Chester

Chester. Of all my Chesapeakes he was my Husband’s dog. They worked well together. Des just had a better way of handling him than me. For me, Chester was almost too much dog; I lived on my nerves when we worked together on the shoots . He was a big numbers dog; happiest when standing covering multiple guns and clearing everything that fell within his eye line without the hindrance or aid of another dog to impede his progress.

The winter of 2008/2009 , here in Ireland, was a long one.

In October the rains came. The temperate winds from the west  came in from the Atlantic raising the water levels that coincided with the high tides of the Autumn equinox. Dublin flooded, Cork city was impassable and the whole of central Ireland became marooned as the river Shannon burst her banks and shed her load farther and wider into the lands that ran the course of her length. Then the winds changed and down from the northeast came the cold drafts  of Siberia. And so, as the days shortened and winter deepened Ireland lay frozen in one of the coldest hardest winters that I can remember.

It was a morning in early January 2009 that my Husband, Des, set off loaded with gun and dog. He was to meet up with friends in the midlands hoping to get lucky with decoying the flood plains which that had formed along the the far reaches of the Shannon and her tributaries.The northeast freeze up still held most of the country in an icy grip. The winds that persistantly blew in from Siberia that winter had brought in their wake unprecedented numbers of migrating birds…..black and whites, teal , tufties and mallard, all pushed further south and in greater numbers to the more temperate climate that Ireland offered.

 

They picked their spot, the wind seemed favorable enough to keep the birds low but moving and in a position ,they hoped( as that is the word wildfowlers live by), that seemed like a good sheltered spot to draw in teal and tufties to feed.

Under the cover of darkness they spread their decoys  in an enticing pattern. Then the four guns settled down spread about the reeds that edged the field, that was once a summer meadow but was now knee to thigh deep in cold frigid water.

It is the waiting that is the toughest part of wildfowling, when you have nothing to take your mind off the creeping cold that rises from the bottom of your boots and creeps to every corner of your body. As the purple dawn emerged from the bottom of the sky  each man peered hopefully for a glimpse of a silhouette against the lightening skyline. Four guns and one dog, a Chesapeake, named Chester.

 

I know for sure that for him on that morning he most likely breathed deeply the scents of what was about to unfold and felt utterly confident that those four guns no matter how far apart they spread themselves could be covered by him alone.

It was not long before the lightening sky and biting wind forced the birds to move in search of feeding and better shelter from the relentless cold. The men had chosen wisely. The flooded field lay in the bend of the river where the birds were apt to cut across over the reeds to a narrow tributary further south.

The guns were patient biding their time until the birds came within range and one by one they fell. The shots did not deter the birds and they kept coming and falling. All the time methodically sought out and found by Chester as he worked the reeds in the chest deep water. There were long spells where he had to stand waiting on the raised clump of rushy turf behind Des as the cold water lapped around his body but his attention never wavered and his reward was another hunt , another retrieve of warm game all of which were brought back to Des.

He gained the undying respect of not only my husband that morning but also of his three hunting companions. Each and every shot bird that was found by the chesapeake was brought tenderly to hand before turning his attention to the angry grey January skies again waiting for the next one to fall.

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January 2009 River Shannon with Chester.

 

Chester had many vices, ( not least was his knack of singing while waiting for a drive to start),but  once he was given the go ahead to start working he did so with such drive, focus and energy that never let up until every bird he could possibly retrieve was delivered safely back to hand. In all his years retrieving there was never a single toothmark on a bird that he returned with. He remained respectful of his quarry to the end. That is what he thrived on and where his passion lay.

His knowledge of the birds he hunted was uncanny; one of those few dogs I’ve seen that had the ability to differentiate, in air , which birds were hit in a drive of hundreds and which ones lived to go on for another  day. He never gave up on a wounded bird no matter how far it travelled, he would follow the line to where it touched the ground then pick up it’s trail to where it inevitably dug into cover.

For a dog that was precious about entering cover at a working test in the quest for a green dummy I watched in wonder many’s a time as he belly crawled under and through bramble patches that would have tested a cocker spaniel to get that bird that he knew was in there. But so too was he clever enough to figure out that if cover had an exit point it was quicker to skip around the back and look for an easier path through. He had no interest in unwounded game, learning quickly that they took too much energy and time to hunt but in a contest of wills between diving duck and the Chessie he was always the more determined not to fail.

Shelton was his last love, he loved the freedom it gave him to hunt unhindered without being inhibited by tight drives.

And so it will be His final resting place. When the time is right we will bring His ashes and scatter them across the tailings for one final hunt through the bushes, brambles and the river that he came to know so well.

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Chester at Shelton with Des.

 

 

 

Rest In Peace Penrose Nomad

5/3/2002 – 21/9/ 2017.

 

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The Hunt….

Our Breed standard calls for a Chesapeake to be .. ‘equally proficient in land and water’…. and although their reputation as a strong tenacious swimmer may be legendary their skills as a competent upland game dog are often underestimated…..the following tale might sway your opinion….

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Through the old stone wall piers and onto the lane, the dogs wandering just ahead of me , we were just short of where my friend Joe and his lab Solo were seated, when Uisce dived into the ditch on the right and up the other side of the sheep wire fence rose a  wounded cock pheasant.

His wing beats were laboured, going too fast for the speed and level of flight he was at, and very quickly the effort was too much and I watched him drop down and run the fence line towards the gate into the field beside the rushy bottoms. The banked hedge meant that his path was not visible to either dog.

Uisce was still buried in the cover, so I took Bertie to the corner of the field where a stile made the stock fence  safer to cross and sent him back along the fence line where I had seen the bird drop and run. He took a good line and when he hit the point where I had seen the bird drop  his lowered head and quickening pace told me he had found the trail.And so the hunt was on….

Half way down the field , just past the gate that turns into Foley’s field he pulled up abruptly and a frustrated bark told me this was most likely the point  where the bird could  have stalled but stock fence topped with barbed wire pulled tight along a hawthorn hedge was preventing my dog from  progressing any further. I caught up with him quickly, and brought him back fifty meters to where the fence was not so tight to the ground, guided him under and  then from there he retracked back to where he left the point of scent inside the fence….

Again the bird broke cover and into flight, this time though Bertie was determined no hedge or fence was going to hold him back either and he busted through the hawthorn keeping pace underneath the bird as they headed off across the field  towards the maize crop that bordered the narrow wood. Uisce had caught up with me by this time and we both watched from the gateway as the drama  continued to unfold across the field.

Just short of the crop the bird dropped to the ground but continued to run with Bertie closing in  on every stride. One last quick dip to the right by that wily bird threw Bertie off balance and he tumbled head over heels across the boggy bottom  ground and the bird was away again.

If the bird made cover now , it would be a much more difficult task to find him as the dog would have to sift through the combination of scents coming from the several birds that no doubt had begun to gather in the crop at the end of the drive.

Uisce had him marked and I sent her in pursuit…off across the field she went at full gallop. The bird reached the crop and disappeared but the Chessies were literally on his tailfeathers as the crop swallowed all three.The chase continued through the crop as maize  was thrashed by two forty kilogram Chessies intent on keeping pace with the agile bird.

Then everything stopped and within a few seconds the crop parted and Uisce emerged with the wounded pheasant held securely in her mouth and a very tired Bertie in her wake. Head up she saw me and picked up her pace where the bird was delivered safely to hand.

We made our way back to where Joe and Solo waited…Joe rose from his seated position took the bird from me and with no words spoken shook my hand and acknowledged both dogs with a quiet salute. We gathered up our game carriers, called to our dogs and as the winter sun dipped below the level of the treeline we headed for home.

 

 

This thing called ” waterfreaking “….

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I have a dog that loves to swim.

Her need for water goes way beyond the normal frolics that most dogs get up to when you throw a tennis ball in the water. She enters water regardless of the need to retrieve anything; most times it will be to swim parallel to shore as we mere mortals walk the beach or towpath.

Every now and then, however, she will throw her left paw up to create a little splash and then she will toss her head back in pure ecstasy. Her eyes will glaze over as if hypnotized by the water splash. She will let out an excited yip, turn in circles and as she repeats the process she will turn away from the shore or the riverbank and swim out towards the open water;  sometimes so far away that if you didn’t know any better you would think it was a seal bobbing up and down beyond the line where the waves break….

She is a strong swimmer; stronger than any of my other Chessies, ( including the males); so if allowed, this process can easily run on for the duration of our ‘walk’.

And I have often allowed her to do so but not in the early days, when she was younger; in those days this thing called ‘waterfreaking’…freaked me out far more than her!!

The most frustrating aspect of waterfreaking, ( and I use this term in the losest of its meanings as, in my humble opinion, the dogs involved are in no way , shape or form ‘freaked’ by water),  is our inability to immediately correct a behaviour which , comparatively speaking, is no different from a young dog running freely chasing birds and butterflies and oblivious to all sense of danger or direction from their owner.

And in our ignorance and frustration we let the behaviour slide into an entrenched pattern . And anyone who knows Chesapeakes will know that once a Chessie develops a habit for a pattern of behaviour  that stubborn streak is most unwilling to relinquish something which, to them, is so much more fun than being told what to do.

We may be advised incorrectly that our young dogs antics are simply a young puppy learning to swim…so we let it continue in the hope they will grow out of it. It won’t happen.

We may think from their antics that they are panicking in water and so may take a softly, softly approach and encourage them in soft soothing tones that everything will be alright. It doesn’t work.

We may even try to put some sort of control over where and how they enter water by only allowing them to retrieve from ACROSS water and not FROM water. This method is bound for failure in the initial stages at least…..

And all the time this most frustrating of Chessie quirks becomes more and more embedded.

To fix it…

Firstly, well I’m afraid , you are going to have to be prepared to get wet. If not full immersion at the very least you will require waders !! As the most important thing your Chessie has to realise is that you have as much control of them in water as on land.

Secondly find yourself a good trainer, one who believes in you and your dog.

The good news is that more than any other behaviour that might befall a Chessie, this is one of the easiest to get a handle on, if you recognise it for what it is.

You see one of the great things about Chessies is that they like to be rewarded for a job well done and with a dog who waterfreaks the motivation to work in water is there from the outset in their pure passion for the stuff you are asking them to retrieve from.

Once the holy grail of Chessie training is applied..that is fairness, consistancy and control…I promise you it will be worth it as the dogs that generally are gifted with waterfreaking tendencies really are in the elite league when it comes to swimming.

With the help and guidance of a good trainer, in my case, Mr Ronnie Farrelly of Tealwood kennels, Uisce has developed into the strong, controlled and confident swimmer I always knew she could be. Two weeks ago she competed in a working test where four of her six retreieves were from or across water and she finished second in Open/ Unclassified.

 

 

 

Just one more Hunt….by Mary Murray

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A poem dedicated to a dog who lived for the hunt….Chester now aged 14 years and pictured today on most likely his final day out hunting.xxx

 

Just one more Hunt,

That’s all I seek,

Before these aging legs grow weak.

 

One more time to raise my clouding eye

As the whosh of wingbeats fill the sky.

My body is old but my heart has the will

to track that blood trail up the hill.

 

And through the cover where I know

Those clever pheasants always go.

I’ll try my best to bag a Duck

From the tailings pond with all that muck.

 

My gait may be unsteady

And my strength is fast draining

but I will Hunt to the end

With each breath remaining.

 

The last Hunt is over

I was up to the task and I thank you, my Master ,

‘cos all that I ask…

Is to follow my calling where the high pheasants fall and to Hunt with my heart

And give it my all…..

 

 

 

To retrieve a Duck….

Duck rising off the Tailings at Shelton

Duck rising off the Tailings at Shelton

We came to the river again for the Duck Drive, just as the late winter sun dipped below the tree line at the top of the valley.

October 2015 will not be remembered for crisp clear mornings bright with frost , it will be remembered instead for record rainfall and temperatures more akin to late summer than early winter. When November 1st arrived at Shelton, although it stayed dry, the unseasonably mild weather had left all gamekeepers with the unwanted headache of trying to keep birds within boundaries when the hedgerows were still laden with natural feeding.

The first frosts hadn’t come,  leaving the brambles still green and difficult for both us and the dogs to push through. So by the time we took up our spot on the gravel island at the fork in the river most of the dogs were tired from three heavy pheasant drives and the river was not in a gentle kind of mood.

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Full from the heavy rains that fell earlier in the week it would be foolhardy to treat the Avoca, that day, with anything but the utmost respect.

I am always cautious with the dogs I work on the river drive. Young dogs come along only when steady and are kept on lead to watch the older dogs work. I learned my lesson many years ago when I foolishly sent Chester in to this very river on a very lightly wounded duck and watched in horror as the current took both him and the duck round the bend and out of sight. Thankfully, it ended well when he got the duck, found the bank down by the prison and made his way back; but I know it could have ended equally as badly.

Today I had Winnie and Bertie, both experienced dogs in relation to waterwork . We watched as the duck came over the tailings and flew up and across the river. Some were caught by the guns at this stage and from that moment until the end of the drive, thirty  minutes later, the dogs were in constant motion.

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They  worked well with the current , swimming out and turning into it as the birds came downstream to them and then going with the current until it carried them back into their own depth where they brought the birds back to me. They also pushed through the current and retrieved birds that fell on the far bank; occasionally they had an easy run up the gravel island to pick a bird from the stones.

The horn blew, to signal the end of the drive. We had filled two game carriers in that short period of time but there was one final retrieve I needed and as Bertie was the younger and fitter of the pair the task fell to him.

 

Halfway across the widest and fastest flowing part of the river a piece of deadwood rose from the water, strung with all sorts of debris that had got caught up in its branches now it held a drake mallard captive. The bird had been carried downriver during the drive while the dogs were working on other retrieves so they had no idea it was there and the bits of debris flapping like flags in the current masked any sign of the bird from the island where we stood.

 

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I cast Bertie on a line above the deadwood, aiming him for the far bank, anticipating the current would pull him in line with the branches by the time he reached mid-river. He entered the water and felt that familiar pull of the river as it gripped him determinedly and pulled him downstream; with each powerful stroke, though, he was moving nearer the branches but also being pulled sideways by the current. Every stroke was  a battle to simply stay on course. Mid river and the current had carried him to where I expected him to be, Bertie was now below the deadwood . I blew hard on my whistle hoping  to get his attention above the roar of the water and asked him to hunt. It worked, he lifted his head clear of the water and searched using both nose and eyes, he caught the scent and  locked onto the flapping debris, pumped those shoulders harder than before to drive into the current and slowly, slowly work his way towards those branches. With one final drive he reached his head forward and pulled the duck from where the branches held it tightly, then he let go of all effort and allowed the current to carry him downriver to where it sweeps past the shallow end of the island. There he found his footing, pulled himself clear of the water and  with bird in mouth he gave  one final shake and made his way back to  where Winnie and I waited…

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There are plenty of times my dogs and I mess up during the season and I value these as lessons to be  learned and move on from . But every once in a while it all comes together, like the day on the river,and because  these moments come along so infrequently I choose, instead to hold onto them…they are the days to be treasured for times when I can reach my hand down in search of a brown head and rub a pair of soft brown ears as I retell the story of Bertie’s blind duck retrieve again and again and again..

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Hope you had a great season everyone from Me and the Brown Bunch.xx

 

 

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Ballycooge….An old dog dreams…

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What does my old dog, Chester, dream of ?

He dreams of a place where the mountain streams cut so deep and sharp into the granite bed that the sun never reached the bottom of the valley floors in deepest darkest Winter; where each breath hung in the air half caught between  freezing  and the damp bone soaking cold; where the brambles laced so tightly through the bracken and the felled plantation making each  search for a bird  a push through thorns or a fall though a mosaic of twisted branches. He dreams of a place called Ballycooge.

We had followed the guns deep into the plantation. It was nearing the end of the season, birds were harder to find now;they were fitter, wiser and when they broke cover strong wingbeats quickly brought them higher and further from shooting range. Big bags, though, were not the target at this time of year and certainly the Guns we had that day were skilled and competent sportsmen , selective in their choice of target.

Our picking up team was sparse,for eight guns there were three of us with a dog each. This suited Chester , the fewer the number of dogs and the harder he had to work the more he relished it. He was a pain in the ass to hold on a tight drive, but on a drive where he had sole command he never doubted his capabilities of retrieving each and every bird that fell behind the guns, (…as Handler and Dog we had many arguments about this but I had to concede  he was usually right).

Donal stayed behind the three guns that took their places at the bottom of the felled plantation. I covered the waterlogged field with Chester where the remaining guns spread out across  in a two hundred metre line and Tom, in his eightieth year, was to stay on the lane and cover the duck pond. We were confident that all areas and angles were covered. This wasn’t a tight drive, it was boundary shooting at its best and with the cover that surrounded the gun line and our lack of dogs birds would be picked as they fell. What birds were here we had no way of knowing, the Guns were reaching their bag limit for the day so it was more of a try out type drive with possibilities for next season; twenty birds max would see happy Guns and tired enough dogs.

The horn blew to indicate the start of the drive. The beaters slowly making their way across the top of the felled plantation high above the gunline from left to right. All eyes and ears focussed on that line of sillhouettes as they made their way through the cover, Chester on lead beside me shaking and whining in anticipation of what might come.

The first shots rang out from our left as a few birds broke over the plantation, that was enough for the duck to lift off the pond to our right at the end of the field. They rose in a circle over the pond before scattering across the field over the Guns in front of us.

Things were relatively manageable at this stage, two wounded duck retrieved and quickly dispatched, three more collected from behind the guns. As the beating line drew level with the hedge dividing the plantation from the field the first few pheasant drifted over our Guns in the field. They fell in an arc behind the guns, were quickly collected by Chester and added to our game carrier.

Everything was still very controlled birds breaking nicely, giving the guns ample time to reload and the dogs a chance to settle….then just as the first heavy flush of pheasant flew over the guns in the field the duck came back for a fly by….

They flew, they fell, they tumbled some stone dead some wounded…All along the gun line, behind them in the thick heavy mud, some in the gorse bank to the right by the pond, some in the stream behind us . I was sinking knee deep in peat and unable to move as Chester pulled himself through the muck across the field . Every gun along the line was given his full and undivided attention, playing to his strengths of marking and memory he returned with each bird before taking off again without direction from me to find that other bird he saw going down somewhere along the gun line .

When it became clear that the Guns in the plantation were going to have a quiet stand Donal peeped his head through the gap in the hedge and with a grin asked if I needed assistance. I  still stood , trapped, knee deep in the water logged field , my game carrier was full; I had started to gather a second pile and my dog was still crossing the length of the field keeping up with the birds as they fell.

When the horn signalled the end of the drive we had filled two game-carriers and Chester had by then turned his attention to hunting out the more difficult birds, the ones that had drifted into the woods up behind the stream. His pace had steadied but not slowed; he was now more focussed on those single retrieves that required testing the cover for the specific scent that wounded game leave.

There was no doubt that his skills as a raw hunting dog were phenomenol. It was easy to see, watching him, why the market hunters of old developed a dog with an unquenchable appetite for hunting and finding large numbers of game. He was exciting to watch and absolutely uncanny in his ability to find birds in all sorts of cover either on land or water…

In ways I regret Chester may have suffered through my ignorance in lack of training…but then sometimes I also wonder whether the level of training I put into my current batch of Chessies may somehow blunt that natural flair that makes a Chessie a Chessie and not a Lab….

Chester aka Ir Ch UK Ch Int Ch Penrose Nomad is now retired to the fireside and approaching his 14th year….He still dreams of winter days.xxx