A PORT Elizabeth gun dog is making history in national hunt-point-retrieve hunting circles. The eight-year-old German short- haired pointer bitch, named Storm, last weekend overcame the 1000km journey to the Bushveld trial near Bela-Bela in Limpopo, and the homeground advantage of the local hunting dogs – and proceeded to win paws down.
In 20 years, she is the first non- local dog to have achieved this.
Her performance prompted the judges to declare her “the most awesome dog we have seen”, proud owner Arnold Slabbert told The Herald yesterday (August 18).
“This last win means she has ended the season (May to August) as number two gun dog in the country.
“But, in fact, most of the trials take place up-country, and we could only get to four of the total of eight through the season.
“If we had got to all of them, I am confident Storm would have ended up top dog.”
Storm also got the “Gunner’s Choice Award” from all the other handlers, which is a great honour, he said.
Slabbert is head of the PE-based wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group Wildline and is also the founder of a zero-poisons’ eco-friendly initiative to get rid of pests in warehouses and industrial parks, by introducing indigenous predators.
In each trial, the dogs are run in braces of two against one another. The judges look initially for their skill in sniffing out suitable game birds, usually guinea fowl or francolin, and how well they ignore non-target species like buck even if they flush.
They are then judged on their manners and discipline in terms of how they “point” out the prey (with their noses) to their masters, and then “hold steady” even when the bird flushes and the shot is made.
Only when their handler gives them the order to fetch the fallen bird, can they then streak off to try to find it and if they achieve this then to bring it to hand.
Seasoned gun dogs like Storm actually follow the scent trail of the shot from the shotgun, enabling them to easily find a downed bird even if its fall is obscured by bush, Slabbert said.
The final round of the Bushveld trial involved a duck shoot and a 30m retrieve on the water. Normally, water can nullify scent but with a good gun dog, it does not even have to see the bird hit the water. Retrieval of a downed duck even 150m off-shore is not unknown.
Hunting gamebirds with well- trained gun dogs is an ethical, sustainable pastime because it ensures that wounded birds are disposed of humanely and no wounded prey is wasted, Slabbert said.
It is also an alternative to the situation on many farms where mega- locks of gamebirds have evolved as up-country farmers put more and more land under maize, wheat, sunflowers and other crops enjoyed by the birds. In retaliation, some farmers are putting down poison to kill these birds – but it is also killing other species, he said.
“Hunt-point-retrieve with gun dogs is an alternative to this poisoning situation.”
Storm’s son Taita, 3, also did exceptionally well at the Bushveld champs.
Although he was “a bit naughty” towards the end, he came third overall.
Slabbert said he enjoyed working with Storm and his other gun dogs for the same reason he enjoys falconry.
“It is a dying part of our cultural history. It takes me back to a time of chivalry when people lived off nature – but they had respect for it, and were one with it.”