Close your eyes and cast your mind back…..it is a dark, damp wet day in late January. The Pheasants are fewer but they fly higher, better and further making shooting more challenging and the dog work more difficult.
You and your dog are covering the end Gun in a field on his own. The birds are flying well, breaking in small clusters and coming nicely over the guns. A strong north-west wind gives added momentum to their flight pushing them higher into the air as they lift off from the Oak wood in front. Your gun has had few opportunities as the break in cover is spread mainly along the middle guns but then sometime late in the drive his patience is rewarded. A cock bird breaks and swoops right into the wind, gliding over the tree tops he is lazy with his wing beats as he allows the wind to carry him high across the valley at an angle towards the pen and the safety of home.
Your gun, an experienced shot, watches the bird’s approach with a seasoned eye, he keeps his gun down as he gauges it’s speed and height but just as he lifts the gun to his shoulder a hen bird breaks late in front of him. Instinctively the Gun swings onto her and she drops cleanly at his feet. Your dog has her marked. Then in one fluid movement the Gun brings the second barrel onto the rogue cockbird just as he passes to his left and with another practised shot the bird drops both legs. With wings fixed straight out the wind keeps him high as he glides to the cover three hundred meters away.
You watch him land clumsily, out of sight in the deep cover that surrounds the pen and know his injuries are fatal and as such a priority retrieve. With your dog’s attention still focussed on the hen-bird that lies close by you turn him away to face the cover where the wounded cock bird landed in…..
Now, open your eyes and look at the scene in front of you. It is Summer and you stand on the line at a working test. It is the last retrieve of the day and your dog has run well. But everyone is talking about this one final retrieve that has been the undoing of many dogs. It is the long blind retrieve and although the season is different and the distraction of bird scent and gunshot are absent the lesson you and your dog will hopefully learn today will carry you both through the season ahead when the skills required to find a bird at distance will be called into play.
Dog and handler were set up in a narrow channel of woodland. About twenty meters in front an orange fence had been stretched across the path at a slight angle, and just before the dog was sent a bolting rabbit was pulled across the line in front from right to left as a diversion not to be touched. Once clear of the fence the woodland opened out to a wide area of meadow grass. The run was uphill all the way with the dummy placed under a large overhanging beech tree just off the left of centre. The terrain, lack of wind and obstacles offered many challenges that needed to be considered before sending your dog.
The jump at an angle would push the dog slightly left and if let run on went quickly out of sight and difficult to get a line going in the long push back up hill. If the jump was negotiated well and the run uphill taken, then a large dip, tipping slightly right pushed the dog right and on into the meadow that ran past the beech tree and again out of sight. Distance now was a big problem as the dog had limited view of its handler in the shade of the wood channel below.
The dogs that succeeded well were those that held the middle line and where the handler stopped their dog about fifty meters out from the beech before casting forty-five degrees left and back to hunt under the beech tree.
Bertie and I succeeded but I made the mistake of allowing him continue the line to the meadow that ran to the right of the beech tree so then when I needed to pull him back to handle he struggled to see me. We lost 8 marks from 30 but to complete such a technically difficult retrieve was better than winning any rosette that day.
Admittedly, during the winter months much of my dogs’ work involves them using their own initiative and game sense to find birds in places neither of us have seen fall and I am simply the bird carrier that follows in their wake. However, every once in a while a scenario like the one described above will occur that requires a dog to put aside his self-employed status and work with his handler as a team.
Although played out on the shooting field in winter it is through the summer months of training and working test competitions that lay the foundations of building that unique partnership of belief and trust.
Autumn is coming and we are ready, it has been a long busy summer of competition and travel. Now we are ready to put down roots, turn into the north-west wind and face the winter. The quiet and solitude of standing alone with my dog while we listen for the call of a mallard on the Shannon or the shriek of a snipe when it rises from the rushes is nearly upon us….close your eyes and cast your mind forward…..
Many thanks to Midland retriever club for setting this wonderful test.