Restricting themselves to game pointed and flushed by the dogs, Roy Bebbington and a friend manage to snatch some roughshooting in North Yorkshire
Is there ever a good time to try to “squeeze in” a little sport? I suppose it is all dependent on the outcome. If it turns out favourably, then yes. If not, the domestic repercussions can, on occasions, be great!
On this particular day, with strong gusting winds on the high ground near home, I decided to invite my friend Tony Busby to bring his gun and visit an area with me that I call my “banker”. It is one of those wonderful little pieces of ground on which sport of some sort can usually be found — though there can never be any guarantee. My little banker consists of a small ghyll, bisected by a meandering beck, with both a north and south-facing aspect. Surprisingly, though the south face receives much more sunshine than the north, it is the latter that produces more game, partly due to its better game-holding cover: a mixture of light white grasses, patches of bracken and intermittent gorse bushes. The south face has been choked by the steady encroachment of rushes and, with the exception of one large area of wet flats favoured by snipe, it holds little attraction for game.
All the game found within the ghyll is truly wild, and its type and number differ on each visit, which all adds to the excitement of the outing. We only take shots at game pointed and flushed by the dogs, and this takes discipline and self- control. On occasions it can be frustrating to stand back and watch game that has failed to sit to a point, either flush or run off, while being well within range, but this is another small way in which we ensure that we will always have another opportunity on another day.
Two experienced gundogs
We took two experienced gundogs and initially worked them individually, allowing all of their previous experience to dictate to us (not us to them) the route we would take and the area to be covered.
The dogs took us to the north face of the ghyll; both had worked this area before and repetition had taught them that it was where they had found game in the past. As we moved up the ghyll’s slope, a dog began to slow, forming a “soft” point at first, then it broke off and turned downwind. But then it turned back into it and slammed firm on point. I have learned to allow our dogs ample time to work out whatever it is that lies before them and never to be in a mad rush to get straight up to it.
With the Gun readied, I asked if he would allow me to take a photo before the flush, to which he agreed. Mistake! I took that one step too close and up rose a woodcock. There was no chance of a shot, as I was standing directly between the Gun and dog. I offered my apologies.
We moved on and entered an area of varying-sized patches of bracken, thankfully now golden and dead. I have a love-hate relationship with bracken in this area. Early in the season, when still green and standing, it chokes out everything, precluding any form of sport. Yet from December onwards — especially so after some good cold weather and frosts — it is a habitat that fur and feather enter for refuge. Some patches are so large and dense that they never truly lie flat. Instead, underneath they are almost cavernous, allowing game to hide and run within. Wild pheasants love these areas and readily enter them. They have the ability to clamp almost to its floor and run at incredible speed to flush an extravagant distance ahead.
On occasions, however, the bracken can be too thick and prevents a good clean flush, hindering their escape. Even with experienced dogs, you need to exercise a certain amount of caution before allowing them to flush in such areas. To prevent a dog pegging game that has no realistic chance of escape in such areas, it is beneficial to walk in front of the pointing dog and flush yourself. If the bracken banks are large it is a better bet to work a couple of dogs to obtain a flush of any sort, as game will run ahead of a single dog, leading it a merry dance. When one of the dogs, which I have hunted with for years, drew on point on the extremity of a bracken bank, its mannerisms convinced me it was a rabbit that lay before it.
If a dog holds its front leg up it’s feather – its rear, fur
I have often heard the old wives’ tale “if a dog holds its front leg up it’s feather; its rear, fur”. There could be the occasional dog that may do so, but I have obtained points of almost all types and styles and there is no 100 per cent certainty as to what lies before it; one of our dogs produced the most stylish of points on what turned out to be a well-hidden feral cat. On that occasion, this particular feline had obviously been out hunting for rabbits, just like us.
Gun readied, I walked around the dog and, facing it, walked in. I was trying to force the rabbit to exit the bracken; otherwise there was no chance of a shot. On command, the dog lunged forward for the flush, the rabbit obliged, ran free, dodged the first shot but was hit with the second and was duly retrieved.
We moved on to another large area of bracken. The Gun took the higher part of the slope and I decided to work both dogs within. One dog began to indicate, slowed and pointed. On seeing this, the second ran up to its side and “honoured” the first’s point. Once I instructed them in, to my absolute surprise nothing was produced. It was far too much of a positive point for there to have been nothing there. I asked the Gun to keep abreast and we carefully moved on, with the dogs following up on a line of scent.
Wild pheasants are notorious at playing “cat and mouse” with a dog. On three other occasions the dogs would draw on point, only then to lose intensity and move on. Whatever it was they were working on was sitting for only the briefest of periods. It had to be a pheasant, I thought. It was obviously making its way under the bracken to its farthest extremity for a spontaneous flush. This could well be one of those previously mentioned occasions when, despite all our best efforts, something was not going to sit to a point, and a shot may well not be taken.
Finally, just feet away from the very edge of the bracken bank, a point — it would be our final one.
I had been following the dogs, so I stopped, standing my ground for fear of forcing a flush, and held my nerve and breath. Waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I cast a glance in the Gun’s direction, got the nod from him and asked the dogs to flush. They were more than willing after all of their previous frustrations. With a loud, indignant cackle, a cock pheasant rose away from us.
I stopped the dogs and, having initially taken my eye off the pheasant, looked up just in time to see it fall to earth on the sound of the second shot. Once it had been retrieved, we decided to call it a day, with a pheasant and rabbit in the bag. We had actually managed to squeeze in a little sport after all.
A hands-off type of handling
Too many handlers over-handle their dogs instead of allowing them to work naturally. Forced to its extremes, you can end up with a handler-dependent dog, in which all its natural abilities have been suppressed.
I also dislike some handlers’ incessant use of the whistle. the best hunter is a quiet hunter. I keep whistle commands as close to zero as possible, preferring visual ones, especially when free of my gun and working the dogs for another Shot.