My first gundog, by David Lisett.
Looking back, the story behind how I came to acquire my first gundog is quite an amusing one.
I was about 21, a joiner by trade, and at the time I was staying with my sister in Dreghorn, North Ayrshire.
The shooting bug was just starting to take a hold, thanks to a chap I met at college called Bobby Rayside who was training to be a design engineer at British Aerospace in Prestwick. Bobby and his family were into shooting and gundogs and I was really into trout fishing. We got on well and so introduced one another to our respective hobbies.
Anyway, on September 1 that year I went rough shooting in the local area. The plan was to walk-up alongside the burns and attempt to shoot any ducks that flushed.
It was my first time out with a gun, and I was soon creeping towards the tell-tale ripples of water spotted from afar. I got within range and up the ducks jumped. I lifted the gun and ‘boom’, down came a mallard drake on the other side of the burn. So I’m thinking ‘brilliant, but how do I get the duck?’.
It was a choice between a two-mile walk to a bridge in one direction, three miles if I went back the way I’d come, or getting my clothes off, and there were nettles on either side of the river. So that was it, I made my decision, stripped off and tentatively made my way into the water. The burn was running fast, so I half walked, half swam across, scampered up through the nettles on the other side, and retrieved my prized duck.
Before long, it felt as though hypothermia was beginning to set in, so I headed back to my sister’s house to dry off and warm up. “You’re looking a bit peaky,” she said. “A bit peaky!” I replied. “I had to swim across a freezing cold burn. That’s it, if I can’t get a dog I’m giving this shooting lark up.”
My sister wasn’t too keen on me getting a dog, but she finally gave in. So we looked in the papers for a ‘shooting’ dog and eventually found a litter of nine labradors in Fife. Anyway, I came away with a wee bitch I named Tina.
Back at my sister’s place, on her instruction, I’d made a kennel for the pup outside, but when I first got her home she was a tiny wee thing, only eight weeks old. “There’s no way we can have Tina sleeping outside,” I said. My sister agreed and so Tina lived in the cupboard at the top of the stairs next to my room. The trouble was, I was getting up at 5.30am to go to work and this wee besom was playing about, ripping her newspapers up whilst I was trying to sleep. So that lasted about a week before she was transferred to the kennel. Peace at last!
Of course, all the books etc. tell you that a labrador is much easier to train than a spaniel. But the problem was, since that first trip I had grown to enjoy my rough shooting and walk-and-stand days at weekends – proper spaniel territory.
So I trained Tina up, and to be fair she wasn’t a bad dog, although the boys I shot with insisted she was trained more like a spaniel than a lab. “You should just get yourself a spaniel, Davie,” they said. Tina was also teaching the other spaniels to range too far away, and for that sort of shooting you really need the dogs to work relatively close. After a while, this became a bit of a problem and so I decided, begrudgingly, to find Tina another home.
Through a friend, I heard of someone who was looking for a gundog for their granddaughter. ‘Perfect’, I thought, ‘a loving home.’ So I arranged to meet the family and do a demonstration with Tina. I waited two hours but they didn’t turn up. My friend who had arranged the meeting said not to worry and that he would show them how to work Tina when he dropped her off.
I had one key piece of advice for Tina’s new owners: allow her to settle in for at least a month before taking her into the shooting field. This was on a Monday or Tuesday but the following Saturday they had Tina on a shoot. A friend of mine was on the same shoot, and it turned out Tina was running about all over the place – probably looking for me.
It was a month later that I heard they wanted to get rid of Tina, so I went to visit them. I arrived at the farm and out came Tina, all hunched up – they’d obviously been quite harsh with her. “You know, son, we were actually looking for a gundog, not just a family pet,” said the lady from the farm. I didn’t say anything to her, but took Tina back home with me.
That taught me from a young age that some people have a tendency not to place much value on a dog if they haven’t invested any money or time in its purchase or training. In this instance, because it didn’t really cost them anything, it was easy come, easy go.
Anyway, we quickly found Tina a very loving family who gave her a great life.
To end on a happy note, one of Tina’s personal triumphs for her new family was when they were walking down the banks of a river and the wind blew away her mum’s hat. With far less hesitation than I had when retrieving that mallard drake, Tina plunged into the river and saved the day by retrieving the hat.
You can take the dog out of the retrieving environment but you cannot take the retriever out of a labrador...