Written By: Ed McCoy, The Preserve at Crooked Run
Orvis is a proud partner of select wingshooting lodges and outfitters across the country who share our passion for celebrating the adventure and wonder of nature. We created this series to highlight outstanding individuals who work hard to deliver the high-quality wingshooting experiences that clients have come to expect from Orvis-endorsed operations.
My family inherited a mountain farm in western Virginia when I was in fifth grade, and from then on, I wanted to spend as much time up there as I could. Grouse were plentiful, and my two brothers and I spent countless hours hunting, camping, and hiking in that outdoor mecca, which bordered 30,000 acres of public land. By the time I was a junior in college, grouse hunting had become my passion, and my trusty setter Dutchess and I–armed with a 20 gauge SKB/Ithaca model 100 side-by-side that I acquired in 1975–chased them all over the region, from southeast Virginia up to the Canaan Valley in West Virginia, and all along the Maryland line.
Dad had gotten the family a setter just before we moved up to the farm, and Dixie became the foundation for the small kennel of Ryman-line setters he started raising there. Rymans are bred as close working grouse dogs. They keep a steady pace (I call them “plodders” because of the way mine cover ground), have great instincts, strong prey drive, good noses, and are easy to train. They also make great family dogs–even lap dogs if you let them–able to go from lounging on the couch to full-on hunting mode in the blink of an eye. The camaraderie that develops between a hunter and his bird dog is difficult to explain, but it’s hands-down my favorite thing about wingshooting.
One particularly memorable day, I was helping a friend from work train his year-old Ryman setter, Duke, behind his curmudgeonly old setter, Bandit. It was their first time out together, and it didn’t take long for Bandit to find the first grouse of the day. Duke was giving him the honor the old dog deserved, but then Duke made the mistake of going for the retrieve. Bandit lit into the young dog with a determination that my friend and I feared would have Duke blinking on retrieves in the future. Retrieves were Bandit’s job, and no youngster was going to deprive him of the enjoyment! The next find came quickly, only this time, to both our surprise, Bandit honored the young dog, and we saw the opportunity to give Duke a chance to retrieve. It worked, but Bandit was scowling at me the whole time, and that old dog ended up holding a grudge against me until his final day several years later. But that’s a story for another time.
Ed McCoy is an instructor at The Preserve at Crooked Run in Fincastle, VA.