This book chronicles the series of adventures I shared with my two English setters, Jacy and Ranger, across approximately seven seasons, while we searched for a North American upland game bird grand slam. Jacy and I began this adventure alone; Ranger joined us in 2001.
Our travels took us as far east as Newfoundland, as far west as California and Oregon; and the three of us covered nearly 250,000 miles during our quest, most of it via automobile, with airplanes, ship or the occasional helicopter travel thrown in when necessary.
Upon arriving at many of our destinations, people would often ask me, "Why did you and the dogs drive all the way here from New York City?"
My response was always the same, "We came here to hunt birds."
That truly was how I felt at the time-and to a certain extent this still holds true today, because at the core of it all I am a hunter who loves the chase.
However, the more I reflect on my trips, the more I believe the real reason I drove all those miles was to reap experiences, so they might be enjoyed like a fine wine many years later. Certainly, a collection of priceless long-term memories will last a lot longer than the points, shots and retrieves made or witnessed along the way.
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If you are looking for a "how-to" book, one that tells a reader who to hunt with, where to go and what equipment to use, this book is not for you.
I wrote this book to share a story-a good, old-fashioned adventure tale about some bird dogs, hunting and the life led while living a dream to complete my version of a "grand slam" on North America's upland birds. It was never my intent to use these pages as a platform to promote or critique guides, outfitters, hunting locations, equipment, or any other commercial enterprises. So, as you read this, please know that I have chosen to fictionalize many of the characters in this book and to change certain locations, settings and events. I did this because the technique allowed me to tell a better story; and it respected some personal privacy, preserved the sanctity of the places I had the privilege to visit.
You need to know that in developing any fictional characters, I used two things-knowledge gleaned from my travels and a vivid imagination-to create "representative figures," people who are as authentic and unique as I might craft them. (Any resemblance my fictional characters bear to actual people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.) The location, setting and event changes I made were subtle, and in most cases do not alter what actually happened.
Fictionalizing some things in no way compromises the integrity of the overall experiences Jacy, Ranger and I had along our "grand slam" trail: Our quest to find those birds is the real story here, and the dogs found all the birds referenced on the respective dates and locations listed in the Appendix tables.
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Adventure, says the tattered American College Dictionary that perches on the shelf above the computer in my home office, is "an undertaking of uncertain outcome." In other words, an adventure is really just a metaphor for life.
My life has certainly been a series of adventures-transitions from the world I grew up in, small-town, blue collar Geneva, New York; to my current world, living with my wife Christine and three English setters in New York City. Each of my life's adventures, whether it involved a long distance triathlon, a startup business or a bird hunting trip to a remote area, provided fuel for my mind and soul; and, in large part, helped shape me into the man I am today-for better or worse.
I must say though that none of my adventures has been more fun or gratifying than the simple one involved in letting a dog out of the back of my truck to join me in the search for upland birds. To me, a day in the field with a bird dog is the most special of adventures because it gives a grown man an excuse to feel and act like a kid again, when every moment was an "undertaking of uncertain outcome."
For the record, I did not knowingly set out on this ambitious "grand slam" quest.
During the fall of 1997, I began researching various English setter breeders because I simply wanted a dog, one who could accompany me on the weekend trips where I could exchange New York City's concrete for the popple of grouse and woodcock covers in New York's Hudson River Valley, Pennsylvania's Delaware Water Gap or Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. At the time, I had been living and working in New York City for more than a decade, and simply wanted to get out of the city to hunt, fish and relax a bit. Ever since coming to New York City to work on Wall Street in 1987, I had my sights set on getting an English setter just like my beloved Lady.
Lady was an orange and white English setter from my childhood. She had a very big influence on shaping my interests as a boy and, along with my Dad, helped nurture my love of dogs and bird hunting. Lady and I spent countless hours together, roaming the Finger Lakes region's cornfields, woodlots and swamps to search for pheasants, grouse and woodcock. Her statuesque points always mesmerized me-her high, proud head; her angled, well-feathered tail, a guidon riding the breeze.
Unfortunately, my outdoor pursuits had to take a back seat to my career once I moved to the Big Apple in 1987. I knew it would take hard work and a few years before I could have the free time necessary to devote to the care of a dog, especially an energetic English setter who would need attention and plenty of exercise. I knew what I was getting into when I joined a Wall Street investment banking firm. I accepted it for what it was-a good job, not a perfect one. Eventually, my time would come. Hopefully, when it did, my hard work would pay off, and the work vs. play seesaw would tilt more in favor of play.
Time passed very quickly-especially while I put in 80- to 100-hour work weeks as an associate and vice president. It took a decade in the mergers and acquisitions trenches, but in 1997, I was elected a partner at the firm. Suddenly, I had a more "normal" schedule, and time to properly care for a dog…an English setter, just like Lady, I hoped.
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Christine and I picked up Jacy, our first English setter puppy, in June of 1998, from Dan Catalano at Bayview Setters in Lagrangeville, New York.
As soon as I held Jacy, got that first whiff of her "puppy breath," I knew it had been far too long between dogs. As our Jeep pulled away from Dan's driveway, a flood of "big plans" for the little tri-color setter shaking in Christine's lap came to mind: Jacy and I might roam far and wide in search of birds; places I only dreamed about, when I was a kid, with Lady.
My expectations for the second coming of Lady were quickly "adjusted" during Jacy's first 24 hours with us. While Lady had been calm and loved the company of people, Jacy was frenetic and very independent. For example, Christine and I "lost" Jacy for an hour on the first morning she was with us, until we discovered her sleeping by herself under the stove. Where Lady was always an angel, Jacy wore a black bandit's mask and from the beginning marched to the beat of her own drum.
Today, I can say that Jacy has produced more birds for me than any other dog I have ever seen; yet she bumped, chased and barked at more birds in her first three years than she pointed. This was a rude re-introduction to the world of bird dogs; yet I was in for a penny, in for pound. Between 1997 and the fall of 2001, I orchestrated a career change that would give me more free time, and decided to get another Bayview English setter. Ranger, like his aunt, Jacy, was a tri-color. He joined us during the summer of 2001. Suddenly, Christine and I had two English setters living with us in our Manhattan apartment. My increased free time meant that fall bird hunting trips would be longer and more frequent-a welcome break from the limits of a 15-year investment banking career.
Actually, it was in 2002, a year after leaving investment banking, when this whole grand slam idea snuck up on me. A book-illustrator-author David Allen Sibley's desktop bird reference, The Sibley Guide to Birds-sparked the idea. I'd purchased a copy to help Christine and I identify the birds visiting the feeder at our Dutchess County weekend home. Never did I suspect this book would influence the next three years of my life.
Sibley listed 22 species in his description of North America's upland game birds. If the American woodcock, which Sibley classifies as a shore bird, is included, that number jumps to 23. All but one-the Gunnison sage grouse, since 2000, a federal Endangered Species Act candidate, with hunting suspended indefinitely-was legal game. Two of Sibley's game birds, the wild turkey and chachalaca, were typically hunted by calling, stalking or ambushing, not with pointing dogs. This, to me, defined a total of 20 upland game birds that could be legally pursued with a pointing dog in North America: ruffed grouse, blue grouse, spruce grouse, greater prairie chickens, lesser prairie chickens, greater sage grouse, sharptailed grouse, three ptarmigans (rock, white-tailed and willow), ringneck pheasants, Northern bobwhite quail, scaled quail, Montezuma "Mearns" quail, mountain quail, California "valley" quail, Gambel's quail, chukar partridge, gray "Hungarian" partridge and the American woodcock.
I put Sibley's book down, reflected a bit, and realized Jacy, Ranger and I had already been successful on half of Sibley's 20 species-American woodcock, greater prairie chicken, sharptailed grouse, Northern bobwhite quail, blue grouse, chukar partridge, greater sage grouse, gray "Hungarian" partridge, spruce grouse and ruffed grouse. How much fun could we have looking for the other 10 birds on Sibley's list? The idea of hunting new species in distant locales was intriguing.
I've always been goal-oriented, even in my hobbies; not in the sense of keeping a list of "100 things to do before I die," but more from the standpoint of total immersion into the goal, putting in 110 percent, in order to get the most out of the experience. My previous "hobby" goals involved learning how to fish for tarpon with a fly rod and competing in Ironman triathlons. Yet these were really excuses to learn more about a specific interest, to travel to far-off places and meet interesting people. By 2002, I was looking for a new goal to pursue. I'd stopped competing in triathlons and running marathons because running was putting too much stress on my knees. I had two knee operations in less than six months during 2001 and that was not something I wanted to repeat in 2002!
My motivation for completing a grand slam then was simple: I wanted to do it for my own pleasure; I wanted to have a good time with my dogs. Part of the fun for me was having a goal to reach for, so a list of birds became my focus.
Early during 2002, I decided to "formalize" my quest: I would seek to bag all 20 species of North American upland game birds traditionally hunted with pointing dogs-ruffed grouse, blue grouse, spruce grouse, greater prairie chickens, lesser prairie chickens, greater sage grouse, sharptailed grouse, the three ptarmigans (rock, white-tailed and willow), ringneck pheasant, Northern bobwhite quail, scaled quail, Montezuma "Mearns" quail, mountain quail, California "valley" quail, Gambel's quail, chukar partridge, gray "Hungarian" partridge and the American woodcock-to call my slam accomplished.
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Each part of my journey towards the grand slam-from the planning, to the cross country drives, to walking into a high-tailed point-was an incredibly rewarding experience. The dogs and I got to meet people and see places along the way that I couldn't have conjured in my wildest of dreams. The fact that we were successful in achieving our grand slam was merely icing on the cake. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of our accomplishment; but what made it most rewarding for me was the fact that Jacy, Ranger and I all happen to be full-time residents of this country's largest city, and this presented a new set of issues to deal with as a bird dog owner.
Many friends, colleagues and family members told me I was crazy when I mentioned that I was getting an English setter during 1998. To most people, high-energy pointing dogs and New York City seemed to be incompatible. Yet the last nine years have shown me that a bird dogs' instincts are the same whether they are kenneled in Thomasville, Georgia or living in an Upper East Side Manhattan apartment. Hundreds of years of breeding cannot be erased living among skyscrapers and shrieking car alarms.
Truth be told, just living with gun dogs in New York City has its share of interesting daily adventures: Few outside the city realize, for example, that even housebreaking a puppy can be a challenge-especially when you're on the 9th floor and you need to get to street level to let Pup out, now. I certainly hadn't thought that one out before that sunny June day in of 1998, when Jacy came home. Or what about hollering "Ranger, No bird!" at the top of your lungs after your dog has jumped into a Central Park pond to retrieve a 6-year-old boy's remote-controlled tugboat. Mom, meanwhile, was looking on in disgust, asking what she did to deserve this intrusion on her otherwise peaceful Mother's Day afternoon.
Kidding aside, city dog services are mind-boggling: We never had dog walkers, groomers or pet sitters in my Geneva, New York home town; but then Geneva didn't have 1.4 million canine residents, either. This number (from a recent New York Times op-ed piece) even surprised me, and I've lived in New York for 20 years. Think about this for a minute… unless you live in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia or Phoenix, there are more dogs living in New York City than people living in your town.
In addition to dogs, wild birds are aplenty-a huge pigeon population-in New York. This is both good and bad: Good because my dogs get to work wild birds every day as they go on their four times a day walk around town to attend to their "business." The bad news is that the dogs point and hold every pigeon; you either have to flush the bird or wait until it flies away before you can move on with your walk. Many of my Upper East neighbors admire the dogs and enjoy seeing them point birds in the middle of Park Avenue, but believe me the novelty wears off pretty quickly for me when a planned 15 minute walk turns into a 30 minute Mexican standoff because a flock of rock doves won't flush quickly! Or how about trying to explain to a person on the street that your dog is not trying to stalk and kill pigeons, just point them?
Pigeon standoffs aside, I feel very lucky to have lived in New York City for the past 20 years. It is special, a unique place offering a cornucopia of activities for any interest. You name it and you'll find it New York-with the possible exception of peace and quiet.
I've been able to get my "peace and quiet" fix through my frequent sporting travels, though. I will always be eternally grateful and appreciative of having had the opportunity to hunt all of these wonderful birds in the glorious places they call home with my two faithful and loyal setters at my side: Jacy, I thank you for being with me during every step of our adventure. I love your drive, intensity and focus. Ranger, no dog has ever done it better. You are a good boy!
I also am fortunate to have relationships with some very special people who were instrumental in this book coming together. These people include my wonderful wife and best friend Christine. She has always understood my dreams and given me the freedom and support to pursue them; my Mom, Lorenza "Whit" Augustine, who, through stressing the importance of discipline, education, professionalism and mental toughness, taught me how to accomplish goals in life; my Dad, Joseph "Big Joe" Augustine, who, in addition to being the best father anyone could ever hope for, exposed me to wing shooting and bird dogs as a youngster, thus setting the stage for two interests that have provided me with an incredible amount of joy in my life; my good friend Dan Catalano who was always willing to share his knowledge of dogs and lifetime of bird hunting experience with me; my publisher and editor John Taylor who believed in me and my story and was instrumental in making this book happen; and all the guides-you know who you are-who helped along the way. My life has been made full by all of your presence, and I thank you for being a part of this story.
I hope you have as much fun reading about the adventures of Jacy, Ranger and I shared as we did experiencing them. Maybe, just maybe, this book will inspire you to plan a trip outside your comfort zone and embark on your own adventure. I promise you will cherish the memories for the rest of your life. Jacy, Ranger and I do....
Joseph A. Augustine
New York City
| ---- CONTENTS ----
|Growing Up in the Lake Trout Capital of the World
|Big Apple Bound And Determined
|An English Lass Settles Into Upper East Side Manhattan
|A Rebellious Youngster Comes of Age on the Prairie
|The Terrible Twos And A Pair of Expensive Spanish Shoes
|Mr. Big Pants Arrives On The Scene
|Seasonal Guests And A Backyard Bird Feeder
|From "The Rock" To The Land Of Enchantment
|Go West And Climb High Young Man
|A Cheeseburger to Remember
|A-Jacy's Bird List
|B-Ranger's Bird List