The New Zealand hunting season finally came around in the first weekend of May. A thirteen months old Bentley was equipped with his basic obedience, retrieving dummies on land and in water and only a very limited amount of field work. He had not been tested on released birds so we were looking at getting him straight into wild birds in practical hunting situations. I had warned Aidan beforehand not to expect a great amount of bagged birds on opening weekend, as we would be focusing on dog training for much of the time. This is the way I set up Bella as a hunting dog, trying to bring forward and celebrate the raw talent, while my past dogs usually got a much stricter and more polished upbringing. Especially, as with those I was still active in field trials. Bella became a very good and efficient dog, one of the best.
Aidan has a working relationship with Garmin and had ordered an Alpha 200i for his possum trapping, to keep check on locations when he sets dozens of traps. At the same time he had also ordered a tracking collar for his big ranging, precious bird dog. He had some previous experience with that from some mates’ pig dogs that he had been hunting with. I had never used this technology myself but know friends in Scandinavia having used this for years. Truth be told, it never appealed to me and I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on a little screen via satellite to keep check on the dog. But then again I thought, don’t be a dinosaur and it might be quite handy!
A lot of my Northland hunting has been done in forestry near where we live, on farms (in particular one in the mid north) and in forestry and coastal dunes in the far north. Aidan had organised for us to get in on a new farm closer to home for duck hunting but for upland game we were heading to forestry in the far north. It’s a large area that I know well and it does not require the mandatory kiwi aversion certificate that now is required in the other Northland forests as well as in the dunes. I chose not to have the young dog zapped before he had more of an understanding of what I want him to do in the field. Aversion training on dogs is something we have a longer history of in Scandinavia than anywhere else, on farmed sheep and reindeer roaming in mountain areas. But it happens in a much more natural setting and with better qualified aversion instructors in charge. From what I understand here in NZ is that they put out a stuffed taxidermied kiwi, spray some smell on it and then zap the dog as soon as it comes near. I have been training dogs for over 40 years and I am struggling to see that it will be much of a deterrent when they meet the real thing. I’m also not convinced that our upland game bird dogs, working high on the wind in reasonable proximity and contact with their handlers are particularly great threats to the nocturnal kiwi. It’s more likely packs and scavengers, searching for food that pose a greater problem. Anyway, that’s what the Department of Conservation has been pushing for so it is what it is. The same department that I years ago provided with several English setters to find and monitor their protected species, I have found many of their decisions questionable, ranging from blocking dogs out of areas for some quite random protection of plants and birds to the culling of Tahr and of course the very controversial use of 1080 as pest control.
This year the opening day was on my birthday and the weather forecast was beautiful. Aidan and I had travelled north the night before. Next morning we found that some of the best looking area was closed to hunting, by the looks of it in the middle of being replanted. In an area where the trees were a bit too high we got onto some pheasants in the morning and I missed an opportunity on a rooster before he disappeared. It was not ideal for shooting and certainly not ideal for working a young dog. We also found some coveys of quail on the edge of difficult shooting areas. We didn’t stress about those but instead ran Bentley in more open terrain and he was going for it! We already knew he has great pace and stamina and he certainly got to stretch his legs here. A bit like the young version of his great-great-grandma Moulin, he was determined to run through trees and trunks instead of around them. In the afternoon we got onto a rooster which Aidan moved in to flush. It flew past where I was positioned and as Aidan for some reason didn’t shoot I shot it. Bentley moved in and found it and we sat down and enjoyed the moment (see photo top of this page). Later towards the end of the day we were trying to get onto some quail when Bentley started working on what was obviously a running pheasant. It came to a halt and the bird eventually lifted in front of some open pines but it was a hen pheasant (protected in New Zealand), while the cock took off some 150m on the other side of the trees. Promising work from the young dog but as I said to Aidan, we really needed to get some good situations on quail, that would be the game changer.
Next morning we were again back in the forest and again found some quail that instantly moved back into the big trees. We shifted to another area and this time we had the good fortune to get onto a covey that spread into more open terrain. I shot a young cock bird that Bentley did a great job on after the shot to find. Soon thereafter we had another situation where two hen birds flew in different directions. Aidan shot the one going right and I shot the one going left. After having taken three birds out of the covey we decided to pull out of there and let the dog work a different area in the afternoon. That did not produce anything and we left the forest earlier than the previous day, to drive back home. We were happy with how the weekend had progressed for Bentley. He is stylish and powerful and a quick learner, just needs experience. Even though some of the better areas had been tricky for shooting, we decided to keep building on that and bring him back again the following weekend. (The last two weekends of May were dedicated to duck hunting, partly because of Aidan’s work commitments and because of bad weather.)
So the second weekend we were back up to our far north HQ at Coopers Beach, where my sister-in-law bought a motel late last year. Perfect place both for fishing and hunting in the north. We pretty much ran into the same problems with the bird locations. Unfortunately, a good size covey that we found on the Saturday morning was sent in all directions by a very excited dog. I only shot a cock bird from that and in the afternoon shot a hen in tighter cover. We also got onto a couple of hen pheasants that we obviously had to leave alone. Slightly disappointing day but Bentley grew in understanding of how to work the terrain and keep contact with us. He is working out the birds and how much pressure to put on them but he is very much a work in progress. The next day it was Aidan’s turn to get on the board while I missed a couple. Some other hunters had also come into the same terrain. We often see road shooters, who will drive around the forestry roads hoping to get lucky and come across pheasants but only now and then proper bird dog people to cover the different areas with their dogs. Often they’re Labradors or Springer spaniels or German Shorthaired pointers. It was quite a surprise then late morning to walk into a man with three English setters but as soon as he spoke with an Italian accent I realised it was Carlo Aloisi, who moved to NZ a few years ago.
A couple of dogs that Carlo bred here were sent to Australia; Whitesetter Pokr to Vince Pino, who sired a litter with Winninbury De Havilland (with both Northstream Aragorn and Northstream Alinghi behind her) and Whitesetter Picton who sired a litter with Runanset Crown of Creation (litter sister of Bentley’s mother, with 2 x Alinghi behind her). From that latter litter a dog was exported to Korea. Great to have an Italian setter man to have moved his family all the way to New Zealand. I’m sure our paths will cross again, Carlo.
A beautiful evening greeted us when we arrived at Coopers Beach for the second weekend of the season. Next day on Saturday 14th with Bentley’s second quail of the day.
I’ve been thinking about my own many new beginnings in the great outdoors and with the dogs. From the early days fishing and hunting with my grandfather Fridtjof and uncle Jack and their dogs but also fishing with my other grandfather Karl, who was also the one giving me the travel bug. Our hunting was primarily for ptarmigan, black grouse and hare but also some moose hunting and a lot of night time fox hunting. Later in Sweden my then girlfriend’s father Svante was a very experienced hunter on moose and on capercaillie. He introduced me to working the Elk hounds and the Spitz dogs. He also gave me the opportunities to hunt beavers. On one occasion out winter hunting I had the scariest moment of my life, when we travelled across the Yxsjö lake with a snow mobile, on ice that turned out not to be properly frozen out in the middle of the lake. The snow mobile got stuck, half sunk into the sludgy ice while we put on our cross country skies and manage to walk back on land again. If we had gone through we would’ve been history. The next night the temperatures dropped and the snow mobile froze into the ice and could be pulled out the next day. My biggest scare before that had been when I as a 9 year old was hit by a car on the main road below my grandparents place. Two years later we lost one of our English setters at the exact same spot.
In Denmark I had the great luck of having the best possible mentor to advance my great interest with pointing dogs. That was with pointer great Jørgen Andersen (kennel Agertoften), where I also got to discover a new world in the lowland fields. So very different from the great Swedish pine forests or Norwegian mountain plains. Roe deer hunting was another exciting addition.
In New Zealand I didn’t have a mentor as such and had to work out most of the different ways of hunting (and fishing) here by myself, even though I worked dogs with Noel Allen (kennel Berryfield) and Leon Mortensen (kennel Wingfield). Various people also introduced me to different areas around the country for hunting and fishing and also for scuba diving, another keen interest I’d had for years and shared with my wife Hayley.
Leon was the one I seriously connected with here. After the import of Chywoon Entrepreneur of Jonsmae (Woody) Leon was also involved with bringing in Lapphaugen’s Moulin (my own Line) and Vårhaugens Gus (also in the back of Bentley’s pedigree). Leon was supposed to have taken Northstream Aragorn from Line’s first litter and there would have been more imports and interesting combinations had he and Joy not passed away far too early.
All this leads us back to Bentley and I am quite confident that Leon would approve of what he is showing as a raw young talent.
Aidan with a brace on Sunday 15th May and Bentley retrieving his first duck the following Sunday. We didn’t care too much that he was carrying it by the butt.
I didn’t get to talk much about fishing in this post but we have been out a couple of times and caught a few snapper and kingfish. On one of those trips we also brought my English mate John, originally from Leeds but lives here in NZ. He is one of only two qualified beer judges in Northland (the other is the head brewer at McLeod’s in Waipu). John and I often have some great sessions on the craft beers. Naturally, the Belgian beers are long time favourites. 30 years ago I started working for a large Belgian company called Massive, based in Kontich on the outskirts of Antwerp. As I also had good friends in Netherlands I got to spend some time in those areas, which were within a day’s driving from Denmark where I lived then. The other day I came across a Belgian beer that I didn’t know called Herkenrode Noctis. The address of the brewery Cornelissen in Bree sounded familiar and I realised it was less than 2 km from the Kloesheuvel mansion, where I in 1996 interviewed the great pointer breeder Franz Groenen. I published that in the Danish “Pointernyt” which I was the editor of at the time. Later I described part of that into an online post on English Setters & Pointers in Hunting & Trials. I have now also posted that part on these pages: Whitefield
Aidan and I also managed to get out and do some flounder spearing at Easter which was great. Beautiful food as seen above! The light house on the left is at Whangarei Heads, up the ridge from Ocean Beach, where Hayley, Finn and I walked up one day. It’s looking out over Guano island and beyond past the Hen & Chickens islands. On this 36th parallel south it heads straight across to Chile in South America, the next mainland some 9000 km away, I believe somewhere near Concepcion. This reminds me a bit about a post I did several years ago about the antipode of Whangarei, Poles Apart | Hunt Fish Dive
My next post will definitely have plenty of fishing as Aidan and I will soon be heading to Scandinavia for a visit! Finally – it’s been five years!