The most important thing a man has to learn when he gets his first hunting dog is how to say the word "here" Southern macho style.
It starts deep in the diaphragm and works up through the sinuses, erupting in a nasal bellow that only vaguely reflects the original word.
"Candy!" shouts the hunter. "Hunt in Hnnyeahhh!"
The polite people of Wesley Heights who take their weekend constitutionals in the glades of Battery-Kemble Park should be familiar with that guttural exclamation before long.
Ruff Fant, tax lawyer and pillar of this quiet community off Foxhall Road, has him a hunting dog.
She's Gakenheimer's Just a Patty, a fancy name for a little Brittany spaniel who comes from a line of bird dogs respected for their noses and ebullient hunting natures.
Fant calls her plain-old Patty. She was a Christmas gift from his wife Barbara, and it is one of those gifts that absolutely cannot be soon neglected.
Every male should get to be a happy boy one in his life when he gets his first dog. Some go around a second time, the way Fant is doing now, when they get their first hunting dog. Fant at 39 is a boy again with a brand-new living, breathing toy.
"This," he says with great cheer, pointing at Patty, "could be the start of a dynasty."
The peculiar affection a man grows to hold for his hunting dog has been marveled at for generations here and longer still in Europe, where bird dogs originated.
But there is a particularly special bond that grows between a city man and his bird dog.
Luther Carter, who lives around the corner from Fant, shares his home with a wife, two daughters and Peggy, a 14-year-old English setter whose hunting days are long past. "She's retired," Carter says.
And has been retired for quite some years. Yet all you have to do is mention "quail" or "point" or "flush" and Carter explodes in a litany of the achievements of Peggy and her predecessors. He got his first bird dog in 1958; successes achieved two decades ago, when on one day four birds were flushed, four were shot and four retrieved, are as vivid in Carter's mind as if they happened last weekend.
The aged Peggy keeps those memories churning.
Patty, down the street, has all that ahead of her. She's only six months old and Fant is just starting to break her. "The first thing she needs to learn is 'whoa,' he said. "Watch this."
He sprung the latch on the chainlink outdoor run that Patty calls home and let her out into the yard. "Point the Jungle Gym Patty," Fant urged. The dog raced out and did just that, locking in mid-stride, her nose quivering toward the monkey bars. It was an inexplicable feat until Fant reached up high and pulled down from the bars the real source of the dog's interest -- a quail wing tied on a string attached to a fishing rod.
"Now watch this," he said. He danced the quail wing out into the middle of the yard and swirled it overhead.
The dog did a merry dance, keeping her nose locked wherever the wing was until Fant finally gave in and let it drop to the ground. Patty advanced stealthily until she was two feet from the wing.
"Whoa," said Fant. And Patty stopped on perfect point, her nose barely twitching, her short bobbed tail straight out behind her, eyes staring feverishly at the bird wings.
"Good girl," her master purred.
Dean McDowell of Nokesville, Va., has trained many Brittanies over the years and swears by the little dogs. Brittanies, the only pointing spaniels, were developed in rural France by poachers, he said. The crooks needed small, unobtrusive dogs that would stay close by their master's side while he skulked around some rich baron's land.
When the Brittany spotted a game bird it was trained to hold completely still, pointing the quarry. The poacher could then sneak up alongside and toss a net over the bird, capturing his game without giving himself away with loud shots.
The Brittany is growing in popularity in the Eastern United States for other reasons. Because it stays close to the hunter it is well suited to smaller, brushy areas that are common to bird hunting in the mid-Atlantic region.
"And," Fant conceded, "I'm not getting any younger. I can stand a close-working dog."
At six months, Patty is just beginning to get the hang of what she was bred to do. In her workout at Battery-Kemble Park she raced out in front of Fant, furiously quartering the ground ahead and looking for game birds, which of course haven't existed there in a long, long time. She did manage to point one chirping songbird and a Mercedes-Benz and get in a good-natured scuffle with some house dogs.
She didn't pay too much attention to her master's voice commands, but she showed a snap and verve and seemed tireless. These are the important attributes in a young dog. The finer points will come later. It'll be almost a year before she's called onto go afield with real purpose.
And sometime next hunting season, or maybe not until the following year, she'll be barrelling lickety-split down some farm road near the woods. She'll scent game and her legs will lock. No living thing stops quicker than a bird dog. She'll point a covey of quail, stock still, until Fant walks up behind, flushes them and if he does his part, brings one down.
Patty will charge off into the deep woods, find the bird and bring it to her master.
That moment will be the only compensation Fant ever needs.
So much for newcomers to bird-dogging. March marks the beginning of the season for competitive hunting dog fanciers -- the field trial people.
On the weekend of March 7 the Northern Virginia Field Trial Club holds its first meet of the season at Chester Phelps Wildlife Management Area in Summerduck, Va.
For three straight days starting at 7:30 a.m. dog breeders and owners will work highly trained setters, pointers and Brittanies in competition with each other.
the trials are open to the public free of charge. It is said to be quite a scene, with dogs charging around and owners and judges overseeing from horseback.
The fields are on State Rte. 651 near Remington, about an hour's drive from Washington.
Then on March 28-30 the National Capital Field Trial Club stages its big season-opening meet at the Rosaryville state lands near Upper Marlboro in suburban Maryland. It, too, is open to the public at no charge.