Page images
PDF
EPUB

season,

sight. We soon gave up calling or whistling to her; and about an hour afterwards she suddenly appeared through a gap a mile or two farther on, and came trotting up to us, all amiability, as if nothing had occurred. The moment the gun went off she repeated the process, and so on for the whole of the day, and many subsequent days—in fact, all through the

She did not like to leave the party ; the sport seemed to have a kind of fascination for her ; but she couldn't face the noise. We let her do just as she liked, and as she never did any harm or put anything up, we had no occasion to interfere with her, and the next season we had our reward. What she took to doing was this. She would make a half circuit through the turnips just in front of us at a distance of twenty or thirty yards, and then come to heel again till the spirit moved her to make another, coming back each time in the same manner. If during one of her excursions she winded birds, she would stand still for a moment, then look round, and trot gently and slowly towards them. She never flushed them out of shot, and when birds fell she retrieved them capitally. She had a firstrate nose, and I doubt if she ever failed to bring a bird the whole time we had her. But she would never attempt to range, stand, or down charge, and never could be got to do more than run a few yards in front, and then back to heel as if frightened at her own temerity. Yet she was a most useful creature, and helped us in her time to a great deal of game. We arrived at this result by leaving her entirely to herself ; but perhaps it should be added that she conceived an extraordinary attachment to her new master, and that may have had something to do with her behaviour. But as a general rule we hate gun-shy dogs, and should never care to trouble ourselves with another.

No man can ever hope to have really good dogs, good rangers, and steady at the same time, if he is not prepared to sacrifice a little shooting for the sake of breaking them in. H. H. protests most vehemently against the practice common with some sportsmen of taking up their dogs the moment they have got a quantity of birds into a turnip-field or other cover. And of course, if we are engaged in breaking dogs, the practice is ridiculous: it is like refusing to go into the water till we have learned to swim. But it must be remembered that for men who are not dog-breakers, and who are using pointers and setters in whom they have not implicit confidence, the takingup system is very excusable. We do not say even this of men who live entirely in the country, and can shoot every day if they please. These are bound to give their dogs a fair chance ;

and

and if a few birds are run up, and half-a-dozen shots lost in a day's walk, what is that out of the whole year, or compared with the pleasure of finishing your dog's education, and finding in him hereafter a servant who can be trusted implicitly? But to men who have only a little shooting in the year, and who must make the most of their opportunities, some dispensation from the strict rule may be allowed. Under no circumstances, however, can any man be excused who takes up what he knows to be really good dogs, just when they have a chance of getting their share of the sport and showing the stuff they are made of.

There is of course as much difference between man and man as between dog and dog : and as much depends on the dog's confidence in yourself as on your confidence in the dog. If the latter knows that you understand your business, that you can shoot well, and that he will get more fun by following your instructions than by taking a line of his own, he will always work carefully when he finds himself in the proximity of birds. If you let him

go,
he
may

blunder up a bird in a bad scent; but, on the other hand, you rarely get the corners of fields well beaten without a good ranger, and innumerable covies are passed every season through this one cause alone. Dogs that

you

have broken yourself, or whom you have known from puppyhood, are of course the best; and such dogs, if they are good ones to begin with, rarely make mistakes. In beginning to shoot over a young dog for the first time, it is a good plan after firing to keep him at the down charge, while you go and look for the dead birds. As soon as you see one of them on the ground, beckon to him to come and find it. Then make him down charge again, and do the same with the second. This will teach him that the bag is a joint concern, and that if he waits patiently after birds fall he is sure to get them in the end. Once satisfied of this, the dog will not want to run in, or to edge himself forward before you are ready to go on with him. Perhaps the severest test of a pointer's sagacity and self-control combined is leaving him to stand at a bird in a hedgerow, while you go round the other side to be ready for it when it

This is only necessary when you are quite alone, and very few dogs will do it. But we have had pointers who would, and would wait five or ten minutes without moving a muscle, till we got round and stood opposite to them. A signal to the dog was enough to make him, not break his point, but cause a slight rustle, and this, once or twice repeated, was sure to bring the bird out in your face. The dog then dropped, and waited patiently till we returned to him. No dog can

comes out.

be

be prevailed upon to act in this manner who has not that implicit confidence in his master of which I have already spoken. A highly bred dog who has it, and has been used to one man alone all his life, can really be made to do almost anything.

A delicate question among sportsmen is whether setters should be allowed to retrieve or not. H. H. was originally much against it, but now he is a convert to the practice. While on this subject he incidently observes that he has known

several old dogs retrieve, as an exception, simply from knowing that, if they did not, you would lose your bird.' He gives the following curious instance :

'I was shooting alone on the Cornish moors with a retriever, and a Gordon bitch that I had purchased for a few sovereigos, unbroken, eighteen months old, which, after a year and half's uselessness, turned out first-class, especially at snipe. I had put up, and had had a very wild, difficult shot at a woodcock in a little bit of brushwood. I went on, and thought nothing more about him. A quarter of a mile ahead there was a little bit of thin alders; the bitch went through them, and I noticed her make & sort of half point and leave it. She came out, and after going another quarter of a mile she stood, and I killed a snipe. I sent the retriever for it, she watched him get it, and then, without any apparent rhyme or reason, she left her own charge and went scuttling back 100 miles an hour. I can see now the old retriever's face as he stood still with the snipe in his mouth, and watched and pondered. For myself I said nothing. I knew there was something up, but could not conceive what. The patch of alders was just round a corner, and I could not see it, but almost instantaneously after rounding the said corner she appeared back again with the woodcock in her mouth. She came up very proudly for the last four yards, but then in a great hurry spit it out at my feet, made an awful wry face, and went and dropped where she ought to have stayed.

“Now, here, in my opinion, was reasoning; she saw the dog pick up the snipe, and thought, “ Ah! that's what I ought to have done with that cock, which I was too proud to notice in the alders," and so back she went and did it, though she hated touching the bird.'

But we can give even a more remarkable example of this peculiar form of sagacity which we witnessed ourselves while shooting in Suffolk some ten or twelve years ago.

We were out with a friend and his son, a young man just going into residence at Oxford. It was a dull October day with a bad light, and we were beating a long, narrow strip of turnips, with a steady old black-and-tan setter, who was a good honest dog in his way, but the last animal from whom we should have expected anything brilliant or original. He had never been known to retrieve anything in his life. Well, a bird rose between the father

and

[ocr errors]

and son and went back; the former fired and killed the bird, peppering the latter at the same time from head to foot. He fell to the ground, and we all thought he was killed. Not to harrow the reader's feelings unnecessarily, we may at once say that the accident was not fatal, and that in a week's time the youth was as well as ever. At first, however, it looked very serious. We got him through an open gate into the corner of another field, and gave him as much brandy as he could take, and presently we set off to the neighbouring village to bring a doctor. When we returned with him, nearly an hour must have elapsed from the time the shot was fired, and all three, father, son, and dog, were lying on the ground together, the last half asleep. We got the wounded man into a dog.cart, and were moving off, when all of a sudden Turk seemed to remember the bird that had been killed. Well,' he must have said to himself, this is a bad job certainly, but not so bad as all that—there is no reason why that bird should be lost.' So he quietly trotted back to the turnips, went straight to the spot where the partridge fell, and brought it back to us in his mouth, as if he had done nothing remarkable. We had often shot over him before, and often shot over him afterwards, and can safely assert that neither ourselves nor anybody else ever saw hiin pick up another bird during the whole course of his life. The above scene we witnessed with our own eyes, and we can honestly declare it a faithful and unvarnished narrative.

Mr. Rawdon Lee, in his book on collies, has some interesting stories of canine intelligence, but none quite equal to what we have heard ourselves from the Welsh shepherds and farmers. However, as they have nothing to do with the gun, we pass on to the breed of dogs which, take it all in all, is perhaps the most fascinating of any, while at the same time yielding to none in sagacity, hardihood, and courage; we mean, of course, spaniels. There is one difference, according to H. H., between spaniels and all other sporting dogs, which must never be lost sight of:

• With regard to setters, pointers, or retrievers, a good man may buy so-called broken dogs which have contracted all sorts of bad habits, and, indeed, have nothing at all good left except pace, style, and nose, and yet be successful in their ultimate re-breaking. With spaniels this I boldly pronounce to be impossible. A spaniel once allowed to get wild, or to take any liberties at all, may be of course improved, but will never be really reliable as long as he lives.

But then we also find these consolatory remarks at the end of the chapter. If you possess a badly-broken or half-broken Vol. 171.–No. 342.

spaniel,

2 F

spaniel, who is nevertheless a good dog whom you wish to keep, you can yourself,' says H. H., get him fairly under command by hook or by crook, so that he shall not do any great damage by his wild ways.' And he then goes on to say, in illustration of this :

'I had a very badly-broken spaniel given me last year, with which I have been very successful as far as I have tried. I do not interfere with her running in to dead or wounded game, and she always retrieves the wounded, and now, owing to timely and judgmatical correction, she chases “wing” hardly at all, and fur for only short distances; so that, although “retriever” work is quite spoiled by her, still she is a 66 wonder to kill game to.'

This is perfectly true, though everything depends on the character and temper of the dog. Sometimes they show wonderful docility and rare quickness in understanding novel situations. Only last year we had a very handsome well-bred spaniel sent to us for partridge-shooting. All he had been really trained for was wild-fowl shooting, and he had been used to jump off the punt into the water as soon as he saw a bird drop. We very

much question whether he had ever seen a partridge till he went out with us into Shropshire. On this occasion we were alone, and a covey of birds went into some potatoes, where they scattered into twos and threes. Those who know how trying it is, even to the best setters, to have birds running just in front of them along the drills, will appreciate what is to follow. Smoker, who would work to hand and never go far

away,

unless he was chasing a hare, soon found some of the birds, which immediately began to run. We saw him setting off along a drill full speed, with the birds, as it turned out, close to him; yet a word checked him; and another word, with the uplifted hand, stopped him. We then got close up, and succeeded in making him foot the birds slowly through the potatoes without making any rush, and never more than six or eight yards behind them, till he got to the extreme edge, when up got three young birds, of which we secured a brace, which he brought in capital style. His wild-fowl practice had made him very good for towered birds, as he would work round and round in a diminishing circle, following carefully every motion of your hand till his nose informed him where the bird

Now this was practically an unbroken dog: in cover where he could not see you, or where there were many hares, he was under no control; but a month's constant practice would have made him as useful a partridge dog as you could wish, to shoot to. The reason was that he had a perfect temper,

was.

was

« PreviousContinue »