Although picking-up is a paid pursuit it falls into the category of ‘hobby’ simply because the remuneration is pitiable, the conditions Dickensian and the hours anti-social. No picker-up gets any more out of it than a good day’s sport in the company of kindred souls. As a new dog man or woman, joining a team can be a daunting prospect; although I am always excited it can be a bit like gaining acceptance to a gentlemen’s club. Others have written on the rules and etiquette relating to picking-up but fail to address the protocol for joining an existing team. The reception from the old guard may range from mistrust to naked hostility, so here are a handful of tactful moves that will help the newcomer along...
1. Identify the Top Dog
In my picking-up experience it is extremely rare for democracy to prevail as there will always be a captain of sorts. This is not to say that an autocratic style is necessary for sooner or later mutinous rumblings will emanate from the back row. Continually monopolising the ‘sweet spot’ in the line, with the best view and the most action, is unlikely to endear a member to the rest of the tribe. It is irritating when the same self-important picker-up says: “I always go there…” before stomping off to take up the same choice position in the field. A competent leader will ensure all members get a fair shake.
2. Don’t take a knife to a gun fight
It may be obvious, but don’t turn up to a new shoot with just one dog; you are apt to be regarded as the poor relation and the dog may work itself into the ground. Equally, one should avoid arriving with a hunt’s worth of wild-eyed curs to avoid being labelled as either a bully, a menace or worst of all both!
3. Avoid geographic embarrassment
Taking to the field clutching the latest GPS technology should not be necessary, but learning the topography of the ground you are expected to traverse is a top priority to avoid being dropped from the team as a liability. One should commit the names of each drive to memory lest the good-tempered mentor who elects to show you the ropes grows weary when you fail to turn up yet again at the end.
4. Play nice in the sandbox
A good team dynamic is vital to the team’s efficiency. The gender balance of your new team has less affect on getting the job done but as a woman picker-up I have observed that when we are in the minority we may be patronised or plain ignored by the boys. A preponderance of bossy gals can have the same negative effect on the teams’ dynamic; though it pains me to admit it a chum and I were once labelled ‘The Ogresses’ by our team mates.
5. Keep that chin up
It will come to pass that sometimes you will find yourself in the bleakest spot, far from the action and questioning if you are even in the right place. Worse still, you may question the ability of your dogs. While you cannot be judged solely by the amount of birds your dogs retrieve it is still dispiriting to trudge back to the game cart with nothing to show from the drive, yet again. Accept with good grace that everyone on the team will experience that wilderness emotion now and then, and today it was your turn.
6. Go the extra mile
Be prepared to walk a long way back for a bird. It may be just the one but it is a great ego boost to retrieve that difficult mark or elusive runner and makes for a great anecdote when debriefing over a good red.
7. Wind your neck in
Nobody warms to a braggart picker-up so avoid blowing your own trumpet; even if the drive and subsequent retrieve were akin to one of the trials of Hercules your team mates really don’t care. A little known but indisputable section of that mighty tome known universally as Sod’s Law advises us that the very best retrieves are singular pleasures, witnessed only by yourself and a panting, mud-spattered accomplice (who has no ego…)
8. Share the love
One common emotion that informs our hobby is our unconditional love for dogs. We act like beaming parents at sports day even if your brutish dog has just snatched another bird from my little bitch. Take an interest in the other dogs and applaud a good retrieve, enquire about the dog’s breeding and comment on its fine looks. The owner will bask in the reflected glory and your stock will rise.
9. Beware of ‘the long shot’
Unless you have unshakeable confidence in your ability to pull it off (and are out of sight of your peers), avoid the fancy stuff. This can take many forms, but if you fail your frantic whistling and semaphore-like flailing will alert the rest of the team, which may be already willing the rookie picker-up to fail.
10. Bribery works
If all else fails and your first outing is an unmitigated train-wreck then an expedient bag of bullseyes or aniseed twists may be all it takes to break the ice or cool tempers. Alternatively, when your turn comes to furnish the tipple don’t whip out the saddest, most diminutive bottle of sloe gin; a good-sized measure of the home-made variety is a sure way to win friends.