IT’S A DOG’S LIFE ……..With Elio Colasimone
In the last thirty years I seem to have spent an awful lot of my recreation time hunting or fishing amongst other things. Mind you, it seems that since being introduced to gundogs I spend more time with them than I do chasing fish or any of the other things I used to do.
Obviously I’ve benefited enormously from the pleasure and satisfaction it’s given me and I can think of nothing better than to share some thoughts with our readers.
Not surprisingly, the training of and general gundog related matters seem to play a big part in many hunters’ lives these days.
They may even, in some small way, be helping to safeguard our sport of hunting.
Before looking at the ways we can use gundogs in the new millenium let’s examine the bigger picture for a moment.
Gundogs as our allies.
Now you’re probably wondering what gundogs have to do with safeguarding hunting?
Australia does not quite have the same level of history or tradition of hunting over classic gundogs as is seen in North America or Europe. Many historical reasons come to mind. As a starting point we certainly do not have the wide array of exotic game birds running freely that we can legally hunt i.e. pheasant, partridge, grouse etc. We know that pockets of these exotic game birds exist in isolation and obviously there is an increasing number being released on game farms and preserves.
For most of us it has been and remain the wily stubble and brown quail, rabbits, hares, ducks etc. and of course the array of larger ferals such as pigs, foxes, goats etc. A proportion of us have also experienced deer hunting.
That ethos that has been embedded in the fabric of North American society that links hunting with the noble pursuit of game with specialist gundogs, especially upland game birds, is a little thin on the ground here.
The general community support that we lack in hunting in Australia contrasts sharply with the widespread acceptance of amateur fishing.
It’s a pity hunters don’t receive the same level of acceptance and consideration.
In my view anything that may swing public attitude to our favour must be a good thing.
Firstly, it would do our future hunting no harm if the image of the hunter was scrubbed up a little.
The average Australian and farmers in particular have a strong affinity to animals in general and dogs in particular.
The image of responsible hunters, using an ethical approach with well trained, highly skilled dogs by their side or working in front of them must help the cause.
Secondly, those of us who have been involved in some way in the ongoing battle against the forces that would have almost all forms of hunting banned have found gundogs a valuable ally.
Certainly the issue of wounded game being left in the field lost much of its’ impact when well trained dogs used for retrieving were brought into the debate. It has been clearly shown that the use of properly trained gundogs alleviates the conservation and ethical concerns that hinge around problems of locating and quickly and humanely despatching wounded game.
Personally I’d never consider hunting waterfowl without a reliable retriever.
Gundogs for hunting in the future: Myths and Facts.
These days I can’t imagine going hunting without a dog.
Apart from the companionship they provide on the hunt and the fact they make great family pets, they are in indeed designed to help to make life easier for the hunter.
As always in life there is a catch!
The wrong sort of dog or a dog whose work frustrates you or is totally out of control may be worse than no dog at all.
Now some readers will be wondering if any dogs would do as gundogs.
You could argue that any dog that is gunned over is by definition a “gundog”.
My first experience with hunting over a dog was as a 12 year old when I used a fox terrier to hunt quail.
The closer my foxy got to the quarry the quicker he wagged his tail. My job was to stay as close as possible and to hit the quail with rat shot from a single shot .22 Lithgow. Clearly it had to done before the quail hit the 10 metre mark.
I’m sure readers could come up with plenty of similar stories that revolve around dogs that were not “true gundogs”.
Now if it works for you who am I to argue the point? Go for it!
However, I certainly would not recommend the combination I used as a child to anyone today.
The case for loading the dice in your favour.
For the purposes of clarification let’s leave aside for the moment the variety of dogs that have been successfully used to hunt pigs and larger ferals.
My first piece of advice is, think carefully about what type of hunting you actually do in the main. Try to match this hunting with a breed that is most likely to give you the best service.
Experimenting with crossbreeds or breeds that have no serious connection to hunting may have actually worked for you. If you’re happy, stick with what works for you.
At this stage of my life I’m like most people and want the odds stacked in my favour.
When you know that some careful and thoughtful breeders have spent lifetimes here and overseas improving breeds for particular tasks it’s a bit cheeky of us to expect that we’ll come up with something spectacular of indeterminate breeding from our own back yard.
A good or an indifferent gundog costs about the same in food and vet’s fees. The difference is that the poor one will cost a deal more, in blood pressure, angst and popularity with your hunting buddies without mentioning the harm you may do to your relationship with the property owner.
If you don’t actually have a dog and are interested, go and have some fun. Do some research. Read some books. Surf the Internet. Make contact with working gundog clubs. Contact breeders. Try to get invited on a hunting trip by someone with quality dogs. Get hold of some videos of gundogs at work. Give yourself time to get a clear mental picture of how individual breeds go about their business. That will give you an overview but won’t necessarily tell you what individual dogs will do. That will require a little more homework as you look more closely at lines within breeds.
What can you expect?
The more traditional hunting dogs can be used in as many ways as the hunter can conjure up.
· They can be used as basic tracking dogs.
· They can be used as an “at heel” dog the retrieves and tracks feather and fur. · They can be used as a dog that seeks game and flushes on find and on command retrieves. · They can be used as a dog that seeks, points and may flush and retrieve on command. · And of course they may be used for any combination of the above plus some we haven’t even thought of yet!
Readers would be aware that breeds are classified according to their main strengths and predispositions.
Who are the specialist?
For this exercise let’s for the moment ignore the coursing and terrier breeds. All the known gundog breeds are not mentioned but the main ones include:
The Retrievers: e.g. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Flatcoated Retrievers. Chesapeakes, Curly Coated Retrievers etc.
The Pointers/Setters: e.g. The English Pointer, English Setter, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter etc.
The Continental/Utility/All Purpose Gundogs: e.g. German Shorthaired Pointer, Brittany, German Wirehaired Pointer, Weimaraner, Vizsla. Pudelpointer. Spinoni, Large and Small Munsterlander etc.
The Spaniels: e.g. English Springer, English and American Cockers, Clumber, Welsh, etc.
The Hounds: e.g. Beagles, FoxHounds, Bloodhounds etc.
Which one for you?
We are all individuals with likes and dislikes and the dog that best fits our hunting may not necessarily catch the eye, or fit family circumstances and so on
. We may be pig headed and decide to fit the dog that appeals to us for whatever reason, to our circumstances.
This is “not always” the best idea but thankfully for hunters most breeds can be surprisingly adaptable for their handlers.
Say, as a general rule you are likely to be doing mostly duck work, then clearly one of the retriever breeds is more likely to fit the bill.
If you want to use the dog for game location in front of the gun the options increase substantially as you look more closely at the pointing and flushing breeds.
Take my individual circumstances and the logic I use to explain my choices.
Arguably more than one breed could meet my needs but I’ve chosen an All Purpose gundog.
In order of preference, I hunt mostly quail followed by ducks, rabbits, hares and have taken deer, pigs, foxes and other ferals.
I hunt mostly in subtropical Queensland where heat and heavy cover are a constant problem both in game location and retrieving in the field. The waterways can also have difficult cover in the shape of hyacinths, reeds. water lilies etc.
Quail can fluctuate in numbers considerably which requires a dog with stamina and strong desire for the search for hours with sometimes little result. On demand and while under some duress they may be expected to perform admirably when retrieving in hot difficult conditions in heavy cover.
The coat needs to be short to avoid the effects of heat and picking up rubbish in rough cover i.e. seeds, burrs etc.
When I’m not hunting I also have fun competing in Retrieving Trials and Field Trials. Hence the dogs need to be responsive to handling complex routines.
For the uninitiated who might have the misconception that “trialing is a waste of time” let me assure you that trials both sharpen the dogs and handlers for the real thing and act as a yardstick for future breeding.
I have chosen to work with German Shorthaired Pointers which in my view cope particularly well with my demands and the type of hunting I do.
Clearly a change of circumstances in my own life would make me rethink and look more closely at the attributes of other breeds.
Someone else, no doubt who does a lot of rabbit work in cold conditions would probably get better value from a flushing breed such as an English Springer Spaniel or Labrador etc.
Applying the principle of Horses for Courses is not always the only, but is generally, the “better option.”