I looked up, and Bud was pointing over my shoulder at a painting on the wall. "Her name was Bandy, an English Setter. She was whelped in 1972. She looks ready to spring, but she wouldn't move unless or until she was told to do so. She would restrain herself, just like a coiled spring ready to go. She knew when it was time to play and when it was time to be serious. Sometimes when she was on-point, she'd look at you and try to get you to see the bird. But, she wouldn't move her head, because it was her duty to stand perfectly still. Only her eyeballs would move."
Bud continued. "The state was very supportive of hunting back then. They raised beautiful mature flying birds, pheasants, out at Three Rivers. Hunters would come here from all over the world and just marvel over the quality of the birds. They liked the grounds, and the birds were a real test of the championship dog. That's why it became the World Pheasant Dog Capital. But over time, there were fewer and fewer pheasants because the state of farming had changed." As a result, three of these field trial championships eventually left Three Rivers for greener pastures.
My next stop was at the field office of the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area on Sixty Road. Gary Pratt, senior wildlife biologist was waiting for me. As a light snow fell, Gary and I watched two pheasants outside huddle near my car in a futile attempt to stay warm and dry. "All the birds here are now farm-raised and stocked."
I asked Gary why the pheasant dog championships left town. "Agricultural practices changed in the 1970s. Early mowing for hay affected the grassland nesting birds, the ones who nest out in the open fields, primarily pheasants. We delay our mowing until July out here just for that reason. Much of the pheasants' decline is due to loss of their natural habitat. Other birds nest again once their original nest is destroyed, but the pheasants are late nesters. They typically don't nest until late May or early June, which is now well after the first mowing of spring hay. Farmers weren't getting their best hay until too late in the season, so they moved it up. It was just a matter of science catching up with the times."