I missed out on a lot of hunting opportunities in my early days due to shift work, as most of my hunting mates were employed in normal hours with weekends off. I eventually started hunting by myself and had done so for many years until my boys were old enough to accompany me. I had enjoyed my own company while hunting, but eventually comes a point in time where some companionship in the bush is nice. Time goes by quickly and now three of my four sons have grown up and left home, leaving just Morgan to hunt with his old man but only on weekends and school holidays until he also exits the nest.
For millennia, it’s been natural for man and dog to team up, to bring down their prey and put meat on the table. Back in the 1970s and 80s, I did my fair share of ‘pig hunting’ with dogs and loved every minute of it. The thrill of the chase, the noise of the hounds in pursuit and the excitement of the hunt, was all extremely exhilarating. However that’s in a time past and not quite the scenario that I had in mind for my future.
Some years back, I acquired a German wirehaired pointer called Henry. Unfortunately, Henry was several years old when I obtained him and had already been trained to chase pigs. When I attempted to hunt deer with him it was an unmitigated disaster, as all he wanted to do was run, bark and chase after them. Not exactly what I needed or wanted, but this behaviour was too ingrained to change. So Henry eventually went to a couple of young hunters that did chase pigs, where he excelled.
All I really wanted was a companion to hunt with that could scent game and let me know it was there, and to follow up any wounded animals. After considering the many classes that could fulfil my needs, I felt that the humble labrador was probably the breed that best suited my purposes.
My wife already had a black lab bitch called Brandy, who was only ever a family pet and guard dog. However when she had pups, a certain little chocolate-coloured bitch called Molly caught my eye. We took an instant liking to each other and at that point, I determined that she would be my next long-term hunting companion.
The first couple of years weren’t easy and I almost gave up on the dream, but I persevered and now I’m happy to say that Molly and I make a great team in the bush. We are both still learning, but she is very intelligent, loves hunting and is keen to please. Just about all a bloke could ask for in a hunting dog.
Without a trained dog to guide her, her initial hunts were interesting, to say the least. Labradors live through their nose and the smorgasbord of scents on offer in the bush, at times, almost overwhelmed her. However, she finally worked things out and quickly learned the scents that we were after were those of deer, goats and pigs.
Her introduction to deer happened in a big way. We were hunting for meat at last light when we stalked in on a mob of about 12 fallow does feeding out on an open paddock. From our slightly elevated position inside the bush edge, Molly could see the deer feeding but had no idea what they were or what was going to happen. Morgan had edged forward down the slope to a large rock with his Steyr .30-06, where he took aim at the first one to stand side-on. At the shot, the deer made 10m before going down, with the mob initially running away from our position and then directly back towards us before stopping at the tree line. Morgan shot again with similar results and the mob repeated their behaviour. Morgan looked over at me and I gave him the nod to take number three which had stopped 50m out, quartering front-on. The third shot had the same result as the previous two and now I had three deer to butcher. The remainder of the mob finally moved off and melted away into the tree line.
Molly sat still beside me the whole time, watching the deer and Morgan. It wasn’t until we walked out onto the open paddock to inspect the three deer that she gained her first close-up of what we were actually there for.
From that point forward, the sight of a gun, the smell of deer and the scent of blood had a profound effect on her in a good way. When I threw her a few morsels of meat while I butchered the deer, she was hooked.
During the next rut, we were stalking in on a mature buck that was croaking loudly. Molly was very calm and interested in the whole process, when a satellite spike bowled right up to us (we were dressed in camo, but the dog was not) stopping only 5m short. He couldn’t work out what we were, but when his gaze lowered to Molly sitting calmly by my side, instinct told him that she was a predator. Molly didn’t flinch as the spike hit reverse gear at 100km/hr, falling over himself in an effort to vacate the area. “Good girl,” I said and a pat on the head re-enforced to her that she had done the right thing.
Molly’s introduction to goats came at nearly the same spot where Morgan had shot his three fallow does. Again, from the same elevated position, we were watching the goats feeding. I had Molly sit, as I moved slightly forward and put the rifle onto the shooting sticks. At the first shot, a brown nanny dropped on the spot and the rest of the mob stopped to look at her. Molly had not moved a muscle as I reloaded and lined up on a white nanny before squeezing off another shot. With two goats on the ground, the rest of the mob decamped into the bush and up the mountain. I looked over at Molly who had remained sitting, watching the disappearing mob. Another “good girl” and pat was in order. We moved out into the paddock where she inspected the two kills, acquainting herself with yet another scent that would come to mean more to her in due course.
In our hunting area, pigs are in short supply and are basically a target of opportunity. We were hunting a semi-open valley when Molly propped, nose into the wind. Her body language was unlike anything that I had seen before, so the boys and I stopped, looked and listened. Within a few seconds, we heard the contented grunting sounds of a feeding pig. My sponsored junior Mikey was quickly up on the shooting sticks with Morgan’s .30-06 and as the pig fed into view from behind a large rock, the 180gr Barnes TSX did its job. It was a first pig kill for Mikey and a first pig scent for Molly. For some reason, she showed far more excitement with the pig scent than she had with either deer or goats.
On several occasions Molly and I have taken both deer and pig on the one hunt. Our method is simple, as we hunt into the wind as much as possible and her wonderful nose picks up game scent on the breeze. By carefully and quietly hunting into the breeze, she regularly locates game that I would otherwise have missed.
She hunts close, never venturing more than about 10m from me, although at times, I find it necessary to put her on a light lead to keep her even closer. This is only when she’s fresh and keen, but it’s not generally needed.
On our first hunts she would only ‘air scent’ and had trouble when searching for downed game. Somehow, I had to persuade her to put that keen nose on the ground and learn other scents and techniques, so I started using her greatest love to assist us – food. As my dogs mostly eat game meat, it wasn’t that difficult. I started tying Molly’s daily piece of meat onto a string and dragging it along the ground, and hiding it on vacant land in our street. When I finally convinced her to slow down and put “nose to ground”, she quickly learned the new skill of blood scent trailing.
Molly and I are still a work in progress, but invariably I can see improvement in our relationship on every hunt. She’s smart, enjoys my company and I enjoy hers and we both love the bush and hunting. For me, retirement is not far off, which hopefully means more hunting opportunities and more time away with my new hunting mate. It’s a prospect that I’m very excited about, as dogs really are man’s best friend.