So small, that this Farm bred, red, Working English Cocker Spaniel, can be lifted up, and tucked under the arm, whilst crossing wire fences!.
Small she may be – but no dog on earth ever had a greater love of the hunt, or more spirit. Hazel is a ‘Force of Nature’.
Born on a farm in ‘Middle of nowhere, Aberdeenshire’, (that’s right next to the end of the World), the rattle of a full cartridge bag, or the sight of a shotgun, make this Sprite of a working Cocker, shiver and shake with excitement !.
As soon as the Jeep door is swung open – she is in!. Once there, she knows that she is included, and will not be left behind, (a Cocker’s nightmare). As we drive along – her nose pressed to the open gap in the driver’s side window – she sniffs wildly, in an attempt to scent our shooting ground. As we approach our rough shoot, she picks up the scent for which she has been searching – whines – and begins her ‘Happy dance’.
We small group of friends clamber from our 4WD’s, put on cartridge belts, ‘Wellies’ and weatherproof jackets – as the excited canines, of various working breeds, mill around are now muddy feet.
Hazel looks as though she will explode, if she doesn’t get into some thick cover soon!. Giving the command “Heel”, we head off toward a thick, tangled, Larch wood, made almost impenetrable, by a heavy under cover of bracken and bramble. Spaniel Heaven!
Crossing over the fallen down fence, we are into the wood. I hear the commands, and remonstrations of my friends, as they to enter the Larch wood, and attempt to control the bursting enthusiasm, of their excited dogs.
Hazel sits in front of me now, shivering with adrenalin – longing for the command to work. “Get on”, I say, and gesture her forward with my left hand. Like a coiled ginger spring, she bursts forward, and in a second has vanished into the jungle of waist deep bracken.
To my left I hear a cry – followed almost instantly by a double shot. Dogs are whistled, and commands are given. Within a minute the Hen Pheasant is picked, and in the game bag. The line moves forward once more.
A clatter above !. A dozen Wood Pigeons take off out of the Larches, disturbed by the commotion below
Hazel is working like a Demon now – her lolling tongue, showing that despite the heavy frost, she is already warm. Her tail beats into a blurr – closely resembling a demented egg whisk. Oh – this is a happy dog!.
A few seconds later, I hear a crash and a crackling from somewhere ahead – and two Pheasants roar up through the canopy of Larch, flushed, by the little red Trojan.
One foot down a rabbit hole, ( why does it always happen that way ?) I swing the little 20 bore onto the curling Hen – and in spectacular fashion – miss!. No time to analise though, as the heavier, slightly slower Cock Pheasant, rockets up in front of me.
Foot now out of the hole, I lean into the shot and blotting him with the muzzles – fire. In no more than a minute, a now rather wet and bedraggled Hazel, emerges from the frosty bracken – a very dead Cock Pheasant, held gently between her jaws.
I bend – and carefully take the still warm bird, from the little dog’s mouth. Feathers stick to her lips. Her breath clouds the air. Her eyes are bright; and her tail – oh yes. The tail still beats like a demented egg whisk.
I put my hand on the little dog’s head, and whisper quietly – “Good girl “.