Daniel Airo-Farulla is an accomplished chef who was introduced to hunting as a child by his grandfather. He’s continued the family tradition of hunting and extended his own family with his first gundog, Archie. This is the story of their first season together.
Hunting has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and my earliest memories are of helping my grandfather skin rabbits he had shot and brought home; I remember paying particular attention to picking out the lead shot from the meat.
Soon enough, as I was a bit older, I was allowed to come out on the early morning hunts with him and his friends to partake in this tradition. It wasn’t long before I had my first shot of his old side-by-side Bernadelli, in 12-gauge of course, and even though I was sporting the bruises on my shoulder for days after, I was hooked and the rest is history.
Today I still hunt with such enthusiasm and follow the same respect for the land as I was shown nearly 30 years ago, and being a chef by trade, nothing that is shot is ever wasted in my house.
This year was to be different however, as this quail season was my first hunting with my own dog.
After losing our family dog of more than 14 years, my wife and I decided last year to get a new dog. It was decided we should get a german shorthaired pointer (GSP), or should I say, I decided we were getting a GSP, primarily as a family pet but with the intention of joining forces in the field.
After searching high and low for nearly eight months I finally found Archie, a pedigree GSP with both working and show lines, and after seeing him at only one week of age, I had already made my decision.
At eight weeks of age he was a new family member at home and the training had already begun for both myself and Archie, as this was my first time training a gundog. The mandatory soft duck toy, small bumpers, duck wings, hessian filled with quail feathers were just a few of the ‘toys’ he had to train with on a daily basis. There were simple games of fetch and retrieve that Archie picked up in no time. I was quietly confident of his ability before he had even laid eyes on any game birds.
As his training progressed, the next big phase of his development was to get him used to the shot and for a few weeks I would gradually make loud banging noises around the home to which he didn’t react. His first encounter with a gunshot was out in the field using my .22 from a slight distance. His reaction to this was to shift his attention and focus to the direction in which the shot was pointed.
Quail season was almost upon us and it was with a mix of excitement and nervousness that I took Archie, now at about five months of age, out for his first encounter with real live birds. The last thing I let him train with was that small hessian bag filled with quail feathers in the hope it would be a familiar smell once he was working in the field. Within five minutes, he had put up two birds and I don’t think that grin came off my face for a few weeks. It was a very proud moment for me. I didn’t use a check cord as I wanted him to just find birds and build his drive. I figured the technique could be taught to him but the drive was natural instinct, which only he possessed. He was given praise every time he flushed a bird and I learnt to understand his body language from that day as he had changed and shown me a side only live birds could bring out of him.
Opening weekend had come and by now Archie was about six-and-a-half-months old. D–day, as this would be the first time he would encounter a shot bird, if I could do my part, that is.
Archie was back into action and sure enough, within minutes he had flushed his first bird of the day. I was shooting straight and the bird was humanely dispatched. While he didn’t find it immediately, with some encouragement he was finally rewarded with his first bird. I found it but I led him close to it so he could pick it up. Huge praises and lots of fuss followed and I think Archie was even smiling at his effort. We ended up with only eight quail on that first day but it was the beginning of an exciting journey for us both.
By the end of the season, Archie went from strength to strength and while there are many years of training ahead, he has shown the drive and skills to be a great bird dog. The rest is up to me, and without the help, support and guidance from other experienced dog owners and trainers, I honestly wouldn’t have known where to begin.
The true enjoyment I get is from watching these multi-skilled gundogs work in the field, and at that very moment, while quartering, when they pick up a scent and finally lock on to a quail, is my ultimate reward.
I am looking forward to years ahead working with Archie and learning this skilled sport.