When it comes to picking-up on a shoot, confidence in your dog and abiding by the rules are paramount. David Tomlinson offers advice
Though The pheasantshooting season may have opened at the start of this month, little serious shooting takes place before the end of October. I have always thought that shooting short-tailed cocks isn’t an acceptable sport for a gentleman (or gentlewoman), and fortunately most shoots seem to agree with me. Once November has arrived the great majority of birds will be not only looking good, but flying well.
If you have picking-up dogs, then it is always good to get them out working, especially if you haven’t been out on the grouse moors or on partridge days. Taking them on a small boundary day is ideal if you get the chance, as it will remind them what they have been bred for. Even experienced dogs will appreciate a gentle start to the new season before the serious work starts.
For those with young dogs about to start their first shooting season, this is a nerve-racking time. Always remember that the quickest way to ruin a gundog is to take it shooting, so if you have any doubts delay its debut, a strategy that is likely to pay off in the long term.
Of course, it may be exciting running a new dog for the first time, but it is a lot more exciting if neither you nor your dog have ever been on a shoot before. My advice then is to not even consider working the dog on your first day. Instead, stand well back and watch what is going on. If there is a simple retrieve you can do after the last drive then by all means go for it,
12 • SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRY MAGAZINE but otherwise it is best to do nothing more than to listen and learn.
Part of a team
I well remember my first proper day’s picking-up with my 18-month-old spaniel (it was her first day, too). I was hardly a newcomer to either shooting or dog handling, as I’d been shooting for more than 20 years and working a dog for most of them. However, there is a world of difference between working your dog on a small shoot where you are a member and going to someone else’s shoot as part of the picking-up team.
Though I trusted my dog, I worked her with caution, only sending her for straightforward retrieves. After the last drive a bird dropped into a small wood and I was asked to look for it. It was clearly a runner, but the worry for me was that there were a lot of other birds around that might distract her.
I suspect that no one realised quite how inexperienced a combination we were, but we did as we were told,
“The quickest way to ruin a gundog is to take it shooting, so if you have any doubts delay its debut”