When I awoke at 04h30 on a cold August morning to get ready for my first birdhunt over dogs, I didn’t realise that by the end of the day I would make a decision that would result in my biggest lifestyle change in years.
On the day of the hunt my colleague, Morgan Haselau, and I met Francois van der Walt of Matotoland Kennels and Classic Arms, Johan Botha of Von Kyroch Kennels, Dickey Meij and Kavin Mommsen, at a gravel road intersection in rural Mpumalanga. We were to spend the day shooting at Goudveld Boerdery over their dogs, Dagger, Temic, Brno, Bullet, Bonny, Cleo and Dixie. Seeing the dogs, all German shorthaired pointers (GSPs), stretching their legs and obeying their handlers’ commands to get back into their respective trailers, greatly impressed me.
After a brief discussion on safety and the dogs, we tackled the first field. It didn’t deliver as many birds as the old hands had anticipated on our arrival, as the wind was now blowing strongly and the grass was still frosted in places. Due to the cold, the birds were also slow to start moving, resulting in the dogs’ missing some birds, while other birds flushed without having been pointed.
We hunted with only two dogs at a time and to my untrained eye it appeared as if the dogs were just arbitrarily running around. Answers to my many questions finally had me understanding how the handlers and dogs interacted. The dogs worked as a team and the handlers used commands and whistles to optimize coverage of the area hunted. Consequently we were able to “clear” a field in a fraction of the time it would have taken us without the dogs.
In the second field we tried another pair of dogs, one being Cleo. In her excitement she chased off and her hand- ler had a hard time catching up. It was the first time I’d heard the term “dissa-pointer”. When she finally came back she almost immediately picked up the scent of birds and pointed. With the loaded shotgun’s barrels pointed skywards, I slowly approached and the birds flushed in a flurry. I instinctively brought the shotgun up to my shoulder and fired. I saw the air fill with feathers and a bird dropped to the ground. It all happened so quickly there was no time to think and it took a while for my heartbeat to slow down. I had bagged my first francolin on the wing!
I was indebted to Cleo; she helped to evoke excitement and emotions in me that I haven’t felt for years while out hunting. I shot my first buck when I was seven years old and I have been actively hunting a few times every year since. During the last couple of years the old thrill of hunting was no longer there, although I still enjoyed every moment of being outdoors. Over time, it had become less important to shoot something and more important to help first timers and to ensure everybody else got their biltong and meat for the year. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the combination of being out, seeing the dogs working and the explosion of birds from underfoot had me exhilarated and hooked again.
As the day progressed I focused on the handlers and realized that these people were true conservationists. They loved their dogs and this type of hunting focuses on social aspects, unlike plains game hunting where you’re alone, perhaps with a guide – a much more solitary affair. The dog handlers weren’t interested in shooting, they just wanted to enjoy seeing their dogs work.
We shot our bag limit for the day, and the two-hour drive back to Johannesburg went by in a flash as Morgan and I excitedly discussed the day’s shooting. Needless to say I had completely fallen in love with wingshooting over dogs.
This single day prompted me to take on the responsibility of owning a gundog, and in January this year I drove to Johan Botha in Witbank to pick up my own GSP puppy, which I named Magnum.
For me, this is the beginning of a new journey as I am a complete novice when it comes to bird-dogs. I will endeavour to share my experiences with our readers and I invite you to join me in the process of training him (or perhaps him training me) in this fine art of wingshooting. We plan to run a monthly column involving the training, responsibilities and other aspects of owning a gundog. The aim is to educate, entertain, and promote not only GSPs but all gundog breeds, products, clubs and associations.
Keep in mind, however, that the decision to acquire a dog should never be taken lightly, especially when it is an intelligent and very active breed like the GSP.
As I write this, Magnum is now ten weeks old and already well on his way to becoming an inseparable part of my family.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page and website www.manmagnum.com to follow this journey.