As I write, towards the end of February, it hardly seems possible that yet another shooting season has come and gone. I seem to recall, as a child, I was told time gets slower as you get older, it seems to me to be the other way around. Be that as it may, yet another season has passed and during all the days I was beating there were only two or three which were wet. Mercifully they were only part days of rain. Believe me, there is nothing worse than starting a day in the rain and continuing to get wet until it is time to go home many hours later. Not good for man or dog. It all becomes particularly unpleasant if the guns stop for lunch. What this means, in practical terms, is the beaters hang around in their cold and wet clothing trying to dry out, knowing full well they are in for a second soaking when the guns return and shooting continues. Fortunately, the keeper on the shoot I go to most often has made a rule that the guns shoot through and lunch at the end of the day. This has been a great success and it also ensures that guns are not handled by people whom have had the odd tipple with their lunch. Say no more! So, for the most part, we had dry days and many of them were sunny and very pleasant. Of course, nothing is ever straightforward, as,on sunny days the pheasants are not in the woods, they are out along the hedgerows dusting and basking in the sunshine. All this means they have to be driven back into the woods and on to the flushing points in order to be presented before the guns. This all takes time and a lot of walking but in the sun it is rather a nice way to spend a few hours.
Bertie, my young Lurcher, was a year old at the beginning of the season. This was as I planned it because I wanted to be able to take him beating and to begin the job of teaching him his part in the shooting calendar. Any Lurcher worth his salt wants to work and the selection of a puppy from working stock is just the start of the process. During the weeks and months leading up to the season, basic obedience has to be taught and a good standard achieved. There is absolutely no point in arriving at a shoot with a dog which is out of control, the most likely outcome of such a situation is to be sent home by the keeper. A bad dog can very quickly ruin the day's shooting and that would not be a good thing for man or beast. Fortunately, Bertie was receptive and took well to training, he was a quick learner and, I am happy to claim, puts a lot of more experienced dogs to shame. He comes back when called, he stays when told to do so and I can drop him in the down position with a hand signal and at long distances. All of which commends him to shoot keepers. There is always a worry with a new dog that it might be gun shy. Some dogs hear the bang of a gun and are gone. This is something which, as far as I am aware, is with them for life and, I think, incurable. However, thankfully, Bertie does not suffer from that problem.
Lurchers are by nature, and for the most part, quite clever dogs. I say for the most part as, with any breed or strain of dog, there are always the idiots which appear to be beyond training. The makeup of a proper Lurcher usually includes Greyhound and Collie. The Greyhound being the fastest dog and, therefore, providing speed and the Collie being brainy and providing intelligence. Together these two qualities should make for a very good working dog and, trained well, usually do. One of the biggest matters to overcome in the shooting field, when working a Lurcher, is the fact that they are gazehounds. This means they hunt by sight and not by scent. Working by sight has its benefits but it is also desirable for the dog to use its nose as well. Bertie took to locating and flushing pheasants by sight as though he had been born for it. Which, since he was brought into the world for hunting, is not that surprising. However, it has taken most of the season to train him into using his nose as well. This, really, is just a question of regular and frequent contact with the pheasants in cover where sighting is difficult if not. impossible. The nose, therefore, becomes an essential part in both locating and flushing the birds. Well, don't you just know it, at almost exactly the moment when the penny dropped and Bertie got the idea that nose equals pheasants the season came to an end. Fortunately, dogs have a very good memory and my expectation is, at the beginning of next season, Bertie will pick up pretty much where he left off. So what do we do now and until October when it all starts again? Well there will be a bit a rabbiting and chasing the odd grey squirrel. Training never stops and most days when we go out there is a session of training, all of which is, wrapped up as a game and a fun thing to do. Also long summer walks to keep us both fit, well assuming that is, that we get a summer.