GORDON — Some hunting seasons open and close but never really end. That’s largely due to stories keeping them alive.
A prime example bridging that off-season lull is award-winning wildlife photographer and author Keith Crowley’s latest book, “Pheasant Dogs.” The book leaves you wrapped in the taste, feel, sounds and aroma of pheasant hunting with a dog.
Combining some of the best words and stunning photos devoted to describing that sacred relationship between people, their hunting dogs and wily ring-necked pheasants, Crowley and those interviewed for the book have given pheasant hunters and non-hunting dog-lovers alike a timeless piece of art.
The book’s format is based on hundreds of hours of question-and-answer recorded interviews with a wide mix of men and women, some well-known and others previously unheard of, from around the country.
“All I did was ask people to tell me about their dog,” Crowley said. “The two questions I asked of everyone were: How did you get started and would you do it without a dog? Most said, ‘not likely.’ It’s amazing how many grown men I had crying.”
Crowley devotes one chapter to each of the 23 individuals featured in this fresh-looking 360-page book. Among them are breeders Tom and Tina Dokken (all breeds), Rachel Hoveland (Deutsch-Drahthaars), Ron Schara (Labrador retrievers), Dave Roll (Brittanys), Anthony Hauck (English cocker spaniels), Emy Marier (flat-coated retrievers), Cecil Bell (Labs, goldens and a rescue mix), John Edstrom (English setters), Peter Hudson (English pointers, German shorthaired pointers, vizslas) Ken Blomberg (German shorthairs and cockers), Bob St. Pierre (German shorthaired pointer) and Chris Kalis (Pudelpointers).
Often toting a camera instead of his shotgun, Crowley, 58, said he had been stockpiling pheasant hunting images for several years. The book contains 160 photos, about 40 of which were supplied by subjects.
“I couldn’t have done the book without their help,” he said. “ I couldn’t hunt with everybody.”
Crowley said the book’s inception rose out of a conversation he had with Wild River Press publisher Tom Pero.
“The conversation (about elk) eventually drifted to grouse and how the public feedback had been so favorable to Pero’s (coverage of dogs in) ‘A Passion for Grouse,’” Crowley said, “and Pero said we perhaps should do a book on (pheasant) dogs, and I said, ‘Yes! and I’ll do it,’ and it came about quite quickly.”
The book is not meant to be a complete representation of all the breeds that serve as pheasant dogs.
“I learned early on that to try to cover every breed would be impossible,” Crowley said in the book. “By my calculation there are at least 181 established dog breeds in the world and virtually all of them have been used for hunting pheasants at one time or another.”
Crowley’s first bird dog came at age 17, an English springer, “Briar.” But he’s also fond of Labrador retrievers. He tells of one person who hunts with a Doberman and another who uses an English bulldog.
“Traditional bird-hunting breeds they are not, but they still have that glorious gift of a nose,” he said.
But the time together is short.
“We bring them into our lives knowing full well the joy will never last,” Crowley said. “The hurt we suffer when they go is some times unbearable, but we do it anyway.”
Pre-orders for the book have been surprisingly strong, Crowley said. He said copies can be obtained online by going to pheasantdogsbook.com, where you can read excerpts and view photos, or there’s another source.
Crowley said the publisher and he are donating one free signed copy of the book (value $59.95) to each of some 400 chapters of Pheasants Forever nationwide as a fundraiser for the chapters’ local conservation projects.
“If we can turn it into dollars for habitat, … job done,” Crowley said.
Crowley, his wife, Annette, and bird dogs live on the Eau Claire Lakes chain in northwest Wisconsin, the region made famous by iconic outdoor writer Gordon MacQuarrie. It was in this setting that Crowley, a freelance writer, authored the widely-acclaimed “Gordon MacQuarrie: The Story of an Old Duck Hunter” (2003) and “Wildlife in the Badlands” (2015) and was a contributing writer for “A Passion for Grouse” (2013). His articles and photos have appeared in such varied publications as the London Times, the Wall Street Journal, Paris Match, Field and Stream, Sports Afield and Petersen’s Hunting and his images can be viewed at CrowleyImages.com
While promoting the book and bagging ideas for others on duck and grouse dogs and their owners, Crowley said this coming season he plans to resume his hunting ways, pledging, for him: “There will always be another dog as long as I have a say in the matter.”