.