Nicola Johns and Ice on a gun dog adventure.

Worth a shot

Annabelle Latz

What started as fun family holidays has turned into a passion, sport and lifestyle for Nicola Johns.

Gun dog trialling runs in the family, her dad Graeme Johns has a few decades under his belt.

So it was love at first sight when eight-week-old black Labrador Ice arrived at Christchurch Airport for Nicola, seven years ago, so she could start her own gun dog journey.

“Ice means the world to me with her beautiful nature and temperament. She is loyal and a great hunting and fishing companion also. We have just as much fun through the duck shooting season, trekking up the hills for a deer or chamois or even sneaking our way up the river fishing, Ice is always there.”

Nicola, an animal health representative for North Canterbury Vets, says training began from day dot with Ice (Black Ice of Tenara); sitting and waiting for her dinner, learning to wait until called, and introducing loud noises such as gun shots in positive surroundings, so this just becomes natural to them.

‘It is great to have such a loyal companion to be able to share this with, especially when I am away on the hill on my own.’

“I use a pee whistle which is a great way to give her commands when she is at long distances. A short, sharp whistle to stop/stay, three short, sharp whistles to come. And hand signals with the command over pointing which direction which comes in handy if your dog is downwind and can’t find the bird.”

Shepherding has meant solid dog trialling seasons have not always been possible, but the current project of breeding is a great opportunity to keep involved in the sport, and which Nicola says is a ‘massive part of the sport.’

“Ice will be surgically artificially inseminated. I am excited about that as this means we can travel together again and enjoy watching our dogs grow into great champions.”

Her dad’s recent dog King, Peacehaven Candyman was the youngest dog in New Zealand at the time to become a Grand Field Trial Champion, with 20 field trial championships to his name.

Nicola says a good balanced diet, a run or a walk every morning and evening down to the river, and continual use of obedience and manners to ensure good behaviour is key.

“Kennelling is also so important for the health of your dog; warm and dry with no draughts. The kennelling environment should also be a positive environment and your dog should enjoy spending time there.”

Nicola likes to mix her training areas up, to mirror field trails of different smells, courses and terrain.

In gun dog trialling, land courses involve two birds being released from a ‘thrower’, while the handler fires a blank shot from the shotgun, the dog at heel and should not break.

“I use the command FETCH where then the dog will have marked the bird and deliver the bird gently to hand. It is very important for your dog to have a nice soft mouth as points easily come off if the dog is showing any signs of mouthing the bird.”

The bird is checked, and any marks can cause instant disqualification.

A ‘blind bird’ means the dog has not seen the bird but the handler has fired a blank shot and sent into the direction the bird was placed. This is where the dog needs to mark where you have sent them, and they must trust their nose.

To complete a trial or championship, a water course is featured, where the dog is required to swim in the straightest line possible to peg where the bird is.

Nicola is passionate about anything involving hunting and fishing and can’t wait to continue the breeding line of her best mate.

“It is great to have such a loyal companion to be able to share this with, especially when I am away on the hill on my own.”