Lundgren’s Book Lounge: “A Rough-Shooting Dog,” by Charles Fergus

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

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Charles Fergus

Complementing my love of books, I have always been drawn to the beauty of the natural world. It’s why I was a farmer and why following a springer spaniel filled with bird lust, shotgun in hand, makes me feel as alive as nearly anything I have ever experienced. Recently I came across a classic that combines these twin passions: A Rough-Shooting Dog: Reflections from Thick and Uncivil Sorts of Places by Charles Fergus. Fergus’ book transcends the limitations of the hunting genre: it is a memoir of a man and a bird dog’s education that qualifies as genuine literature.

Hunting birds with a dog is about the bond between man and canine and a re-enactment of a very old dance betwixt dog and bird and Fergus captures the essence of these relationships with an elegance of style and a companionable charm that never fails to seduce. Listen to this description of an early hunting experience: “I remember my first grouse. It was fifteen years ago. I was hunting by myself in a stand of aspen and bear oak, and the bird went out behind me in a thunder of wings–I was given no chance to think, which is probably whyI connected. I spun, swept gun to shoulder, shot, and the grouse was stopped as if by a great invisible hand. A moment of intense clarity lasted from the time my ears detected the grouse’s flush until I walked over and picked the bird up. There was no sense of accomplishment; that would come later. Only a shining lucidity, a sensation that, as I pursued it over the year in autumn’s thickets and brakes, became akin to the physical, like a note playing inside me… during the shining moment when I shot and connected, when I declared and defined myself a predator, a fellow creature, a product not only of mother and father, but first and foremost of the earth–a note. A note, I should say, about two octaves above middle C, purer and lovelier and more bittersweet than anything I had ever heard before.”

Of course, as Fergus goes on to point out, there is something missing from this scenario–the dog. The heart of A Rough-Shooting Dog (an English term describing a dog capable of hunting all manner of birds–grouse, woodcock, pheasant, ducks), is the tale of the dual education of Fergus and Jenny, an extraordinary springer spaniel puppy that becomes Fergus’ hunting partner and beloved companion for the next fifteen years. It is not a how-to book although along the way we learn much about training and learning from a good dog: rather it is a rhapsodic, lyrical paean of praise to an endeavor and a relationship that have bound humans to the natural world since time immemorial. And to those who might voice objections to the hunt, Fergus (and I) would ask, what other way is there to experience that note, “purer and lovelier and more bittersweet than anything I (have) ever heard before” ?


[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”).  He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.

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