Our hawking wood

Alan Gates.

First Published in the Austringer 1995

It was early morning as I walked along the farm road, the gos on my fist was keen she stood on her toes stretching to see over the closely cropped thorn hedge on my right. She was eagerly scanning the field of newly sprouting wheat looking for anything moving, in the distance a small covey of grey partridge scurried further away. Her intense staring and spasmodic gripping of my gloved fist brought my attention to the partridge, she was no match for them at that distance, but it indicated her keenness and that bolstered my confidence.
For this was no ordinary morning, it was October 1st. and I was hopping to enter the gos on her first free flight at Goshawk on bowperchwild quarry. She was an adult bird, and had been in a breeding enclosure for four years, I had seen her for sale in June and although I was looking for a bird of the year, the scarcity of young goshawks in 94 brought me to consider her. My first sight of her through a peep hole in the enclosure was a deciding factor, she was a bonny German, nicely marked and with good colouring. We caught her up, checked her over signed the papers, paid the money and she was mine.
Her training was text book stuff, no bad habits manifested themselves, she was as much a lady as any gos could be. I had had some misgivings on being told that she had been trained in Germany before being sold for breeding . This way of thinking is due to my being a falconer first and aviculturist second. Siouxzee my young Munsterlander bitch trotted along at heel on my right side, both dog and gos had developed a good early relationship, Siouxzee had been present at all stages of the goshawks training and although she was still being trained herself, she had behaved impeccable. She seemed instinctively to understand that the gos was to be part of the team. The gos seemed to hold the upper hand, the occasional clip on the nose end from a bateing wing primary proved to be all that was needed.
Siouxzee was edging forward as we approached the river, her enthusiasm for work took constant controlling. I crossed the river on the farm bridge and climbed over the fence, we would work the river bank heading for the wood. A hand signal was all the dog needed and she was working the reeds and small hawthorn bushes on the Large Munsterlander in waterbanks. She kept close, no more than twenty to thirty yards in front, she would stop to look back, if she got no signal from me she would go on.
Suddenly she was on point, the moment of truth had arrived for both dog and hawk.
As I walked closer urging the dog to hold steady, hoping the quarry what ever it was would hold still, in fact hoping it was quarry and not just the vacated smell of one. Praying the gos would not pick this precise moment to have a impatient bate and ruin everything. Siouxzee was pointing the base of a small thorn bush, she was facing towards the river, as I approached level with her a cock pheasant exploded from the bush and across the river. The gos was off the fist in a flash and in hot pursuit, I was blasting on the whistle that was clenched between my teeth, to hold the dog. She was still with me, but had done a couple of victory somersaults, for nothing excites this young dog more than a cock pheasant exploding up her nostrils.Working Munsterlander
The cock had flown across the river and made a left hand turn along and behind the bushes on the far bank with the gos close behind. This was in the direction of the wood and the way we were intending to go. For a moment I was rooted to the spot, one second I had been clutching the jesses of my gos standing on the glove the next she was hot pursuit. Not for an instance had she hesitated, typical goshawk, but still a very welcome start to the proceedings in hand.
I was on my way with the dog galloping at my side, no lets be honest she was lolloping about in front of me, weaving from side to side, most of the time gawping at me behind her instead of where she was going. I couldn't help smiling when she was brought up short by the pig net fencing she normally sails over gracefully, “that’ly teach yer to look where yer going” I growled. I ran half way into the wood and stood and listened whilst scanning the tree tops. A light tinkle of a bell indicated a direction and I moved twenty yards or so, another tinkle which seemed closer, a few more yards and there she was running about under a large patch of brambles. I bent down and showed her the fist garnished with a titbit, she was having none of it, still miffed at missing the cock she was running about intent on finding him. Siouxzee was pushing her way through the brambles from the other side, I told her to wait and at that moment the gos jumped up through a gap and into a tree. Still not interested in the fist I pulled the lure from my bag and she was on her way before it hit the ground. A few moments to vent her frustration on the lure for having missed the cock, a couple of mouthfuls reward and we were ready again to see what delights the wood had to offer.
Munsterlander working woodlandSiouxzee worked the woodland floor in almost textbook fashion, its moments like that which make all the hours training and banging your head on a brick wall worth it. She quartered in front checking all likely hiding places and driving through some very thick cover, if she progressed a little too fast a blast on the whistle and she would stop and stand waiting until a hand signal would would send her in which ever direction I had indicated.
Unfortunately the wood held no quarry today and all her hard work had been in vain. At least now having a dog working with me I knew that there really was no quarry. One thing that never ceased to amaze me with this Munsterlander was her excellent nose, ‘If there was anything there she would have found it’, anyway it helps to have total faith in your dog.
We moved on out of the wood across a small strip of pasture and into a field of set-aside, this looked a little more promising. It had be left after harvest and was still stubble, in some places where the ground had been wet the combine harvester had left the stubble long.
Siouxzee homed in on the first patch of long cover and straight on point, she stood rock solid, but a covey of partridge exploded to her right and she turned to face them. The gos bated but I held onto the jesses, then two hen pheasants burst out, but the gos had not recovered the glove. I was cursing the gods when another two decided to make a break for it, the gos was up and I threw her after them. They both high tailed it over the far hedge and dropped out of sight, I expected the gos to loose ground, not having had time to recover from her bateing and to lift up into a small tree that was twenty or so yards further along in the hedge.Large Munsterlander working hedgerows
When she did not I was puzzled, had she grabbed the hen after all, I ran to the hedge. The dog was excitably bounding up and down the hedge and I growled at her to calm down, I found a way through, no gos!. A tinkle of a bell, she was close, I walked back along the hedge bent double looking into the hedge bottom. There she was, deep into the hedge, but with a cock. As she was facing the other way I pushed back through the gap and slipped into the ditch and gentle coaxed her and her prize through. I dispatched the cock and sat back whilst she plumed and broke in, Siouxzee lay down beside me and watched intently.
I was well chuffed and could only speculate that on flying over the hedge in pursuit of the hen she surprised a cock on the other side and seeing an easier meal clobbered him as he bolted for cover.
As I sat there watching her feed up and reflecting on the events, Siouxzee sat up and tensed, I looked behind me and saw a roe doe stood not fifteen feet away watching us. I whispered to Siouxzee, ‘down’ , she slid down without taking her eyes off the doe, who having seen enough ambled on her way and into the far wood.