Brittany spaniels

Roughshooting with Rosie

A story by Sporting Shooter reader Keith McElkearney

Well, the first day's hunt is over. My feet are in bits from going the extra mile! I started this morning at 10AM, I would have started sooner but the rules of this ground are duck only before 10AM. I parked up in a likely spot, readied my gear, adjusted my dog and set off. The weather today was a little overcast but very mild with bright spells here and there. With a soft breeze I reckoned it would be a perfect hunting day. I took Rosie with me first she was the most experienced and as I was stepping out in prime snipe grounds I wanted to give myself every chance! We bore into the breeze and she began to take up ground to either side of me. We had only started our hunt before the first shrieks of departing Snipe could be heard, unfortunately these were too far in front, but at least I knew they were there. We walked till lunch without seeing another bird. Rosie had worked her heart out so I owed it to her to bring her to some better snipey ground. I thought I would give Rosie a break and run her daughter a while. Now Holly isn’t your typical French Brit, She runs a bit like an Irish Setter very wide and very pacy. To top that she is very head strong and I and only I can put at least some reins on her! She was trained by my better half and has had, shall we say, her own way a little too often! The one thing I will say for her is that she is a very exciting dog to follow! We hunted some yellow grass first, this is interspersed with patches of heather and damp or wet open ground, the very place a snipe could pop up! She quartered her ground for a good 20 minutes before she begun hinting that something was ahead of her. I know enough of her now to know that it wasn’t a snipe and this bird was running hard ahead of her. Her area she was hunting got smaller until I knew she definitely had a line. Her head lowered as she cantered forward, her rump quivered and her ears rose listening for what was ahead. She stood on point. I crept forward and nudged her in. Up got the bird rocketing away I fired and watched it fold on the far side of a huge drain. Holly had sat for the flush and I now sent her for it. She brought me back a beautiful plump hen pheasant. Now on this particular shoot we shoot hens and cocks. The ground is peat bog and the landowners cut deep drains everywhere to dry out the peat before bagging for garden compost. The result is that any broods the hens raise are killed the minute they hop over a drain. So in midsummer we release pheasant poults into the wild to supplement the small wild stock. Itching to get down to the Lough shores I bring Holly and bird back to the trailer and change her for the now rested Rosie. We cross the area where I shot the hen, let her have a sniff around and get her Geee’d up. We cross the old gate and look at the Lough stretching out before us. I thank God for such a great day and to be spending it this way. I have the dog, the gun and this stretched in front of me, hopefully full of snipe

We start working the shore, me slipping and sliding about like a horse on roller skates and Rosie tip-toeing through the puddles like a gundog should. We must have walked a mile without stopping, I could see duck out beyond the hides flying back and forth, there was no hope of them coming any nearer. I stopped to take a picture of the hide. I wish I had a zoom lens to show you all those duck just beyond the hide, if you can zoom in on the picture on the right hand side, those dots above the horizon are a flock of about 50 Pochard crossing right to left. As is my luck, concentrating on the picture, Rosie sends two snipe out and up above the water. I watch them for as long as I can until they disappear. Rosie now with the scent of game in her nostrils charges on. It isn’t unusual for a snipe to sit tight while his buddies are making a fast exist around him. So I let Rosie work out her ground and BAM she comes rock steady on point. There is a little clump of rush ahead of her and I figure the snipe was at the base of it. She is inches away from it and as I move in to nudge her, up gets a cackling rooster. In pure shock I put up the gun, swing through and fire. He’s down but running, I send the dog. Rosie catches up with him just as he jumps a small stream. She pins him with her mouth and I whistle her back. As she jumps the stream I see she has grabbed him by the base of the tail, and the tail has come out! Off the bird runs again hopping the small stream. This time she makes no mistake and brings him to me with head up and a spring her step. I was very proud of her.

Two pheasants in the bag, but I was really after a snipe. I hoped for red letter day and fill the hoops on my game bag with 10 snipe! I told myself I wasn’t leaving this place without one as it will be September before I get the chance again! I dropped the bird and some gear back at the trailer with all the walking I was feeling the pinch! I took Rosie onto some dryer ground; I figured that the birds hadn’t been in the wet areas of the Lough as it was too wet to feed. There was about an hour of light left so we had to crack on. We moved out into the yellow grass areas again, this time keeping Rosie nice and tight in the hope of walking up a bird as much as pointing one. I didn’t have to wait long Rosie before my eyes went rock hard into point. She was so steady I took the camera out and snapped away.

I could not see what she was pointing even though the grass was so short. I nudged her forward and at last I heard the rasp of the snipe as it leapt forward. I took my time, mounted and swung, BANG, nothing. Refocus, BANG, nothing. It flew on then it staggered and tumbled towards the ground. I was so relieved I ran out and picked it myself!

It was the most enjoyable day; we worked hard for our birds. They may be the only birds of the weekend, tomorrow is a different day. But for now I feel just as tired as Rosie!

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Day two

Well, day two found me fit and well, the feet had recovered and the dog was itchin’ to go! The weather this morning had a very cool feel to it. It was still overcast with quite a stiff northerly breeze. The plan was to hunt my own ground today. It covers quite a large area of mountain bogs mixed with rough pasture and small parcels and clumps of trees and bushes. After settling myself and dog for the path ahead, I decided that today I will hunt the out of the way places on my shoot. I always do this on the last days of the season. I don’t know why, maybe it’s to give me an overall view of how the place is doing. The ground before me can be a mecca for snipe, sadly this year it has been disappointing.

As I rarely cover this ground I know only a few places that definitely will hold a snipe. My plan is to work the poorer areas first with the hope that my hunting would improve as the day progressed. I started to work Rosie out of the long grass and pushed her out onto the bog. This is a magical place were photos can’t do it justice.

It wasn’t long before Rosie made her first point. She produced a rabbit which I helped her put in the bag. I have to say I do love rabbit and wonder why it isn’t eaten more?

Back to the job of finding snipe. I started to cover better snipey ground, I came across the Whin bush as we call it, I think in the UK they call it gorse. In the spring and summer the flowers smell like grated coconut and is one of the sights of Ireland when the countryside is covered in them.

Rosie was covering the ground well and a few snipe had already rose ahead and out of shot, but the omens look good. A few more steps forward and a snipe rose far out and I downed it with the second barrel. Even thinking about it now it surprised and pleased me as it was at the limit of my range. Up over a small hill I came across this stone circle made by hunters a couple of thousand years ago! There are a lot of examples of these in my county and I would say not many people other than me know of this one.

As per usual Im taking pictures when Rosie, fed up of waiting, decides to flush a snipe! I turn round to see it making off downhill but its call rises another bird to my left which I snap a shot of to. To my surprise it crumples and folds. Rosie makes a nice find and I now have two in the bag and the day looks a lot brighter.

I now crossed over to an area I rarely hunt for two reasons. Firstly it’s way out of the way! You have to do a lot of huffing and puffing to get this far. Secondly, the near side has rough pasture on it and the cattle are turned out onto it in the late spring. Generations of cattle have left the bog pot-holed with their foot prints. Any time I had been before I left with a twisted ankle or a fall or both!I tell you I was glad I made the effort. As I crossed the brow of the hill the first snipe rose as it sensed our presence. As it shrieked down hill I fired, I kid you not, at least 40 yes 40 snipe rose in pairs or packs of five at the sound of my shot! The hill was alive with them. I fired my second barrel, reloaded, fired again. I missed every one! I didn’t mind as I knew there would still be a few brave souls that had stayed behind plus my stance was all over the place on the rough ground. I hunted the area with Rosie and a single broke here and there, all were at my extreme range I missed cleanly, but my, what shooting and fun!

At the bottom of the area Rosie pointed ahead of me, as she did a snipe rose and turned heading back up hill to my left towards me. As it passed by it was to close to shoot. I let it out some, then some more, I fired near the limit of my range and it folded into the heather. I was very pleased with my shot and felt for the first time since I got this gun that it actually fitted me. You know? Rosie came back with the birds head still up. I kinda wished I could have let him go to fly away for another day.

I decided to call it a day there and then. It had been my 'Day of the Season', I knew it would be a good note to finish the season on. There will be other days i'm sure, enjoy the rest of your season guys, I hope you get as much or more shooting, and more birds in the bag, as I did.