In good com­pany

A day out un­der the pheas­ants wouldn’t be the same without our ca­nine com­pan­ions and Ru­pert But­ler re­mem­bers each of his dogs with many fond mem­o­ries

Sporting Shooter - - Notes From Ireland -

Shoot­ing would not ex­ist without our ca­nine com­pan­ions, which are an in­te­gral part of any out­ing. I tend to lean to­wards flush­ing dogs be­cause I like the ex­cite­ment they bring and, in­deed, the lack of warn­ing at times. All have their own char­ac­ter­is­tics, no two be­ing the same: some have to be coaxed into do­ing what you want, while oth­ers need to be reined in a wee bit. The fol­low­ing are some of my lov­able old rogues, both past and present.

For my 10th birth­day, I re­ceived a large golden Labrador that I called Teal. To say he was slightly mad would be an un­der­state­ment. He was a lu­natic. For the same birth­day, I also re­ceived a book on how to train dog, but I knew bet­ter – how hard could it be? I gave the pub­li­ca­tion a cour­tesy flick through be­fore con­sign­ing it to the book­shelf. And from the mo­ment I got him to his un­for­tu­nate pass­ing, Teal did what Teal wanted to do, no ques­tions. Yes, he found pheas­ants and wood­cock on a reg­u­lar ba­sis for he was blessed with an ex­cep­tional nose, but rarely were they in range, and some­times not even in the same parish.

He was also a great re­triever, but re­fused to come back un­less he had some­thing to bring me. This lat­ter trait of­ten got yours truly into a spot of bother, for when we were in com­pany on such out­ings he in­vari­ably pinched other peo­ple’s birds – it didn’t mat­ter if they were on the wa­ter in front or in the game bag be­side. I once had 17 mal­lard picked for the ex­pen­di­ture of but three car­tridges, a great ra­tio in any com­pany. Sadly, he passed away just be­fore his 14th birth­day and for all his faults he was a lov­able old rogue.

Next up was a springer bitch named Fibi, quite the op­po­site to the big bruiser above; where he

was big and brash, she was small and quiet. That said, she was prob­a­bly the most fear­less dog I have ever owned. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions over the years, she dived into thun­der­ous waves or swollen rivers without the slight­est hes­i­ta­tion. But it was on the high hills that she re­ally came into her own, which is un­usual for a springer. I shot more grouse over her than some of my dad’s best point­ers at the time. Yes, you didn’t have as much time to ready your­self, but that made the chase more ex­cit­ing, if any­thing.

Wil­low was next, an­other liver and white springer bitch, quite sim­i­lar in many re­spects to Fibi above, but with a slightly more dom­i­nant per­son­al­ity. She was, if the truth were to be known, prob­a­bly the best all-round dog I have ever had. It was deep in the pine forests where she thrived; wood­cock were her neme­sis and boy could she find them. I lost track of the num­ber of in­vi­ta­tions I got to go shoot­ing these won­der­ful lit­tle birds, but I knew it wasn’t me they were want­ing – if Wil­low could drive, I wouldn’t have had a look in.

She also de­vel­oped a habit of catch­ing them, par­tic­u­larly in heavy cover, whether or not that was a re­flec­tion on my shoot­ing prow­ess is an­other mat­ter. She once caught two in an af­ter­noon, both of which didn’t have a mark on them when brought to hand, and I can still re­mem­ber throw­ing them into the air and watch­ing as they weaved their way silently through the wil­lows. She passed away only a few months since, two weeks shy of her 20th year, which for a springer is quite re­mark­able.

Next in line is Fibi, yes an­other Fibi, a black Labrador who is now an­cient but still en­thu­si­as­tic. She is tone deaf, stiff in her hind quar­ters, sleeps for most of the day but still has that en­thu­si­asm. I know this be­cause I can see it in her eyes ev­ery time I leave the house to go shoot­ing.

She can­not un­der­stand why she can’t come, but on the odd oc­ca­sion I do bring her, when flight­ing a shal­low pond or sim­i­lar, and on these out­ings she will jump into the car with an agility that be­lies her creak­ing bones. She was a ter­rific re­triever in her prime, of­ten find­ing birds that other dogs failed to lo­cate.

Presently, I have two com­pan­ions for the high hills: Cookie, a two-year-old springer who finds rab­bits mes­meris­ing, and Bram­ble, my eight­month-old sprocker who has eaten ev­ery pair of trousers I own bar the ones I have on. Cookie is a good game finder, but has lit­tle in­ter­est in re­triev­ing; Bram­ble is show­ing an all-round abil­ity when she de­cides to stop munch­ing her way through hosepipes and sim­i­lar.

I have been for­tu­nate over the years to have had rea­son­ably good dogs, and, al­though there is al­ways a cer­tain amount of luck in­volved, it’s about putting in the time as well. I am no ex­pert, far from it, and I do like a dog to be a wee bit on the mad side – I al­ways rely on the prin­ci­pal that you can def­i­nitely rein them in but never out. None of my dogs were ever per­fect, but if the truth were to be known, I never wanted them to be. I like a dog to have a mind of its own, and if that means bug­ger­ing off af­ter a fast de­part­ing hare, then so be it.

There have been oc­ca­sions where I have run across moun­tains at a rate of knots only to watch breath­less as a rock pipit takes to the air. There have been times I’ve watched a duck cir­cling some wa­ter meadow only for the in­cum­bent at the time to break cover and give chase. While these ac­tions might in­fu­ri­ate many of you, as long as it doesn’t hap­pen on a reg­u­lar ba­sis then I’m fine with it. Ev­ery­body has to have their own mind at times, even our ca­nine com­pan­ions.

‘I tend to lean to­wards flush­ing dogs be­cause I like the ex­cite­ment they bring and, in­deed, the lack of warn­ing at times’

Ru­pert has owned more than one mad springer over the years and, de­spite the odd un­in­ten­tional flush, wouldn’t have them any other way.

Fibi the Lab fol­lowed Fibi the springer... well, it does make it eas­ier to re­mem­ber her name!

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