America's most popular sporting watercolorist, Chet Reneson grew up with gundogs and gamebirds on a small Connecticut farm where he made his own boats and decoys, and fashioned his own flyrods. At age nine he was painting scenes of deer and waterfowl, but in 1960, after graduating from the University of Hartford Art School where he specialized in figure studies, Chet turned to sporting scenes full time. Over the past thirty-eight years Chet and his wife, Penny, have gunned in Scotland, Mexico and much of North America, though duck hunting on the quiet saltwater marshes near his home remains his favorite. *in these compelling and evocative images, the renowned artist relives some of his most cherished moments afield, sharing his love for wild places that touch our hearts with their special beauty.
Duck Shooting on Assateague Island
The tidal marshes inside Virginia's barrier islands concentrations of wintering waterfowl, particularly black ducks pintails and geese. These bountiful wetlands were home to the early market gunners, and over the years I hunted with several of the seasoned old-timers and learned a lot about duck shooting from them. Even today the estuaries around
Assateague and Chincoteague islands are among the greatest waterfowling destinations, not just on the East Coast, but in all of North America.
This painting from the early'90s conveys much of what I treasure about these legendary marshes, the vast horizons and colorful sunsets, flocks of waterfowl swirling up in every direction, and a lone hunter and his retriever caught up in all this majesty.
Driven Grouse at Raeshaw
My one and only taste of driven grouse shooting came on the Glorious Twelfth of August, the traditional opening day of bird-hunting in Scotland.
Shooting driven grouse is an unforgettable experience. The birds roll out ahead of the beaters, then fly like hell across a spectacular landscape of green bracken and purple heather, all set against a blue sky and snow-white clouds - things I love to paint.
The grouse come downwind, sometimes as low-flying singles but occasionally in big flocks of forty or more. The shooting can be fast and furious as the birds stream past the butts, which are often situated on steep-angled hillsides which make the shooting even more difficult. If you don't have the luxury of a loader, you have to work fast: shoot, reload, pick out the next onrushing speck, and get on him before he streaks by your stand.
When the horns sound an end to the hunt, you'll gather for lunch right there on the moor, swapping your experiences from the morning's shoot as you gaze across an incredible sweep of rocks and hills and heather. Then after a glass of wine and all sorts of pate and salads, fruit and sandwiches, you'll walk back to the butts for another drive or two, followed by a superb dinner that evening. Those wealthy Europeans sure know how to have fun.
What I enjoyed most was the chance to paint bright, contrasty colors - strong viridian greens, dazzling purples and brilliant white clouds - quite a departure from the somber duck-hunting scenes back in the states.
Quail Shooting - Southern Georgia
America's answer to the driven shoots in Europe is quail hunting on the storied plantations of the Deep South. Here you'll find beautiful country, lots of romance, history, great dog-work and bobwhite quail, or "The Bird." Life in these piney woodlands moves at a slower, more relaxed pace, and they've always got plenty of Jack Daniels. The bird-shooting wagon, the mules and attendant handlers and shooters, together provide a wealth of subject matter for the sporting painter. And similar to Scotland each day of bird-hunting ends with a delicious dinner, in the South, a drink or two, oysters on the half-shell, a platter of fried quail, and all that wonderful southern hospitality that goes along with it.
Casey is one of my three English setters. Now eight years old, she's my companion and partner, and we're inseparable. In this painting we're just taking it easy in a pretty spot, an old orchard in northern Maine. I tell Casey a lot about me, what a great shot I am, and what a great fisherman painter and husband I am. She always agrees. She's the only female that I've ever known like that.
New England Grouse
Partridge shooting in New England defines the word "classic." The picturesque countryside is steeped in hunting tradition, replete with handsome double guns and hardworking gundogs.
The ruffed grouse in this painting has probably made a bad choice in its escape route, though silhouetting his form against the sky - and particularly just above an old splitrail fence - certainly helped to bring the overall composition on target. Avid grouse hunters know that only rarely can you get such a wide-open shot; more often, the canny birds roar up through some of the meanest, densest tangles on the planet.
Over a three-week period each fall, my wife, Penny, and I traipse the old orchards and sprawling hardwood forests of Maine and New Brunswick, following our setters' keen noses. There's something very pleasant, very enduring in watching an eager bird dog bound and weave through a grouse woods. No phones, no cares, and no posted property, just mile after scenic mile of what much of the north country looked like fifty years ago.
This is an older painting of Tiffany Farm about two miles from our home. It's one of those late-autumn days, just after a rain has filled the furrows between corn rows. The geese know they can find plenty of food and water in one place, and they glide straight in to the decoys.
I'm not much on shooting geese anymore, but my son, Aaron, and Dave Tiffany still hunt on the farm, where there are more Canadas than ever.
Cliff island Eider Shooting
I have an old friend who's a lobster fisherman in Maine. Each fall he puts me up for several days while I enjoy great hunting for eiders - big, beautiful birds who almost seem to be looking for my decoys.
Hunting from the rugged ledges along Maine's seacoast can be a hazardous pastime. Cliff Island is only about ten miles out in Casco Bay, but it's the last stop before France. When the sea starts to blow up in the bay, you better be well on your way home or you may never get there.
There are other dangers, too. Years ago, a couple of local duck hunters set up their blind on a big rock, which at low tide seemed safely above the water. They failed to notice their boat as it drifted away on the incoming tide. The folks living nearby heard a lot of shooting and thought the men were having a good hunt. But their shouts for help were never heard, and the tide rushed back in just before dark. The men were never seen again.
Great Island is a narrow, 500-acre salt marsh near our town of Lyme, Connecticut. I did my first serious duck hunting there and I've returned to the marsh throughout my life. Great Island is a public hunting area now, but come December, icy winds and snow swoop down from the Arctic, chasing away all the candy-asses who will never discover the wonderful, late-season hunting on the marsh.
Here, I'm in the wrong spot, watching some ducks drop into a pocket that's still ice-free. It's a long way to drag a boat, but it'll be worth the effort because it's the only open water around. Of course, this was during my younger years when I had much more backbone and muscle than brains.
My search for different subject matter has drawn me to many beautiful places here and abroad. But even at age 64, 1 love to go down to the marsh at Great Island with my good friend, Charlie Brainerd, and just sit there with a thermos of hot soup, smoke a cigar, and take in its quiet beauty.
Goose Shooting - Eastern Shore, Maryland
This setting is based on memories from goose hunting near Easton, Maryland, where years ago we knew a lot of farmers and always had a good place to hunt.
I've enjoyed some of my best hunting on snowy days, and I can still see the tightly grouped birds drifting dwon through pelting flakes.
As a young artist, before I learned how to capture light, I used to add snow because it was the only way I knew to brighten the scene. Swirling snow conveys a certain mood, and if you can create the right mood, everything else seems to fall in place.