IRELAND: A shooter’s best friend

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Jason Doyle looks back on a pleasing season of summer sport and suggests more shooters should bring Fido along for company

As the combines finish rolling and the last of this harvest is gathered into storage, we mark the end of another decoying season. This year’s chilly spring with little growth until late May meant the crops were still standing for at least a week longer than other summers here in the southeast of Ireland, and this gave the pigeons plenty of extra time to antagonize the farmers. I had more days shooting birds on standing crops this year than any other, and I was not the only one.

It seems this year in Ireland more and more people have returned to the sport of pigeon shooting. The chat in the local gun shops definitely confirms this fact with record numbers of cartridges and equipment being sold all summer. On more than one occasion I’ve arrived to set up a hide only to find guys already there, and that has rarely – if ever – happened in the past.

Now I am by no means complaining, as there are plenty of birds to go around and any extra help protecting the farmer’s crops is most welcome. I just hope that everyone is making the most of the exceptional quarry that is the wood pigeon. To me, they are as sporting as any game bird and to shoot them well in all conditions requires a huge amount of skill.

One thing I have failed to see all summer is anyone pigeon shooting with their dog in tow, and it got me thinking. In Ireland there is no real tradition of taking your dog with you unless you’re after ducks or pheasants, but I feel we are missing a great opportunity.  Most people who shoot pigeons in the summer also shoot game in the winter and, yes, it’s a great way to keep the eye in and blow the cobwebs off the scattergun – but what about our four-legged friends? I hear so many guys complaining in November that their dogs aren’t fit enough for a day on pheasants and they should have done more work with them pre-season. Why not take them into the pigeon hide?

Respect for your quarry would dictate that you make every effort to retrieve as many fallen birds as possible, thus making your dog invaluable, particularly in standing crop where picking birds by hand is virtually impossible. A few days out will do wonders for your dog’s fitness levels and help break the boredom of waiting for the winter’s picking up and rough shooting. It’s also a great opportunity for some training and to iron out any issues with your dog’s steadiness. On that point, if you have any major concerns with your dog running in, a tether is a wise addition. There are few things more annoying than seeing your meticulously built hide disappearing down the field connected to your lunatic springer!

Personally, I just love bringing my dogs shooting and having my lab with me in a pigeon hide adds another enjoyable dimension to the sport. However, in exceptional heat it wouldn’t be fair to expect a dog to work all day retrieving pigeons. On such days, one could always come back to the field in the evening with Fido for a sweep up excercise. Please remember that plenty of clean fresh water is essential. Summer sport is so much more enjoyable when shared with man’s best friend.

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