Mike Chihuly brings readers hunting with him and his dog Crosson in his latest book, “Wings”: an all-in-one guide to hunting game birds with dogs in Alaska.
Chihuly, who is based in Ninilchik, arrived in Alaska in 1957 and has spent more than 60 years traversing the state. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he met his wife, Shirley, and holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in fisheries biology. Chihuly, who is now retired, has also worked as a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and fire chief.
The coffee-table book measures 9-by-11 inches and is filled with glossy photos and recollections of Chihuly’s more than 40 years of experience hunting Alaska game birds with dogs. The book is dedicated to Chihuly’s dog Covey, a spaniel with whom Chihuly hunted for 12 years and whose ashes were spread in a field near Delta Junction where Chihuly and Covey hunted together.
Over 18 chapters, most of which begin with memories, Chihuly analyzes the sport of game hunting with bird dogs and leaves no stone unturned. For every colorful anecdote, there’s a practical counterpart. An 11-step “how-to” on preparing waterfowl by waxing, for example, is sandwiched between Chihuly’s go-to recipes for “Honey Ginger Roast Duck” and “No-Fail Spruce Grouse and Ptarmigan.” Descriptions of bird dogs’ strict training regiment are softened with regalings of their mischievous and playful dispositions.
A common theme throughout the book is how much Chihuly loves his dogs. One chapter is dedicated entirely to exploring how different dog breeds are suited to hunt game birds. Golden retrievers, for example, are good flushing and water dogs. English springer spaniels, of which Chihuly has owned three, are the “smaller companion[s]” that “can do it all.”
In another chapter, Chihuly describes the more than 500-mile journey he and his wife took to Delta Junction from Ninilchik to pick out his English springer spaniel puppy Crosson, who is named after Alaska bush pilot Joe Crosson. Crosson, who has floppy ears and a chocolate-brown and white coloring, became an American Kennel Club Master Hunter under Chihuly’s tutelage and “was born with” an addiction to bird hunting.
The true art of hunting game birds with bird dogs, Chihuly makes clear, is seen in how hunters and their dogs work together. After a dog “flushes” a game bird into the air, they must sit in place until given the next command from their master, who attempts to shoot the bird once it is in the air. Only when given the command do dogs retrieve the bird. Crosson, Chihuly writes, has a “soft-mouth,” meaning he knows to not mangle a bird when he retrieves it, and can “retrieve to hand,” meaning he brings the bird directly to Chihuly’s hand.
“There is nothing more rewarding than spending quality time with your canine hunting partner,” Chihuly writes in chapter six. “You will mold and shape him for the better and you can bet he will do the same for you.”
Also clear through Chihuly’s writing is how active the game bird hunting community in Alaska is. Chihuly is a member of the Arctic Bird Dog Association, which was founded by a group of six women in 1990s in Anchorage and hosts a variety of bird dog club events such as Family Fun Days, dog and hunter competitions and seminars.
Many of the photos through the book feature Chihuly’s fellow game bird hunters and their dogs. Other photos feature sharp images of the birds Chihuly and his dogs hunt: spruce grouse, snipe, ptarmigans, sandhill cranes, ruffed grouse and even Chihuly’s very own white whale — a rare white spruce grouse he and his brother pursued and call “the white one.”
What is as vivid in Chihuly’s words as the photos that accompany them is his love for his dogs, for birds and for bird dog hunting, which he fondly refers to as “an addiction” in the book’s prologue.
“I beg your empathy for those so afflicted,” he writes.
“Wings” retails for $29.95 and can be purchased on Chihuly’s website at mikechihuly.com/ or in select book stores such as River City Books in Soldotna.