For many hunters, canine companions form the most important part of the sporting experience. They add immeasurably to many types of hunting experiences through locating and retrieving game in a fashion humans cannot come close to matching. They point, chase, drive, flush, tree, and scatter game in an incredible variety of ways, all of which assist the hunter through providing more opportunities. As an added benefit, dogs exude sheer joy, and from the training of a rollicking pup to observing a veteran work its wizardry, they bring us joy as well. They are the only creature blessed to be able to worship their god in person, and as their masters, we are in return blessed in a most meaningful and magical fashion.
Anyone who has been fortunate enough to have a “dog of a lifetime”; to be an integral part of the training which sees a rollick, bumbling pup become a staunch hunter; or simply knows through experience the wonders hunting dogs can work realizes they have been in the presence of something approaching magic. Not surprisingly, literary tributes to great or memorable dogs, whether they were masterful in the field or merely treasured pets, abound. Hundreds of books and untold thousands of stories have been written about such dogs, and most any collection of upland bird hunting or waterfowling tales will likely include a solid selection of “doggy” literature.
I was initially tempted to entitle this piece the “Ten Greatest Dog Books,” but I soon realized it would be overly presumptuous and arbitrary to use the description “greatest.” Also, I summarily rejected any and all books devoted primarily to dog training. Serious readers and lover of dogs are likely to have one or two personal favorites not included here, and chances are pretty darn good they could make a solid case for their inclusion. Accordingly, the list which follows simply covers ten personal favorites—some fiction and others non-fiction, some dealing with hunting dogs and others simply with dogs. Take as a whole, though, I’m perfectly confident that anyone who reads all the books on this list will be opening a doorway to many a delightful hour of armchair adventure.
1. Havilah Babcock, The Education of Pretty Boy. This is the only full-length sporting book by the acknowledged poet laureate of the bobwhite (all his other outdoor-related works are collections of stories). Babcock knew his bird dogs and wrote like a dream. This work is a pure delight for the upland game hunter.
2. Farley Mowat, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. This non-fictional work by the great Canadian writer whose books include People of the Deer, A Whale for the Killing, and Never Cry Wolf deals with a family dog, a mutt named “Mutt,” from the author’s youth on the prairies. If you don’t laugh repeatedly as you read it, your funny bone is out of whack.
3. McKinley Kantor, The Voice of Bugle Ann. Best known for his Civil War novels, one of which, Andersonville, garnered him a Pulitzer Prize, Kantor here gives us a gripping fictional work combining murder, believable rural life in Missouri, and a fox hound for the ages.
4. Percy Fitzpatrick, Jock of the Bushveld. Unlike most of the books covered here, this one is non-fiction based on a working bull terrier in South Africa during the late 19th century. It is a classic that deserves wider recognition outside of Britain and South Africa.
5. John Taintor Foote, Pocono Shot. Foote wrote numerous fine pieces about hunting dogs—some of them feature length, others short stories, and, in this case, a full-length novel. He had a real way of tugging at human emotions. This short novel initially appeared on its own and later in an edited collection by the author’s son, Timothy Foote, in Dumb-Bell of Brookfield, Pocono Shot and Other Great Dog Stories.
6. Corey Ford, Every Dog Should Have a Man. I’m cheating a bit here because this is so short a work as to be questionable for the description “book” (although it appeared in book form). Still, when it comes to emotional writing about dogs, the author of “Just a Dog” and “The Road to Tinkhamtown” cannot be overlooked. Maybe the best way to savor this genius, whether writing on dogs, The Lower Forty, or other subjects, is in The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury or Uncle Perk’s Jug.
7. Mike Gaddis, Jenny Willow. Dogs often fill voids in human hearts, and that role is the underlying premise of this powerful and poignant book from a talented writer who has been part of the Sporting Classics team for many years. Gaddis is also the author of a first-rate work on nonfiction on dogs, Zip Zap.
8. Fred Gipson, Old Yeller. Maybe the best known of all dog books, thanks at least in part to the success of the Disney movie based on the book, this was written for a youthful audience but became immensely popular with adult readers. Gipson also wrote another fine dog book, Hound Dog Man.
9. Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows. Although intended for a juvenile audience like Gipson’s Old Yeller, this timeless tale of a boy coming of age while training two redbone ‘coon hounds forms attractive literary fare for readers of all ages.
10. Jack London, Call of the Wild and White Fang. Although a bit out of the mainstream inasmuch as the first book involves a dog which increasingly reverts to its primal instincts and the second features a wolfdog, no serious list of books dealing with dogs can overlook one of America’s great literary talents.
There are other potential candidates without number. Among them would be John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Archibald Rutledge’s Bolio and Other Dogs (I didn’t include it solely because it is a collection of dog stories rather than a single work), Charles Fergus’ A Rough Shooting Dog, Gavriil Troyepolsky’s little-known Breem, John Rucker’s The Barney Years, Ray Holland’s The Master, and Mel Ellis’ Run, Rainey, Run.
Jim Casada is editor-at-large for Sporting Classics and a lifelong lover of sporting literature. To check out his own books, extensive lists of works on various aspects of the sporting life, or to sign up for his free monthly e-newsletter, visit jimcasadaoutdoors.com.