How your dog can have its day
With The Field’s Gundog Awards 2017 approaching its deadline, David Tomlinson reminds us of the fun and drama of sharing a day’s shooting with your dog
Shooting without a dog is like eating strawberries without cream. Yes, quite possible, and lots of people do it but they are missing an essential ingredient. Come home from a day’s shooting and tell your wife about the wonderful high pheasants you shot and she will feign interest; tell her how your spaniel beat all the picker-ups’ dogs to find a running partridge and she will listen with interest.
I’ve shot over, or with, my own spaniels for more than 30 years. In the early, dog-free days I was dependent on other people’s dogs to find my birds. When I at last got a spaniel my shooting was transformed. not only did I enjoy the shooting more (every bird shot was a retrieve for my dog) but the day became so much more fun. on my walk-one, stand-one Saturday syndicate I gave up the standing because my spaniel didn’t like (wasn’t able?) to stay still for more than two minutes at a time. Result: we both got lots of exercise and came home happy but exhausted.
however, it wasn’t until the memorable Boxing Day shoot when I forgot my gun that I realised how much I enjoyed working the dog. (There are a number of reasons why I forgot my gun that day, foremost among them being the fact that my mother-in-law had volunteered to join the beating line; I couldn’t forget the dog as she would get into the car even if uninvited.) Unencumbered by seven pounds of steel and walnut, I was able to devote full attention to the dog and, between us, we had a great day.
one of the problems with being a gundog writer is that people expect you to have perfectly trained dogs. My dogs have never been perfectly trained. on one occasion I was invited to a day’s rough-shooting over clumber spaniels in Sussex. “Do bring your dogs,” my host added generously. I was planning to write about the day, so as well as two springers and a gun I also had a camera with long lens. I did get some reasonable pictures and shot three or four birds but I saw little of my dogs. They had a terrific time as they knew I was concentrating on other things.
Last season I went on an excellent small shoot where the entire picking-up team, all handling labradors, were leading field triallers. Don’t let anyone tell you that trialling dogs can’t pick up, for these dogs were brilliant, their handlers quiet, efficient and unobtrusive. however, they were all so good that the day lacked the canine dramas one gets so used to. not a dog ignored the whistle – to be honest, they hardly needed whistling. In fact, not a single dog put a paw wrong all day. Brilliant, yes, but somehow lacking in colour and excitement.
It’s with the less-than-perfect gundogs in mind (such as my one remaining spaniel, now aged 11 and slowing down a bit) that
The Field has launched The Field Gundog Awards 2017, to be awarded on 31 August at the Burghley horse Trials. If you’re an “average” gundog owner, there’s a good chance that you have a hound that’s a potential winner or you might know of one that you would like to nominate; so I urge you to scrutinise the classes and get entering. The Awards are like the current honours system, for they do depend on people putting forward their suggestions for those who deserve recognition.
Cast your mind back to last season: did you witness any exceptional retrieves? If so, don’t hesitate to enter. Years ago I was rough-shooting in northamptonshire when a puppy of mine performed a brilliant retrieve of a cock pheasant from the middle of the River nene, beating both her mother and her uncle, the latter a seriously good gundog. It would have been a retrieve worthy of nomination. Sadly, that was the pinnacle of her brief career, though she did produce some talented offspring.
There are individual awards, too, for outstanding work by spaniels, pointers and rare breeds, as well as the best family gundog. The latter, I predict, will be a dog that loves children as much as retrieving game and works happily for any member of the family.
There’s an award for the best amateur picker-up, surely the category that is likely to gain the most nominations as there’s likely to be just such a person on your shoot. The best picker-ups don’t necessarily have a truck full of dogs, just one or two trusted companions, but they are hard-working, unobtrusive, kind to their dog(s) and never poach birds. There’s nothing in the rules to say that you can’t nominate more than one.
however, there’s one category that might well attract even more nominations: the naughtiest gundog. You had better be careful here – nominate your host’s dog and you might never get invited again. on the other hand, most owners of naughty dogs are aware of their animal’s faults and they’ll probably be quite proud to be nominated – and even more chuffed should they win.
If you’re an ‘average’ gundog owner, there’s a good chance that you have a potential winner
Enter at www.thefield.co.uk/gundog-awards