Ef­fort and re­ward

Late in the sea­son I re­turn to the swamp where we had a very suc­cess­ful open­ing. There aren’t as many birds and it is 20 de­grees colder with a brisk southerly blow­ing. My mate ges­tures to­wards the area of the swamp he is go­ing to hunt; I give him a wave a

Field and Game - - GUN DOGS - with Mark Davis Mark Davis has been a Field & Game mem­ber since 1983 and is happy to an­swer any ques­tions about dog breeds and train­ing meth­ods. Send any ques­tions for our gun dog team to editor@fiel­dandgame.com.au and in­clude a photo of you and your do

There are small mobs of black­ies and teal winging around the swamp as we set­tle in the hide. Rip, my two-year-old black lab, sits be­side me and his eyes are im­me­di­ately on the sky; it makes me smile, his en­thu­si­asm is in­fec­tious!

I check the direction he is look­ing and sure enough, there are a pair of black­ies head­ing our way; they are high and they are mo­tor­ing. A cou­ple of calls has no ef­fect, or does it?

They ap­pear to have dropped a lit­tle bit. In range? Yes, I think they are, so pull out on the lead bird and fire two shots in quick suc­ces­sion. He wob­bles and there are feath­ers, but con­tin­ues on at the same pace, damn it. I try hard to en­sure birds are in range be­fore shoot­ing but it seems my range es­ti­ma­tion is off.

I look down at Rip and he is still watch­ing the bird, and rightly so. It’s as if he knows that bird is com­ing down; it crashes into the water at least 150 m away and is out for the count.

Rip is up on his toes and wait­ing for the fetch com­mand, but I spot out of the cor­ner of my eye a pair of teal head­ing straight at the de­coys. I quickly reload and tell Rip to sit and watch, the com­mand I use to alert my dogs there are more birds.

He looks in the direction of the gun; the teal spot some­thing that gives us away but they are well in range. One bird drops in the de­coys, the other I take over my shoulder and it crashes down 50 m be­hind us but is wounded. Now I have three birds in the water, with one on the move.

I break Rip’s fo­cus on the bird in the de­coys and bring him around on the wounded bird, which has dis­ap­peared into a small patch of cum­bungi; he hasn’t seen this bird drop and can­not see it now.

I line him up and cue him with the com­mand I use for re­triev­ing un­seen game ‘blind’. He takes a pretty good line but ends up 2 m on the wrong side of the breeze and the cum­bungi.

A quick whis­tle and cast puts him straight in the cum­bungi; he takes a cou­ple of min­utes to find his quarry but that duck had no hope of al­lud­ing this dog!

When he re­turns I con­grat­u­late him on his good work but his fo­cus is im­me­di­ately back on the bird in the de­coys. I look out to where that long blackie dropped but it takes me a while to spot him; it had prob­a­bly been five min­utes and he had drifted con­sid­er­ably.

This has to be the next bird col­lected. I call Rip around with my cue for me­mory birds: “where is it”. He looks to where the bird has dropped: “good boy — fetch” is the com­mand and he takes off at great pace, head­ing straight for the spot, smash­ing through chest-high water.

I be­lieve he got to within me­tres of where that bird dropped be­fore go­ing into hunt mode, a great ef­fort at such a huge dis­tance. It takes two whis­tles and casts to get him to that bird, which had drifted prob­a­bly an­other 50m, so all up, a re­trieve of about 200 m. I could walk out and pick up the last bird my­self but I know that when Rip re­turns, he will hand it over and re­fo­cus on that short bird. Sure enough, he can’t get go­ing any quicker.

We don’t get our bag but it doesn’t mat­ter, half-a-dozen birds are enough to re­stock the fridge.

On re­turn to the car, my hunt­ing mate is wait­ing. He has had a good shoot, but had re­lo­cated from his original spot to a creek bor­der­ing the swamp; this time of the year it can be deep, cold and haz­ardous.

His yel­low lab has re­trieved hun­dreds of birds for him over the years, but there were two birds miss­ing to com­plete his bag, both fall­ing over the creek.

His dog had not seen one fall and the other, she just could not find, so he asks if I will take Rip down to try to re­cover these birds. I agree, but we need to get a move on as dusk is ap­proach­ing.

My mate’s dog has had some train­ing,

about the equiv­a­lent of what is re­quired for Novice level in Re­triev­ing Tri­als. When we ar­rive at the creek where the water is fairly high and flow­ing, I line Rip up on the bird my mate’s dog had not seen come down. He gets out the other side and holds the line. He trav­els about 50 m be­fore find­ing the bird; we have that one back in no time.

The sec­ond bird proves more dif­fi­cult, I line him again to the spot where my mate’s dog has been hunt­ing across the creek with­out suc­cess. Rip also starts hunt­ing and prob­a­bly spends four or five min­utes work­ing the area, but then takes off at 45 de­grees. With nose down, he works his way through the bush for about 30 m be­fore div­ing un­der some branches to pull out a very much alive woodie.

Rip’s abil­ity to track is the re­sult of his train­ing for tri­als and hunt­ing.

I know some hunters are amazed at this type of dog work but to peo­ple who hunt and com­pete in re­triev­ing tri­als, this is just what we ex­pect our dogs to do.

The com­pe­ti­tion and train­ing that goes into trial dogs re­wards you with a very ca­pa­ble retriever. The more train­ing you put into your dog means more birds in the bag!

Com­pet­ing in Re­triev­ing Tri­als will take your dog to an­other level again.

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