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