"WHAT IS IT THAT CONFERS THE NOBLEST DELIGHT? What is that which swells a man's breast with great pride above which any other experience can bring him? Discovery! To know that you are walking where none others have walked; that you are beholding in the human eye has not been seen before; that you are breathing a virgin atmosphere. To give birth to an idea, to a discovery of great thought-an intellectual nugget, right under the dust of a field that many a brain-plough had gone over before. To find a new planet, to invent a new hinge, to find a way to make the lightnings carry your messages. To be the first-that is the idea...." There are books so alive that you're always afraid that while you weren't reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away. No one has stepped twice into the same river. But did anyone ever step twice into the same book?

The Innocents Abroad (1869)

About our Name...
The king of upland game birds, the ruffed grouse, wears the scientific name Bonasa umbellus.
     Bonasa means "like a bison," and refers to the bird's drumming mating call sounding like a thundering herd of buffalo. Umbellus describes the umbrella-like Elizabethan ruff of black feathers around the bird's neck....

A Gentleman's Shooting Dog...Evolution of The Legendary Ryman Setter
By John D. Taylor • Dann Jacobus Illustrations


From the Introduction


It seems appropriate to be writing this book on the eve of another  gunning season. Dreams of prairie grouse, Appalachian ruffs, wood- cock, pheasants and mid-winter Alabama quail lie before us; the long (and wet) spring and summer’s wait behind us now. Both dogs and I are ready to go, impatient for the work to be done, the time to be right, the creation of “time enough to go” to begin. Autumn is our time of year, our season.

Evan, the 2002 product of DeCoverly’s Blue Major and DeCoverly’s Over Easy, lies, paws twitching, to my right, dreaming. I’d like to believe he dreams of birds past, perhaps last autumn’s Minnesota grouse, his first; or of his first Alabama quail covey. Yet being a teenager, he’s probably thinking of girls, perhaps that neatly-coiffed French poodle he saw at the Vintage Cup in Sandanona this year.

Shana, the 1999 daughter of DeCoverly’s Red Brother and Steve’s Deputy Melissa, eyes the apple core that she insists is hers. I ate the apple quietly in mid-afternoon, trying to avoid alerting her; but she is a master of selective hearing—ignoring vulgar entreaties to move from the sofa, so there is a spot for Nancy or me; yet hearing the very thought of a bone from the same couch, she rises to investigate this, despite a blaring television, dinner’s pots and pans clanging. Shana whines for the core, sitting on my left, drool spooling at the base of her flews.

As a result of their sprawling locations, I am stuck between my brace of English setters. It’s not a bad place to be, although they impede the desk chair’s fluid movement, create an obstacle to completing the mission, the thing that will finally free us to begin making our “time enough to go.”

While some gunning men might rouse their dogs, git them out of the way; I’ve been wading through setters for the last 17 years, since 1987, when Nash, the son of DeCoverly’s Miss Bliss and DeCoverly’s October Joy, came home on an ill-omened Friday in March. It has become second nature.

It’s hard to believe that 17 years—6,205 sunrises and sunsets—have passed since Nash came home. Thinking about this, I remember good moments: a Dry Spell grouse we took with just a couple of hours to gun, the photo from this becoming how I choose to remember him; middle-aged Nash pointing grouse under the apple tree in the aspen-covered Potter County, Pennsylvania covert that still bears his name; him lying on the floor before the sofa in Felton, paws crossed, brown eyes cast up to me in an adoration that went both ways. Some dark days come back as well: the long weekend where I thought I’d lose him, his last days in the York house, when his pride covered for his failing body; that crisp November morning, perfect for gunning, under the York house maple tree, waiting for Dr. Schimdt to come and ease Nash’s burden. That was 1998, seven years ago, and so much has happened since.

Shana’s history is clearer. A bundle of white puppy stalking robins and butterflies on the Penn State University, York campus, grounds; her “flying buttress” rebounds off an overstuffed chair and ottoman in the long York house; a well-chewed stair tread; my mistakes in knowing how to deal with her “terrible twos,” South Dakota coulee sharptails and her coming of age in Minnesota’s grouse woods; that horrid little gum tumor that appeared in the winter of 2003; the sleep-late bum of her middle age tempered by the absolute professionalism of her ability to handle anything I throw at her, from Oregon blue grouse to Alabama bobwhites.

Evan’s is the world of the now, the existence of sharp, new memories in those 6,205 days. The gangly puppy coaxing Shana into tug of wars with a knotted old dish towel; the careful stalk of a grouse wing spurred to action by a fly rod; that first pigeon, a Birmingham roller, a companion to the new (to me) English shotgun I’d bought to accompany a new dog; the image of Evan’s taut Osthaus stance on the first Minnesota grouse rising up beside the spruce, falling at the crack of the gun; composure despite the dozen odd little quail that roar into a buzz of confusions in an Alabama morning.

During one of the many three-hour trips north to Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania to visit with DeCoverly Kennels owner Ken Alexander during the process of Evan’s homecoming, I expressed to him my gratitude for some small thing he did, which he shrugged off as all part of the program. This lead to a larger thought about how I might truly express my thankfulness for 17 years of joy associated with dogs I called my own, but which were really ours, Ken’s, Nash’s, Shana’s and Evan’s and mine, and a statement, “How do I thank you for 17 years of joy….” Ken, being Ken, more or less shrugged this one off too, all part of the program.

All of those days—I hope I used most well, I hope I honored the dogs in my life with most of them. And I hope this book will convey some small form of return for the absolute joy these three very fine DeCoverly kennels English setters have brought into my life during the last 6,205 days. In many respects, one literal, I owe life to them; they were my steadfast raison d être in times of great turmoil, the emotion behind many of my actions, “The dogs need it more than I do, honest…” gunning adventure justification, the source of what makes my heart sing loudest.

So this book is for you, Nash, Shana, Evan, and especially Ken. As well as George Ryman, Ellen and Carl Calkins, Bill Sordoni, George and Kay Evans…for all of the lights that have circled the sphere of DeCoverly Kennels English setters.


z     z     z


So now that you know the why behind this book, what’s it all about?

This book is really a look at two parallel evolutionary paths: That of man, the hunter; and that of dogs, focusing specifically on a line of English setters.

The dog story was the easy part. Yet the making and the maintaining of the oldest line of English setters in North America—perhaps the world—was no easy task. Intertwined through this story line are the people, places and most certainly the love connected to these dogs, between the dogs and their people. At the root of what sets DeCoverly, before it Ryman, apart from other gun dog lines is how much love is associated with these dogs, how much they give, how much they receive, all of it quite willingly going both ways. This mutual love of dog and man is, in essence, the DeCoverly experience.

This is also the story of the odd combination of circumstances that brought dogs, people and the means to accomplish dreams together in northeastern Pennsylvania nearly a century ago now; how it all took root and has grown into the icon that DeCoverly has become in the English setter world.

While we’re telling this story in words, in photographs, in bloodlines, it’s really best seen in the four-legged creatures that dominate this tale.

The thing that makes it unique—what a skeptic could say makes it worth considering—is the length and breadth of the story, the influence of these dogs over all but a century’s time. Although DeCoverly Kennels officially began in 1977, when Ellen Ryman Calkins suggested that Ken Alexander start using the name DeCoverly to indicate a transition from the original Ryman Kennels—just as Sir Roger DeCoverly II, the fountainhead of the Ryman line, was transferred from Dr. Beck and M. I. Mangan, to George Ryman in 1916—this line of English setters really begins in 1907, with the first Sir Roger. As far as I have been able to discover, the Ryman line is the oldest continuing line of English setters in existence, perhaps even the oldest continuing gun dog line in existence. Robert Wehle’s Elhew English pointers, for example began in 1937, three decades after Ryman. And among larger English setter breeders, only Pete and Katie Flannigan’s Grouse Ridge Setters, at 50 years old, or Dan Catalana’s Bayview English setters, at nearly 40 years, come close.

Timelessness is a rare quality in a world bent on constant change, computer programs outdated by the time they hit store shelves, the eight-track versus the CD, cars that remember seat settings….Yet you can find it if you look—the fedora, Bean boots, side-by-sides, all created in the same time frame as George Ryman’s setters. You’ll experience a sense of timelessness walking into a DeCoverly setter point, get a sense that despite a state-of-the-art kennel, computer-aided genetic breeding programs, the most advanced hip and hearing tests, that George Ryman would recognize his dogs, be very proud of the stewardship that has taken them in a circular path from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to the tiny Pocono Mountains town of Shohola Falls, Pennsylvania, and back again to the Endless Mountains just north of Wilkes-Barre.

The story of man, the hunter, was the more difficult part of this story. The basic history of man’s hunting techniques and tools evolving from herding hairy critters into a waiting tribe of sharp sticks—mastodon magnums—to falcons, the flintlock, and an array of previous century armaments was easy enough to discover, to gather; yet coming to an understanding of how man, the hunter perceives him- or herself—no longer a hungry gatherer, bent on survival, but a sportsman, more specifically a gentleman (or lady, the Fair Shot most certainly included in this), required a far deeper look within and without. Have we really evolved? What is it we seek when hunting? Why do we hunt? Define a gentleman (or gentle-lady)…. Searching for these answers kept me up at night. I found some, perhaps not yours; but maybe my answers will cause your own definition of sportsman and gentleperson to sharpen. Enlightenment….

It is these paths that we will be following across the coming pages—as well as looking ahead, seeing where DeCoverly Kennels English setters are headed during their next century; where the state of hunting and “gentlepersonship” might be bound.

Enjoy the ride. Our guides loop out ahead of us, in the sweet, fluid, figure-eight flow of English setters quartering, a blue belton, an orange girl, a tri-color boy, all shades of Sir Roger, the scion of the DeCoverly line.



Trade Edition Dustjacket



Table of Contents






Part I: Fountainheads

Chapter 1

A Natural History of Dogs

Chapter 2

A Natural History of Man The Hunter


Part II: Type

Chapter 3

Roots of the English Setter

Chapter 4

The Nature of the Gentleman


Part III: Strain

Chapter 5

 Across the Pond

Chapter 6

Modern Gentlemanship


Part IV: Line

Chapter 7

George Ryman’s Setters: The Early Years: 1907-1920s

Chapter 8

George Ryman’s Setters: Heyday: 1930s-1950s

Chapter 9

George Ryman’s Setters: The Calkins Era: 1963-1992

Chapter 10

DeCoverly Kennels: The Early Years, 1975-1992

Chapter 11

DeCoverly Kennels: Into the Future

Chapter 12

A Quest for Modern Gentlemanship


The Road  Ahead







Poem: Over Dog