Walter’s first time in the field

BASC social media officer and avid shooter Victoria Chesters talks about the many firsts at the opening of this year’s partridge season in company of her new gundog-(still)-in-training, Walter. This article first appeared in the latest issue of Shooting & Conservation magazine.

Over the last few years, my partner and I have steadily been growing our pack of gundogs. Sadly, this year, we unexpectedly lost two of our go-to dogs at the age of just eight. Both were thoroughly safe pairs of paws, our best friends, and mentors to the younger members of the team. To say it was a blow is an understatement…

As the opening of the season approached, I faced my first shoot day without Razz, my trusted springer spaniel, but it was the very first day with my two-year-old Labrador, Walter.

Day one as a peg dog

Although he’d had an introduction to shoot days last year, this was going to be Walter’s first day as my peg dog and his first experience of partridge.

We were on a 150-bird day at a shoot I return to every year. While catching up with the keeper, I let him know that it was Walter’s first day. He chuckled and proceeded to tell me that the week before another Gun had brought his young dog along, only to suddenly realise at the end of the first drive that the dog was no longer at his feet. The dog was spotted bouncing through the beat in the distance with lead and stick still attached… No pressure, then!

The fun began with the first gunbus experience. Walter is always enthusiastic and with the extra fuel from a stray sausage at breakfast, he leapt in with his usual gusto.

The horn at the end of the first drive was a welcome one… we’d done it! I got a few nice birds but, more importantly, Walter had done very well. Although his lead was slipped over my walking stick, he sat patiently and quietly the whole time, remaining engaged and interested in what was happening. His self-restraint was rewarded with a short retrieve from the bottom of a hedge. By the end of the third drive, we’d settled into our new partnership without a hitch.

What a day and what a performance by Walter

On the fourth and final drive, I was on a high! I was pegged as a back Gun with a hedge between us and the main line, so I decided to try Walter off lead. As we waited for the birds, the keeper decided to stand behind us and took delight in adding a bit of pressure.

Walter was outstanding – it was like his bum was glued to the ground, yet his head was on a swivel. As for myself… my second barrel saved my bacon a few times!

He was rewarded with a retrieve from a far hedge where he found a partridge buried in long grass. I was impressed! A few more retrieves and he was done for the day. I was happy to say the least. The keeper remarked: “You’re happier about how your dog has performed than you are about your own shooting.” He wasn’t wrong. I will shoot more days this season, and many more in my lifetime, but Walter will only ever have one first day.