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My journey into working with my dog on a shoot 

Updated: Feb 20

Pheasant shooting has a long history in Great Britain and plays a huge role in so many people’s lives, not just for the shooting aspect.  

A good day’s shooting and working your dog is fulfilling and there are few activities as enjoyable which we can do that contribute so much to the environmental, economic and social sustainability of our countryside.  

The gamebird shooting season lasts for a few months each year in England, Wales and Scotland. Duck, goose and partridge start on 1st September and pheasant starts on 1st October. For duck and goose, the season ends on 31st January, and for pheasant and partridge, the last day of the season is 1st February.  


I grew up in the city and never went hunting, but I loved the outdoors and enjoyed being around dogs and horses. I now live in a Surrey village with my husband, and our three dogs, and waterproof walking boots and my green waterproof coat are my essential clothing items.  


The journey began…. 

Eight years ago, we welcomed Hollie, a yellow Labrador Retriever, into our family. Little did I know the journey Hollie and I would go on. All credits go to Hollie for introducing me to gundog training, being out in all weather training together, and enjoying it. The journey from puppy to gundog picking up on a shoot has been long, with many highs and lows.

There have been times when I wanted to give up and thought this is not for me, and it will not come together. With the support and encouragement of friends, we persevered, and it is one of the best feelings when you and your dog work together picking up birds being shot.  


A new season … 2023 / 2024 

Two challenges to master this season: a new shoot for picking up with Hollie and introducing Woody, my now three year old German Wirehaired Pointer, to the shooting environment. 

In previous years Hollie and I would pick up fortnightly on Saturday on a farm shoot with plenty of time in between to recover.  For this season, Hollie and I got invited to join the picking up team on a well-established shoot for midweek, and we had our Saturday shoot. I was nervous the first couple of days, but everybody was very welcoming, and we settled in quickly and got on with it, being a good team and enjoying ourselves.

Maintaining fitness for Hollie was a concern of mine and I decided that weekly massages from Maxine at could help. I am sure that her weekly massage kept her injury free and well-conditioned. It is a huge pleasure seeing Hollie’s pure enthusiasm and love for her job as a picking up dog, and guns appreciating her efforts.

I had two instructed training days booked for Woody to give us a first experience of working in the field. Working a HPR in front of the guns is very different to standing behind the gun on a driven shoot and picking up any birds shot with your labrador retriever. There are lots of new skills to learn for Woody and myself. The training days organised by Matt Ball of were brilliant.

Coaching in ground treatment and wind direction become important components to handling your HPR gundog. A lot of the skills that had been such a labour of love to teach him suddenly came together. He blew me away with his cooperation in hunting an area and the communication we maintained. Highlight was hunting a backwind and Woody going on point, the guns moving in closer into position, Woody flushing the bird on cue, him sitting to shot, gun shooting bird down, Woody marking bird and retrieving on cue.

This gave us confidence to go to some shoot over days run by James Reavil of for exposure, learning and practice. It was a season of many first experiences with Woody and the pure pleasure of watching Hollie excel at what she loves doing most. For Beaters Day, I had Hollie and Woody out together, and the perfect way to end the season for us.  Our training over the summer months will include Hollie and Woody learning to work together as a team. I think Hollie will need some convincing that Woody is joining her gig.  

Hopefully, the photos in this article will give you some insight into the beautiful countryside we live in and the dogs working in changing environments, developing different skills for woodland, water, hills, brambles and open spaces.  


Introducing Woody to working in the field has highlighted to me the importance of building training carefully and always planning training sessions to suit the individual dog and handler. Dog training is like peeling an onion; there is always another layer. Learning and teaching is never linear but comes with highs and lows. Consistency and patience are key to success. Training plans and notes are very useful to track your training. Foundation skills should be elementary in every training session.  


Having a hobby that gets me out in the winter months has a positive impact on my mental health and physical fitness. Step count can be as high as 20,000+, and it is a good day of exercise with varying terrain. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to be sent on a mission to look for a bird here or there or hunt some ground. I love doing the job thoroughly, and that means more exercise. 

Being part of a shooting community gives me purpose and a huge sense of belonging. Helping each other in the field, being a valuable team member, having jokes and laughter and enjoying meals together are all things that make us feel good. I am proud of my dog's work and what we have achieved, and furthermore, I want to get better with my dogs, which is my motivation to continue our training.  

I come home after a day on a shoot feeling happy and filled with memories and stories to share with my family and friends. I am proud of my dogs, loving them and feeling closer in a deeper relationship with them. My dogs come home after a day of working tirelessly just for the love and joy of what they are bred to do, hungry and happy and will settle down shortly after being fed.


Final thought…. 

Gamekeepers manage wildlife and land for game shooting, including creating and maintaining habitats and contributing to the protection of other wildlife. Rewilding doesn’t mean neglecting and well managed land attracts more wildlife than unmanaged land. There is a perception that shooting is a sport for the rich but it employs many people, especially in more rural areas, and benefits in many ways a lot of folk. 

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