Ducks - Airgun Hunting
When your only terrier is killed to ground at the very start of the new season, you are left with a few choices, none of which are ideal. Firstly you can get yourself new stock, be that a pup or an established dog already working to a satisfactory level to yourself. Both of these choices present the terrier man with a problem. Should you choose the former route and go for a pup, you have a few extra problems to deal with such as finding the right stamp of dog and then actually finding litters available. Then you can effectively write off your coming season as there isn’t a lot you are going to be able to do with a young dog. Your next choice would be to find a dog that is already working, which is easier said than done. Although always available for sale through various outlets, such as this magazine, finding a working adult that is going to suit you is another matter entirely. Everyone works in a different way and whilst one man prefers a steady baying dog, you may plump for something a bit harder. There is always the trouble too, of no-one wanting to give away (or sell) a good worker as they are worth their weight in gold. You might get a mediocre dog, but who wants to work one of those? It’s at times like these that your friends and family come into play and a good hunting mate might see his way clear to letting you have some of their stock.
That very situation faced me this year and I made a slightly different choice due to a change of circumstances. Once my terrier had been killed I started looking out for a pup to bring into my kennels for the experience of rearing and bringing on a pup, seeing it go to ground and work it’s quarry the way it’s ancestors have for countless years, is something so very special to me. I don’t think I’d feel right in buying an adult dog in as I like to have responsibility for the way my dogs turn out. If I had gotten an adult from someone and it didn’t work the way I liked, then I don’t want to blame anyone else but myself. I know there are occasions and circumstances which necessitate buying in stock at an existing working level, but it wasn’t for me, not this time. I was dead set on a pup, which would have a decent working home and would be brought up the way I saw fit to choose.
Foxes to ground are very few and far between on my permission, which means that there isn’t the work for me in the immediate vicinity thus necessitating some amount of travel. Although they aren’t to ground, there certainly is no shortage of foxes and most of the ones we kill are caught above. And although the permission isn’t the largest in the world, we account for a good number as well as attempting to deal with the rabbits and squirrels. Having worked this land for little over a year, I was delighted to be asked to work some more land by friends of the landowners and they in turn have recommended me to some more of their friends. It makes me one very happy person to have these offers of land come in as it means that I am doing something right. The end result of this was that I now have a huge amount of land on which to hunt which I am sure you will agree, is never a bad thing.
Due to the choice I made in regard to the desire to bring on a pup rather than buy an already working dog in, this effectively meant that digging was out of the question for this season. So I had some serious thinking to do. Having attained more permission than ever before and having less dogs than for previous seasons meant that this was going to present me with some problems. Having said that, once I had been given the tour of the land by the owners, a few of my questions actually answered themselves.
One of the specific problems which the landowner wanted sorting was the huge flocks of Canada geese which were leaving a mess all over his fields. What made this problem worse was the fact that a rather posh housing estate had been built over looking one of his fields and that negated the use of a shotgun or rifle. This left me with very little option but to use air rifles. What was apparent was that none of my dogs were going to be any use. After looking at the full extent and type of land I was to be hunting, most of it seemed to consist of small ponds, streams and lakes, all of which harboured a multitude of wildfowl, endless amount of squirrels in the many willow trees and a healthy fox population. Reason to be cautious with the dogs was also emphasised when I came across four badgers when I was out with the lamp. Needless to say, I was going to have my work cut out for me and a phone call from my cousin changed the idea of taking on a terrier pup.
Having needed a dog for my ferreting for some time, my cousin rang me up and told me his collie cross bitch had just had her first litter and would I like one. Straight away I said yes as I had seen the quality of this bitch and knew a pup from her would be an excellent addition to my kennels. Having the amount of work for an adult lurcher was never going to be a problem now, so I settled into dreaming of what the season of 2004/2005 was going to be like with my new addition hopefully working by then. This had the effect of pushing the search for a terrier to the back of mind and I finally decided that I would concentrate on the lurcher pup and give the terriers a rest for the time being – something I wouldn’t have even conceived of a while back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not giving up terriers as they are my first love, merely making a realistic decision that I don’t have the work for one on my permission and as this is likely to take up most of my time, the chance for away days will be limited.
I won’t go into the shooting of the geese here as that was far from dog orientated, but what this shooting did give me was the time and opportunity to mooch around and pick up some hunting around the wetlands. I am the first to admit that my dogs are not world beaters but they do put the effort in, which is what pleases me. Giving them the opportunity to hunt many different terrains and as many different quarries as I possibly can, excites me as much as it excites the dogs. As my dogs are not experts in any particular field, I felt that hunting diversification was in order and the landowner offered us a crack at the ducks.
Our first foray was a day time affair, just a walk down by the streams and the lake, seeing what was what and how best to go about it. The number of Mallard, Coot and Moorhen was very healthy and the vegetation offered them the best of cover should they decide not to put to flight. As I have said earlier, shotguns were out of the question so it was down to the trusty air rifle. Normally I would have shot the birds on the lake and had my little black bitch retrieve them, but this was looking more and more unlikely as her eyesight isn’t what it was and she was relying more on movement and less from actually seeing the birds. This meant that should the shot bird not twitch, she would struggle to pick it up. This was all too evident on the second shot I took. The first Mallard went down and the bitch was sent into what was a perfect retrieve. Upon her return I shot another which she failed to pick up at all. This meant a swim for me as there was no way in the world I was leaving a dead duck on a pond. Things like that do not endear you to landowners and if you look after them and be as conscientious as you possible can, then your likelihood of keeping your permission is that much stronger.
When the dogs had been out lamping with me, they have always reacted on the sight of a rabbit. As soon as they picked up the ruby eyes, they were down that beam like lightning. It has since occurred to me that my training methods might be somewhat lacking in this area as if the bitch couldn’t see the quarry, she’d stay by my side which obviously meant that we’d get less in the bag. As you can tell, I don’t do that much lamping. Determined to work on rectifying this problem, I went to work with the dogs and we were finally making some sort of progress.
The next trip out for ducks was a night time affair and this time I was without the rifle. Knowing a particular stretch of the stream always held a few ducks, I went armed only with a lamp and the two dogs. What I intended to do was light up a few ducks, using the dog to find them in the reeds, whilst encouraging the bitch to swim down the beam and catch them. One of the reasons I had chose this stretch, aside from always holding a good number of fowl, was that the far bank had overhanging bushes which played things to my advantage. Due to the time of year, the bushes were bare of leaves which meant that I could see clear through them. As soon as the dog had marked (he won’t go into water) the lamp was flicked on and the ducks were soon on their way to the relative safety underneath the over hanging bushes. With the ducks firmly ensconced in their retreat, all that was left was for me to encourage the bitch down the beam into her quarry. Being a dog that loves water, she would dive in as soon as she realised the game was on. However as she couldn’t actually see the ducks, she would start to circle before finally coming back. With my encouragement she realised she was supposed to go somewhere and do something, but she didn’t know what. Trying not to get her too frustrated, I encouraged her into the water again and as she got closer to the Mallards, they decided upon swimming away, which was the worst thing they could have done. The instant they moved the little bitch had located them and the chase was on. As she gained on them, they foolishly attempted flight and this was where the vegetation played into my hands. Due to the fact that they were under the overhang of the bushes, as soon as the ducks rose they struggled with the branches, crashing into them and grounded themselves in an ungainly and ineffective escape attempt. This gave the bitch the chance to seize the ducks and to my amazement, rather than grab one and retrieve which I thought she would do, she attacked much the same as she would with rats, namely grab one, bite it and move onto the next. As anything she ever retrieves is generally only good for the ferrets, I wasn’t bothered about punctures, and in the twenty or so seconds of splashing, we had accounted for four Mallards and one Moorhen. We could have had more if I had had my wits about me as the ducks fortunate enough to escape flew straight at the lamp which meant a stout stick was marked down as a necessity for the next trip.
The end result of all of this was that I have now got a dog that has changed from one which relied totally on sight when lamping, to one which now has enough trust in me that if the lamp lingers on one area for any length of time, it means there is either quarry there or that I wish her to check it out. The bitch’s ability to learn quickly never ceases to amaze me and her deficiency in one area, namely her eyes, has been overcome in this instance and we have found other methods to ensure the game hits the bag. I know that essentially this article contains very little about earth work or running dogs, but I just hoped to bring to your attention that given the chance, ourselves and our dogs can benefit from a little change of scene every now and again. For me this is an opportunity that I can’t pass up and hopefully, if I do a good job, then maybe more land and opportunities will come my way.
And so a season that started so badly for me has already yielded some good results. Our hunting has diversified from what has been our standard of late, namely foxes and rabbits, to include game which I wouldn’t have thought I’d be hunting last season. Although the onus has been taken off digging, I still hope to have a crack at some of the larger places with Nell should we be fortunate enough to find someone at home. Whichever way I looked at it, this season would have seen me with a pup in the kennels. As it has turned out, it’s going to be a lurcher pup rather than a terrier pup, which should be interesting seeing as I haven’t worked a lurcher for a long time now.
Enjoy the rest of the season.
Written By Richard Christian