There’s nothing quite like having a dog at your side, and as I drove home I spied an opportunity to do some training with mine. The rabbit that played chicken with me every day on the road was on the side of the stream with its buddy, and although I had a .22 in the car, I didn’t have my number one hunting dog.
Returning on foot, we crept quietly up the road, as the rabbits frolicked on the other side of the stream. Eli the dog was a bit fresh and so I asked him to stay while I sneaked in closer. Using the bridge pillar to steady the rifle I followed one rabbit as it hopped along, however it ran out of sight. Its companion wasn’t so lucky, and a shot to the chest knocked it down. My dog had surprisingly stayed put, and he was sent over to find the rabbit and retrieve it. The funny thing is he had never retrieved a rabbit before, but the commands “pick it up” and “bring it here” are used frequently for all manner of items so I figured he would get it. He took a little while to find it, probably because there was a lot of scent in the area, then sniffed it for a few seconds, and after several attempts to get it “just right” he lay it at my feet. He was very keen on licking it and was rewarded for the retrieve but was told “leave it now” so that he didn’t get the idea to start munching.
Following the boundary between the paddock and trees / scrub, we came across another bunny sitting in the open. They hadn’t had a lot of hunting pressure so there were good numbers and they didn’t tend to run away when they saw me. A standing shot hit the mark, but the rabbit bolted for cover. I thought that one was a lost cause really, as I told Eli to “go take a look” in the blackberry and waist high grass under the trees. I was absolutely thrilled when he returned very quickly with a rabbit in his mouth, still alive. The shot had hit a little far back. A karate chop to the back of the head killed the rabbit quickly and a very good little dog had some praise.
Keeping Eli at heel as we sneaked down the gravel track, a hare was spied in the distance in the new barley crop. Being about 80m away, it was too far with subsonic .22 ammo, and it meant crossing the paddocks in the open. I told Eli to stay and crouched low for the stalk. Once the gap was closed to around 50m I tried sitting to eye up the shot. It was still a bit far so I very slowly crept another 10m before attempting a prone shot. It wasn’t a good shot, but the wounded hare was not able to go anywhere, so I sent Eli in to get it which he duly did. It was quickly finished off and with four in the bag we resumed our walk.
Further down the paddock was a rabbit in the open. It was a fairly long way off, and so Eli was asked to stay while I proceeded to try to get within shooting range. I set off, moving slowly and keeping to the blackberry and scrub on the perimeter of the paddock. The rabbit saw me and crouched down, but I was still 60m away; again too far for subsonic .22 rounds! Slowly inching closer, aware of every sound I made and moving only my feet and eyes, the dog stayed on a solid stay 70m or so behind me. Finally at around 40m there was a convenient gap in the blackberry for me to take a seat with a post against my back. The rabbit was crouched but I had a good view of the vital areas and hit cleanly. Eli was sent in and raced to the retrieve, picking the rabbit up firstly by a back leg and then around its middle before bringing it to me.
I’ve got permission to hunt and exercise my dogs on a neighbour’s property, so I thought I’d take a quick wander up there since there seemed to be ample daylight left. A couple of sneaky bunnies darted away, but I was pleased that I didn’t have to correct Eli as he didn’t attempt to chase them. A hare ran ahead of us on the track, and I hoped for a shot. We came to the paddock at the top and the hare bolted in front of us, disappearing over a rise. I wasn’t worried, with four down I had already been very successful! Suddenly there was an explosive eruption two metres from us out of the long grass as a cock pheasant clucked with fright before flying out of sight. It really startles you when they do that!! I decided to head home, so we turned back down the track. The long grass made a loud swishing noise to walk through, and so being stealthy wasn’t really an option up there!
Suddenly Eli froze in point, and ahead of us I could see a hare. It wasn’t positioned well for a clean shot, so I left it to run ahead of us. It was good practice for my terrier not to chase tempting prey and I didn’t have to correct him at all.
All in all I was completely stoked with the performance of my little pitbull on this hunt. He did everything I asked of him, and nothing I didn’t. No rabbit was mauled or shaken, and he even retrieved one I thought was lost. It goes to show that any breed can be taught how to be useful on a hunt, with a foundation of good basic training and a willingness to learn.