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The problem with the mouth

It is again with some apprehension that I write about hunting as I know many of you are against. Please read my last blog as I tried to explain why hunting has its place – certainly as wild bird hunting is concerned. In brief, responsible hunting means that a vast amount of money is put into habitat care, which benefits both game AND other wild-life. So when we hunt grouse on the moor, we support the estate’s efforts in preserving the moor land with ALL its species by keeping foxes down and by supplying the all important waterholes and vegetation.
When I work my dogs on the moor for people who come to Scotland to hunt, we are very aware of finding EVERY SINGLE bird and of bringing it back to the larder in a shape that is worthy for the table. That is why “the mouth” is important. It is crucial to have a dog with a soft mouth so that the game is fit for eating.
Out of my three, Alice is perfect and totally reliable. Tippex almost always squashes the birds and Gollum….. well, the jury is still out.
I have worked the dogs on 21 days’ grouse shooting so far this year and Alice has performed some stunning work. The one that sticks in my mind is her recent river retrieve. Tippex pointed a bird, which was shot, but fell on the other side of a very fast river. Although there were Labradors about on the day, I saw, through the corner of my eye, that Alice had definitely marked where the bird fell, so I mentioned her name and she went. Across the river in spate and full of boulders, up the other side and straight to the bird. On the way back she balanced on a boulder to decide exactly how to cross, slipped and fell in. Right under the water, bird and all. She reappeared and swam across. The bird she delivered to hand was in perfect condition.
I do not allow Tippex to pick up, but I am still hoping Gollum will have a good mouth.

It seems evident that squashing a bird has to do with adrenalin…. when Tippex points, flushes and then sits down watching the shooting, her instincts are raging!!!! If she is then sent to pick up the bird, she simply makes sure that it is indeed dead and she gives it a squeeze. Sometimes a really good squeeze. However, if she is unaware of a shot bird and comes across it when hunting, she will pick it up ever so tenderly and bring it back. That happened last Friday. I know she can do it, but it’s the excitement that ruins the mouth.
I have sent Gollum for retrieves with mixed results. Sometimes the bird is absolutely perfect and sometimes it’s flat.
After all those grouse days, I took them all for a walk and just let them please them selves walking along the river and on the stubble fields. They were all tearing about enjoying some freedom. Suddenly Gollum came trotting towards me and delivered a pigeon to my hand. It wasn’t very well for some reason and he had just come across it. It was utterly unscathed by his jaws. You wonder if some more calming before a retrieve would help, but these dogs are German Wirehaired Pointers and the hunting instinct is very, very strong.
Some times there is some humour in the picking up, however, as last Friday, when Gollum was hunting away in the heather, stopped, went forward, picked something up and brought it to me: a red leather glove that someone had lost. It duly went in the game bag.

At the end of the working day Alice, who is now eight years old, is looking forward to get home to her Tuffies bed. Here she is, having a lunch time snooze in the heather.