Opening weekend started with a boom – literally – and at the same time my dog let out a blood-curdling shriek and raced to the water. The problem was that I was holding her leash, and the crash of my face hitting the tin maimai floor earned questioning glances from the shooters. A morning devoid of rain or wind left the hunters – Paul, Jimmy, Jacko and Isaac – disappointed, but it was beautiful. The river in front of us was flat, and the silhouettes of the birds are black against the early sunrise. It was a pleasure and a privilege to join Jimmy and his family for opening day, and I was excited to see what it was all about.
Teeva had been adopted from the pound a year before, and had proven a talented dog in dryland sledding, as well as a keen retriever. Before today she had retrieved a rabbit, a rock pigeon and a pukeko, as well as several lessons with a dummy duck in the river and swimming pool. Impressive for an Asian Ridgeback, and impressive enough to be invited along to a normally very exclusive event, organised by my partner’s dad. It never would have occurred to me to even try this dog as a retriever until Jimmy saw the potential in her and suggested it. To be honest I would have expected her to just savagely eat small animals, but she has really surprised us with a gentle mouth and powerful swimming ability. One thing that was rather amusing is that she would try to retrieve ME when I was swimming in the river with her over the summer, gently taking my hand and towing me to shore.
The first bird to hit the water was a black swan and Teeva bolted towards it with no hesitation, bringing it to the shore and earning a fair bit of praise. However she also guarded it jealously from the other dog Pip, a chocolate lab, which meant she had to be put on a leash for a bit. Pip was very clued-on, and often beat Teeva to the birds. To our amusement, Teeva developed a short-cut through the front of the maimai to try to circumvent this injustice. It also provided her with a handy peep hole to whine at potential birds through, providing irritation of the rest of the maimai occupants. Throughout the morning, with every set of shots fired she strained to be released, whining and lunging. Later in the morning she was released for a few retrieves and did wonderfully, even in the strong current.
She didn’t show any possessiveness when Pip had a duck, but if Teeva retrieved it and Pip came too close there was a fair bit of snarling etc. Hopefully in future events she will settle down.
The middle of the day was quiet and we relaxed, entertaining ourselves by snoozing, trout fishing, and drawing eyebrows on the dog. She was the only one constantly on high alert, watching the sky and water intently and whining at the sound of mallards or distant shots. Several times she ran to the water in response to shotguns at a nearby maimai. I was fairly envious of Paul’s nice quiet dog, who took the opportunity to rest in the sun. Mine was still shaking with excitement and maintaining vigilance several hours later! At one stage a flock of pigeons flew in and the shooters brought two down. With Pip tied up, Teeva was taken down-wind of the stricken bird. She found its scent easily and retrieved it, still alive, from beneath the driftwood. Paul commended her efforts.
With nothing happening for a couple of hours, I took the kayak upstream to take a look at the river scenery and have a bit of a stretch. Beneath the brown water trails of bubbles rose, betraying the fish swimming below me. I was not shooting, but happily committed the day to training and working my dog. The sound of shotguns from our maimai made me paddle back, and i hoped my dog was behaving without me there. Coming close to the maimai I was greeted by an enthusiastic dog who ignored the calls from the guys as she bounded through the mud to the kayak. It transpired that Paul had gone for a walk with Pip so Teeva had been able to do a very good retrieve a good 30m into the main flow of the river to retrieve a paradise duck. They sounded impressed and I was sad to have missed it.
As evening rolled in, anticipation grew high once more. We were very spoiled to have such a nice maimai to sit in – and even more lucky to have found a wooden table that had washed down the river. It was the perfect housing for the mini-barbecue and we enjoyed some venison butties and sausages. Because of Teeva’s possessiveness over her retrieves and the predicted chaos of the evening shoot, we discussed sitting her out for the evening, but i decided to give her a chance. I was glad I did. Flocks of swans came in almost suddenly, and shots pounded the air. Skilled aiming and strategic shooting cleanly killed the birds as they passed, and I released Teeva as they plunged into the water. The two dogs were retrieving full-time until dark and I had to work pretty hard to keep up with them! Teeva worked her hardest, retrieving again and again, a total of 11 swans and 5 parries for the day which was a phenomenal effort for a first time duck dingo! Even better, I am starting to decide that duck shooting looks pretty fun, and am tempted to have a go one day… watch this space!