Oh, I'm so tired of getting wet this year I said to myself as I peered yet again through the on coming driving rain trying to spot any shot birds down. The Labradors I had out to help me pick up were also hunched against the elements waiting for the drive to end. It made me realise how much I enjoyed walked up shooting and being on the move all the time.
I do many miles a year of walked up shooting over the Spaniels mainly on rabbits to prepare them for Field trials and the shooting field. Walked up shooting is an art in itself and in my mind far more exciting and demanding than driven shooting. Unfortunately it is an art which is becoming more rarely practiced due to many different factors too numerous to mention here.
I was most fortunate towards the end of the shooting season to be invited out by a friend for a days walk about. We duly gathered at 10.00 am and it transpired that out of the four of us only two of us had dogs. I took along two retired field trial Spaniels one to work while the other walked to heel and swapped them around when need be. My host had his young but very well trained Cocker Spaniel out. We set off and it wasn't very long before the dogs had produced game for the bag. We were out for about fours hours in total and our excursion yielded a dozen pheasants 1 partridge 2 rabbits 6 pigeons a teal and a Goose from a modest shoot which had put down a mere few hundred pheasants previously shot at. Keeping the dogs hunting within gunshot had given us every opportunity of connecting with our prey once flushed by the Spaniels. The pace of the line was steady giving the dogs every opportunity to hunt their cover thoroughly.
Some shoots offer walked up days on a commercial basis and it is quite common for guns to charge ahead of the line creating a race effect being under the misapprehension - if I'm first in line I'll get the shot! - Often asked to help out on these days I see the poor frustrated Gamekeeper trying to urge the guns to slow down and to let the dogs work their cover for it is the dogs that will produce game for them. The shooting line has to be kept straight for safety reasons and the faster the line goes the more cover the poor dogs have to miss to keep up with the line. The line should keep pace with dogs not the dogs keeping pace with line! Dogs charging ahead of the shooting line flushing game way ahead of the guns are detrimental to this discipline as there is no opportunity for the guns to get a shot at game flushed out of range. Ground and game are just being wasted. With dogs hunting close to the guns steady to flush and retrieving to hand, less ground is disturbed and more game is produced. A good time will be had by all. As I said walked up rough shooting is an art.
It has been a very enjoyable shooting season although a little wet at times! Now its time to concentrate on the young dogs in the kennel, getting them ready for walked up rabbit shooting in the summer. This means many many hours spent in the training pen getting them steady to flush!!