Scoop to the res­cue

A faith­ful labrador as­sumes con­trol when a roe stalk takes an unexpected turn. By Pa­trick Lau­rie.

Shooting Gazette - - Dogs And Der -

s the years go by, I fos­ter a grow­ing re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for my dog. Scoop will be six years old in Septem­ber, and she has en­tered mid­dle-age with the kind of re­gal dig­nity known only to labradors. Dur­ing her life, she has toiled over grouse moors, hunted for par­tridges and plunged into frozen es­tu­ar­ies, tak­ing it all in her stride without a mo­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion. I couldn’t have cho­sen a more en­thu­si­as­tic part­ner if I’d tried.

We took on a second labrador last year, and it has been in­ter­est­ing to see how the old ma­tri­arch has adapted to share the spot­light with a younger model. De­spite some ini­tial doubts, the two dogs were soon closely bound to­gether, and they get so much plea­sure from one another that it’s now hard to imag­ine how we ever kept just one dog on its own. At the same time, I think Scoop val­ues one-on-one time with me, par­tic­u­larly when I’m

Ahead­ing out for a roe. Most of my stalk­ing is on open ground and it’s rare for me to need help from a ca­nine track­ing spe­cial­ist, but she loves to come along and is usu­ally so well-be­haved that I hardly know she’s there.

Scoop and I re­cently left the young dog at home and headed for the hills with the ri­fle on a warm, bright sum­mer’s evening. We cov­ered a cou­ple of miles and set­tled on a steep gran­ite face to spy a likely spot as the sun slowly sank be­hind the Gal­loway hills. A light mist was ris­ing up from the low ground, and the sound of farm ma­chin­ery worked away into the gloom, cut­ting silage far off in the dis­tance. From the deep rushes, a buck emerged and be­gan to rub his antlers dream­ily on a fox­glove. It was still early in the rut, when young bloods pout and show off be­fore the real busi­ness be­gins. This was a fine, white-faced five pointer, and he was al­most ex­actly what I was look­ing for. Scoop and I crawled in to 150 yards, then I squeezed off the shot as the dark shape browsed qui­etly through the bog myr­tle.

The re­ac­tion was im­me­di­ate; the buck reared up and ran off in a panic. The sound of the bul­let’s im­pact had been in­con­clu­sive, and he bounded away as if he had been lightly grazed in the front end. My last glimpse saw him van­ish at a steady pace be­hind a bank of scree. Si­lence sealed over the chaos again and I was left in tur­moil.

I had re­cently up­graded to a .308 pre­cisely be­cause I hate these mo­ments. I like my deer dead on the ground, no ques­tions asked. Hor­ri­ble doubts crept in about the ri­fle’s zero. The shot had felt good, so where had the bul­let gone? Scoop was at my shoul­der with her ears cocked. I sent her in for a closer look.

I usu­ally like to stand back after a shot and let the dog find the trail, but I was frus­trated to see her fol­low a line al­most 180˚ in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, into a bed of thick bracken and rushes. As­sum­ing that she was fol­low­ing a hare, I called her back and pointed her in the right di­rec­tion, then was out­raged to see her go pre­cisely back the way she had orig­i­nally gone. Curs­ing the dog and hop­ing to find the buck on my own, I set off along the tan­gent I had seen the buck take im­me­di­ately after the shot had been taken.

Ten min­utes went by, and dark­ness was be­gin­ning to fall. My stom­ach twisted at the pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing the roe – the damn dog had stopped clat­ter­ing through the bracken and sat look­ing at me 100 yards away in the wrong di­rec­tion. She was mock­ing me, and I cursed the de­ci­sion to bring along such a use­less, wretched an­i­mal.

Another 10 min­utes had passed be­fore I de­cided to see what she was do­ing. Per­haps in­evitably, she was sit­ting be­side the roe buck, which lay dead in the heather. The shot had passed per­fectly through the heart, but some­how the dy­ing an­i­mal had run over 100 yards, dou­bling back on itself once it was out of sight and fall­ing at last in a hor­ri­bly thick, re­mote spot.

There is no way that I could ever have found it without the dog, and my fury turned to de­light as a fat moon rose up over the Sol­way and glowed through the larches. I pulled out my knife and be­gan the gral­loch as Scoop wagged her tail in the dew. De­spite all the dis­trac­tions of the young dog at home, I re­mem­bered why there will only ever be one dog for me.

My dog has en­tered mid­dle age with the kind of re­gal dig­nity known only to labradors.

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