Upland gunning over a recalcitrant little Brittany

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Hera chewing on a bone she found at Schäfer’s Wood.

It is the end of October and the 2016 woodcock season is winding down. The forecast was for light rain, but virtually no wind this morning when I set out with Hera for the Marlborough Forest. We got away a little later than usual as I slept in a bit. We arrived at Cowan’s Corner close to 9:00 am. I hoped there might still be a few birds in the cover, left over from the great shoot we had the previous Monday afternoon. It snowed on Thursday and there were remnants of this on the ground as we approached the forest. It was overcast, but not raining when I set out with Hera at Cowan’s Corner for what turned out not her best day in the field. She locked up on point very quickly only to jump the gun and bump the bird before I could walk up her point. I bumped a second bird in short order, it flushed unseen. Hera was back in form when she pointed the third bird we found at Cowan’s Corner. It was in thick cover so I was well pleased when I flushed it over her point and got it with my second barrel. Hera made a good retrieve and we moved on.

We swept Cowan’s corner for one hour turning up six woodcock in all. She made two good points and bumped two. “It is one of those days,” I thought, and then the fun began. We arrived back at the car and when I ordered her back on board, she decided she would rather continue hunting at Cowan’s Corner on her own. She ignored me when I called her back. I waited briefly, allowing her the chance to return, but she did not. “Fine,” I decided. “Stay here if you want!” I got in the car and drove a short distance up the trail. This is something I did as a last resort when she was much younger to get the point across that we are leaving. This time, however, she either did not notice or was not fazed. I waited some more and she did not return. I drove back to the original parking spot and a short time later she returned, but still wanted to hunt. She knows she can outrun me; I cannot catch her in a foot race. Given this reality I decided to continue the hunt at Cowan’s Corner. We gave the cover a thorough sweep and turned up no more birds. This time when we returned to the car, she got on board when I gave her the command.

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Woodcock cover as I like to find it.

The cover at Cowan’s Corner was just the way I hope to find it in woodcock season. There were pools of water in the lowland bogs and meadows surrounding them. Regrettably, just like last season, the heavy rainfall we needed came at the tail end of the season. Still, the season turned out much better than I anticipated. There were fewer birds seen than one can expect in a good season, but more than I thought we would turn up. My plan was to head to Schäfer’s Wood for the next stage of our hunt, but I took the road to Lester’s Square by mistake. We moved on to Lester’s Square and found no one else there for a change. I hoped there might be a few birds left in the covers, but we turned up one. Hera made two solid points on it. The first was in a clump of cedar. The bird flushed, flying at me and past. I pivoted to make the shot and missed twice. I saw it land in a stand of cover across the meadow so we followed it up. Hera locked up on point and I walked up and flushed the bird. This time it flew close to the ground with Hera in hot pursuit, so I passed up the shot until it gained enough altitude. By then it was well out of range so I offered it a parting salute with both barrels.

We wrapped up the sweep of Lester’s Square and returned to the car and once more, Hera disobeyed when I ordered her on board. This time I got harsh with her, using my sergeant-major voice and some choice words. I think I was a little too harsh. Brittanies are not the toughest of the sporting breeds, least of all Hera. She stopped and sat in the meadow a short distance from the car and did not come when called. She looked frightened. I walked up to her and she did not bolt. I picked her up and put her on board, telling her “good girl.” With that settled, we moved on to Schäfer’s Wood. Once there, I found Hera was less interested in hunting. She kept close to me as we made our way through the cover. There were no points and no wild flushes. Eventually, she found a bone and decided having a good chew was more to her liking than hunting. It is important to end every outing on a positive note, so I let her chew on the bone a while before moving on. We finished the sweep of Schäfer’s Wood, turning up nothing. I got her back on board with no trouble this time.

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Woodcock taken over Hera at Cowan’s Corner.

We had one bird in the bag, taken over a solid point. It was not the best day in the field and I made sure to heap ample praise on Hera when we concluded the hunt. I remember reading in a book on gun dog training that you will make mistakes along the way in training your dog, but this does not mean you will ruin your dog. I will take her into the field tomorrow morning and see to it that ends on a positive note. She is a good dog and does a great job hunting for me. I take care not to lose track of this, especially on days like today.

Posted by Geoffrey

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