The New Zealand Vizlsa Club's
first 'Pheasant Hunting Weekend'
by Jenny Peacocke
Some months back one of the NZ Vizsla club members (Jeff Burns) came up with the brilliant idea that someone should organise a weekend just for the Vizsla Club members and their dogs to do some pheasant hunting and have a social get together. In normal get things done fashion the answer was along the lines of “brilliant idea - it was yours so you organise it’. So Jeff had a job.
Those who lived closer to the hunt area and arrived early on Friday were offered a chance to do some clay bird shooting however since I would have had a 5 hour trip if I had not stopped and also had to throw in a detour for a hospital visit and stop a couple of times to give dogs a run, it was more like 7 hours so I definitely did not class as an early arrival (and we will not go into depth about the mucked up accommodation and my nice impressed reaction to it when I did arrive :)). I was much earlier than Gareth and Sue though who did not turn up until well after 10.30!
With 29 people and about 20 Vizslas it was headed to be a fun weekend. Sue brought the cheerleaders, her 2 Shelties. On consideration we decided that we were (both dogs and handlers) the least experienced team. Spirit has done field trials ... but not much real bird work .. and Flight has been deer stalking.
Kami and Peaches Pup were heading into total new territory! Most of the teams had experienced bird dogs. Maggy is the one who was probably the most experienced at real bird work but I had left her home…
A relaxed morning saw us being the last team to head out to our assigned grounds on Saturday, but we did get there and donned layer upon layer of warm clothing to head off into the frosty wilderness!!! Mark our shooter gave some distance and let off a shot so that we could see how the dogs reacted (Spirit had been a bit gun peculiar since her litter, Flight has been working with a hunter who uses a crossbow). No real concerns appeared so all dogs were let of lead and we carried on.
We fossicked out way through river edge, trees and undergrowth with not much happening for quite some time. However a way along and after the dogs were all settled they managed to flush out a covey of quail. This was unexpected so Mark was not ready to shoot. However we sent the dogs in to try and see if any remained. I have always been taught to stay well behind the shooter so I did that which gave me a beautiful opportunity to see Flight do a beautiful point to what turned out to be another quail.
Unfortunately when it flushed it flew straight behind Mark towards me and I am eternally grateful that he was vigilant about ensuring no people were in the area before pulling the trigger. While this drama was being played out Kami made the first pheasant find and flushed a cock pheasant. No chance of a shot as Mark was still in quail territory. But now we did know that there were birds.
Further fruitless hunting saw signs but no birds so Mark suggested that there was a better chance if we crossed the river ... now please do remember that this is mid winter in New Zealand .. and remember what I said about layers of clothes and cold frosts ... so HOW he and Gareth managed to talk me and Sue into crossing that river I still do not know!! I was ever hopeful that the water was not deeper than my gumboots .. I was wrong - it was well over my knees and boots filled with water about halfway across. I did take them off and pour the water out on the other side but as it drained from my trousers back into the boots that became something I had to do on a regular basis (although every time I thought it was all ok .. somehow I found myself crossing the damn river again). One of the cheering squad (Shelties remember?:)) was more sensible than the rest of us and damn sure he was not crossing that huge expanse of raging torrent!!! After a LONG debate between him and Sue from opposite sides of the river Sue did go back and reinforce her position from the end of a lead.
Well it did not take long on the other side for our intrepid Vizslas to find first a rabbit (feather AND FUR remember :)) and then the pheasant!!
Up he flew ... sadly the shot did not find it’s mark .
Onwards and upwards after our elusive pheasant .... and a whole new experience for dogs - electric fences!!! Shelties seem to have immunity to these traps - probably the fluffy coat - but Vizslas have no such luck and all got zapped several times with Peaches being the most repeated offender. Honestly you would think that she would LEARN after the first ½ dozen or so times!!! Sue and I tried to take the easy way out and walk through the farm land while we sent Mark, Gareth and dogs into the wilderness of trees, stumps, blackberry, vines etc. Sadly my dogs did not agree .... ‘you don’t go Mum then we don’t go’ so I left Peaches with Sue and the cheering Squad, braved crossing the electric fence and enticed (or in Flights case lifted) dogs onto the other side with me.
The first find was looked on with high excitement by the dogs but much disdain by the humans - a hedgehog was NOT what we were after! So off we went again .. and suddenly, reverberating through the country side was a SCREAM from Peaches as, yet again, she met her fate with the electric fence. THIS TIME however more came. Matching the Peaches scream was a yelp from SUE!! When you are holding a wet lead attached to a dog who gets an electric shock ... so do you get the shock! A learning experience.
The drama continued. Not long after the Peaches scream I realised that I had not sighted Spirit for several minutes. In my typical calm, reasonable manner .. I panicked!!!! And as we searched and searched and searched and I called and called and called I panicked even more .... ‘I am not going ANYWHERE (no matter HOW LONG) until I find her’ going through my mind. Mark said that shortly before I had noticed her missing and started searching .. SOMETHING had put up a pheasant on the other side of the river. He said that she got a scent of it, crossed the river and went after it, flushed the bird .. and then due to us moving on or whatever reason (we were on the wrong direction for the wind to take our scent to her) she could not find her way back to us.
After searching and calling for some time, Gareth headed back to the Ute to see if she was there and we continued looking for her by the river and farmland. It does appear that Spirit has plenty of sense because yes, after finding herself lost she DID head back to the vehicle.The hunt continued ....and yes, again we crossed the river back to the last side it was spotted on. What Sue and I were having trouble understanding was how the others in the group managed to keep finding deeper and deeper spots to cross ...
Back on the first side of the river there was lots of bird sign and Flight, Spirit and Kami were working hard .. noses and tails are amazing to watch when dogs are getting scents!!! They went past where the bird was hiding but that put them on the right side to get the scent and they turned back to the bird. Up it went .... and this time Mark found the mark!!! One downed Cock Pheasant!!
We headed back to base camp with a couple of detours to try and test some of the local wineries ... the must have seen us coming and all rushed out with the closed signs!!! So a cask from the supermarket had to do in the end! While we were delighted with our ‘catch’ we did think that we would be way down on the tally list. Our maximum allowable bag was 2 pheasants so we were halfway to limit but some teams had more than one shooter so that would have put their limit up. And all other teams had far more experience.
So we were starting to get bigger and bigger smiles on our faces as teams arrived back with the same story ..”No birds”. Then one team arrived and said ..”3 quail (limit on quail is 10) but no pheasants”. Well the consensus was still that 1 pheasant was better than 3 quail. The second to last team home, the expert locals, said that they had shot down 2 pheasants but they had landed in such horrendous cover that it was impossible even for the dogs to retrieve them We felt that sounded like a ‘The one that got away’ fishing story!!
Then the very last team in actually brought back 2 pheasants!!!! Still .. for the least experienced group of both handlers and dogs to be one of only 2 teams to return with any pheasant (and one of only 3 teams to get ANY birds), well we obviously didn’t do too bad. And thank goodness for our wonderful patient shooter who did not mind a group of learners.Dinner that night was pizza and wine .. followed by a very good nights sleep. The next morning, Gareth, Sue and myself all decided that we had a bird so we would work the dogs for the camera instead. Sadly there were no birds to be found (had not been any in the area the day before either) but the dogs used their noses, worked well and had a great outing as did their handlers.As we all had the longest distance to get home we did not stay for the final afternoon tea and ‘prize giving’ so I have no idea if our bird was the heaviest or had the longest tail or whatever else prizes were offered for. All I know is that for three people and their dogs, it was best bird of the whole season!!!!! And the next Friday night we were all together again it went very well with a bottle (or 2 ...) of good red wine!!!