In praise of the working gundog.

This is a story in praise of the working gundog. We all know them and of them. They are the foot soldiers of the gundog world. The ninety-nine per centers that are owned by Tom, Dick and Harry who regale us with their dogs’ exploits. We smile indulgently but smugly choose to only half believe the owners biased opinion of their ‘fantastic’ working gundog.

We may enquire as to whether this superb dog has any field trial awards or even been placed in a working test? If the answer is ‘no’ then that is all many of us want to or are interested in knowing.

I have one of these working gundogs. His name is Chester. He is a Chesapeake. I have had dogs before him and have had dogs since him but none could or can equal his skill as a gamefinding and pure working gundog. HisΒ  real talents never lay in the competition field although he has had his fair share of success there also in working tests. As a field trialling dog he was too noisy. A real shame as he is a fantastic handling dog with the softest of mouths. Both of which he has passed onto his progeny.

This year will be his tenth shooting season. He has never missed one due to injury and as can be expected there are many tales and adventures I could share of our Winters’ together.

Today , though, I want to tell you a story of a day Des took Chester when he went shooting along the shores of the Shannon.

It was the 10th of January 2009. Des had been asked to join a friend of ours, Pat, and three of his friends for a morning’s decoying on the Shannon. It was a cold one, frost lay heavy on the ground and the edges and shallows of the river were iced up where they spread out the decoys. The temperature was well below freezing. For one reason or another Chester was the only dog there that morning. The thing about decoying is that you never really know what to expect. It could be a slow morning. The likelihood was that this particular morning was expected to be, as it was mid January and by that time in the shooting season calender the Shannon Basin is generally well plundered. One dog should have been more than adequate.

The boys settled down and waited. As daylight dawned the action began and continued for several hours until a halt was called at about mid-day. Bird after bird had to be retrieved from the icy waters. Again and again the chesapeake hunted for and found each bird brought down. Many times having to swim through ice and rushes to find wounded birds. It was so cold that although Chester initially waited in the water for each retrieve, he had to be moved on to a clump of rushes to avoid the risk of hypothermia. In the end the bag was 47 duck, a mix of Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pintail, and Gadwall. A few birds got away that fell injured a distance away while Chester was returning with a bird, some were picked afterwards but two or three were probably lost. Chester worked himself to a standstill which was where a combination of exhaustion and the cold meant he couldn’t continue and he wasn’t asked to, he had retrieved probably 30 of the 47 birds, breaking through ice for many until Des decided Chester had done more than enough. A combination of the wind and currents meant that the birds shot afterwards were drifting into an enclosed area and were picked up afterwards from the boat.

Chester has put in many more working days since then but unless you’re one of the lucky ones to stand with him on those mornings you will never fully appreciate the value of the true working gundog. The dog that may whine while waiting to retrieve. The dog that may run around a bush rather than through in pursuit of a retrieve. The dog that may not be completely steady to gunshot. He is the dog, however, that will work tenaciously and tirelessly in pursuit of his quarry and bring each and every one back gently to hand and fit for the table.

So the next time Tom, Dick or Harry regales you with tales of their amazing working gundog. Stop a minute and listen more carefully he may just be the type of dog you’re looking for.

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