The ad­ven­tures of Nick and Ted

It never fails to amaze Nick Ri­d­ley how Ted can eas­ily switch from job to job, whether it is be­ing shot over or used as a “demo” dog

Sporting Gun - - Contents - Age 31 months

This month I have seen far too much of the dash­board of my truck. Early in the month, I headed up the M6 to Cum­bria for a much-an­tic­i­pated cou­ple of days out on the rab­bits with Ted. Then, two weeks later, I was head­ing in to­tally the op­po­site di­rec­tion to deep­est Devon. I must ad­mit I don’t think I have done much to help the world’s global warm­ing dilemma.

Weather wor­ries

By now ev­ery­one will be aware that the heat­wave is fi­nally over and, just to prove the point, the drive “up north” could not have been wet­ter — it poured down the whole way. In fact, when we pulled into the car park at the well-known coun­try cloth­ing sup­plier John Nor­ris of Pen­rith — a reg­u­lar stop- off point on our shoot­ing trips — the town was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mon­soon con­di­tions and I have to say our gen­eral de­meanour was not good. How­ever, af­ter bag­ging some ex­cel­lent bar­gains, in­clud­ing a Schöf­fel tweed waist­coat for just £ 50, I started to feel a bit hap­pier.

The next morn­ing the weather could not have been more dif­fer­ent. It was a bit nippy first thing, but by mid­day the sun was shin­ing and spir­its were high. It never fails to sur­prise me how quickly Ted gets back into the swing of hunt­ing rab­bits. There was plenty of scent about, but it was dif­fi­cult for the lit­tle dog to push the rab­bits out through the white grass and bracken. I could see him oc­ca­sion­ally “punch” a rab­bit out, but be­cause of the cover it was hard to see the bolt­ing bunny — let alone get a shot off. You get a spilt sec­ond to raise the gun and pull the trig­ger and quite of­ten I end up hav­ing a shot in des­per­a­tion rather than with any con­vic­tion. I quite of­ten find my­self will­ing the rab­bits to bolt up a bank just so I can get a clean shot, but that rarely hap­pens and, in truth, that is what makes it more chal­leng­ing.

Fewer rab­bits

Due to the heat it was re­ally im­por­tant we kept the dogs and our­selves hy­drated. De­spite the amount of rain the pre­vi­ous day, it was ob­vi­ous how lit­tle wa­ter there was on the moor; we also no­ticed there were far fewer rab­bits about than on pre­vi­ous trips.

Rab­bit num­bers through­out the coun­try have plum­meted over the past year or so and it is thought that this is down to a num­ber of fac­tors. The late win­ter and the dry sum­mer have cer­tainly had an ef­fect, but the main rea­son is the up­surge in rab­bit vi­ral haem­or­rhagic dis­ease (VHD), a highly con­ta­gious dis­ease caused by a cali­civirus. In­ter­est­ingly, cli­mate ap­pears to play a cru­cial role in the trans­mis­sion of VHD. In nor­mal con­di­tions, most out­breaks of the dis­ease oc­cur in win­ter or spring. High tem­per­a­tures in late spring and sum­mer will con­sid­er­ably re­duce the spread of the virus, so hope­fully the hot sum­mer will have slowed it down. That said, all the rab­bits we saw were fit and healthy and, de­spite my best ef­forts, the ef­fect on the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion was min­i­mal. Ted did pull off a cou­ple of good re­trieves, and one in par­tic­u­lar was a bit spe­cial. Our host Fran Ard­ley shot a rab­bit high up on a stone bank and I had to push Ted through a bracken bank to get him up on to the rocks. Any­one who has tried to get a spaniel through cover on to “open” ground to make a re­trieve will know how chal­leng­ing this can be. But this is some­thing I train for, and on oc­ca­sions like this all the hard work pays off. In fact, that one re­trieve made my trip.

Demo dog

A cou­ple of weeks later I headed to Dart­mouth for a pho­tog­ra­phy job. I took Ted with me be­cause one of my clients is in­ter­ested in us­ing him at stud next year. On my ar­rival, she asked if I would be will­ing to give a demon­stra­tion of Ted and how I trained him. I told her that he isn’t a “demo” dog, but that I would try.

For­tu­nately, Sue had a cou­ple of place boards lay­ing around, so I started off my “demo” by ex­plain­ing how I de­vel­oped Ted’s steadi­ness, re­call, re­triev­ing and de­liv­ery — the lit­tle dog was per­fect. We then went down to the field and I put him through his paces and he didn’t put a foot wrong. In fact, he im­pressed me. It never fails to amaze me how Ted can switch from job to job, be­ing shot over, pick­ing-up, beat­ing, be­ing a model for my dog pho­tog­ra­phy lessons and now be­ing a demo dog.

“ted pulled off a cou­ple of good re­trieves on the rab­bits”

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