As the end of the shooting season loomed everyone became frantic to cram in as many days as possible. Which is fine by me, now that I have established a reputation for being around and available at short notice.
In the last week of the season we, that is the dogs, Crumpet and Waffle and myself, managed to get out five times with friends or neighbours, poking about through bits of wood and gorse and field margins in the hope of flushing out a pheasant, woodcock or pigeon.
One outing was entirely thanks to my wife being asked to meet a friend of a friend over lunch at the other end of the county, and I ended up being asked by the husband for an “armed walk” with the dogs round his farm. The dogs on this afternoon were brilliant, or pretty good compared to some of their exploits. Much as I love beating on the local big shoot and so do the dogs, there can be so much pheasant scent on some drives that Crumpet at any rate is still inclined to lose it.
I can tell – if I can see her – straight away. Her pace quickens markedly and the twps rate (tail wags per second) goes off the scale. I have about 1.5 seconds to call her in or she can be unstoppable. She seldom goes too far but far enough to cause much panicky cursing and spluttering on the whistle.
(Whereupon Waffle, who is almost indecently well behaved, pops up at my feet having seldom ventured more than 20 or 30 yards.) But when it comes to rough shooting, where the game and smells are few and far between they can be the perfect pair, sticking close and rocketing through the undergrowth.
Our host on this day had produced an amiable Vizsla whose forte is pointing with his nose at hidden game. The only trouble with pointers in thick undergrowth, rather than on the moor, is that you can’t see them pointing which is rather the point of pointers.
Having said that, he did a beautiful stalk, patiently tracking an unseen running bird through 50 yards of gorse and ditches. While I kept our dogs in, we followed Rufus, for it was he, while attempting to perform a silent flanking movement against the moment the bird took off. Which it did. Straight across the burn, through trees and onto the safety of a neighbour’s ground. Not a shot was fired; not that it really mattered.
We had put up or heard at least half a dozen pheasants, seen and counted endless roe deer, inspected the detritus of the previous month’s floods in the fields, taken the dogs for a walk and come home with two cocks, two pigeons and a woodcock.