My Hunt for a Gundog (Part One)

Merry Christmas! As I begin this post, I should remind the three people reading it that dogs are, of course, for life – not just for the shooting season.

Mary Bloom, via VetStreet.com

Photo by Mary Bloom via VetStreet.com

I find myself in a bit of a quandary. In all honesty, I’ve been in it for some time. I’m looking for a new dog, and have been since the summer. At the moment I can only take on one mutt, so I have to choose wisely, which is taking me much longer than I’d anticipated. I shall share my journey with you – and please use the comments section if you’d like to add your thoughts!

Puppy, part-trained, or trained? Honestly, I shouldn’t take on a puppy! I’m somewhat out of practice when it comes to training dogs, and ideally I would like one that can serve me next season (as I am currently without a canine companion). I fear I must consider trained to be the best option…

What do I want the dog to do…? This seems an eminently sensible place to begin! I could think about all the gundogs under the sun, but without knowing what I want to do with mine I have nothing to measure them against. I will admit that I am looking for the elusive perfect all-rounder, so I’m quite sure there will have to be a compromise somewhere. I want a dog that can sit at a peg or retrieve on a driven day – preferably without creating a scene (the last thing I want as an agent!) It would also be great if it can do some rough and walked-up shooting – and the ability to point on a grouse moor would be the icing on the cake.

Oh yes, and of course, he or she must be a good companion in the field and in-front of the fire!

Lab, or spaniel, or something else? So, I want a steady peg dog. Surely, therefore, I want a trusty labrador? However, will it be much use in undergrowth if I want it to push a bird to me on a walked-up day? Or will it, more likely, be sitting at my feet wondering why I want it to jump into such an inhospitable space? In all likelihood, it’ll just be thinking of eating. It is a labrador after-all…

Then there is the cocker spaniel. This is where my heart lies. I love their energy and zeal. Plus, there really is something about the way a cocker spaniel cocks it head as it looks at you – all dogs are adorable in their own way, but the cocker spaniel has mastered the art-form! Also on the cocker’s side is the fact that they just want to work, and will think nothing of burrowing into a thick undergrowth to flush me a bird. However… there is always a “however”… I can no more imagine a cocker sitting quietly at a peg than I can imagine myself looking at a bottle of Lagavulin without pouring a glass… I’ll love my cocker, though I’m sure my clients would prefer a slightly more dignified reception!

The new dog on the list is the Hungarian viszla (including the wirehaired variety). From what I have read, they are a truly remarkable HPR. An excellent all-rounder – very good retriever, excellent at hunting, and a jolly good close in pointer to boot. Though I have only seen a couple on the peg, they have seemed well-behaved, but a couple of people have suggested I have seen the best of them…

Scratching my head… So, I’m still left scratching my head! I think that, given what I will be doing the most of, I should seriously consider a lab. They are perfect for a peg dog. However, they do seem rather underwhelming in the other departments (apart from lying in front of a fire). Perhaps I’m being somewhat harsh on the country’s favourite gundog? By being so unquestionably good at sitting still and retrieving, do we undervalue its attributes elsewhere? I’d be interested in your thoughts. Until I’d discovered a bit more about the viszla, my head was pretty set on the labrador.

Part Two – the update… I’ll let you know how my various sources of advice are confusing me (or clarifying things for me!)

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Our Ultimate Pheasant Stew

Forthampton Gamecart

Two happy guns at the end of our day shooting at Forthampton.

I happened across this recipe in a somewhat haphazard manner.  Following a busy week saving a day from cancellation, an extra brace of pheasants was gratefully received following the salvaged shoot – a thoroughly enjoyable 102 bird day around the smaller drives of the Forthampton Shoot in Gloucestershire.  The pheasants were hung for just a couple of days as I was trying to win around a couple of friends to the joys of eating game (yes, I really should find some new friends…)  Aside from a conscious decision to marinate the meat in wine with herbs and garlic, the rest was inspiration from the kitchen as I went along.

Madeira is a classic partner of pheasant, so it just seemed right. The smoked bacon adds a depth of flavour and provides some nice fat to counter the pheasant’s natural leanness. If you can get hold of it, I would heartily recommend a jar of Cumberland Sauce – it really does work brilliantly with game and cold meats; however, if you can’t get your hands on it, a combination of redcurrant jelly and a drop of port (plus a splash of orange liqueur, if you have some handy) should make an adequate substitute.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • 8 pheasant breasts
  • Smoked bacon lardons
  • 2 medium onions, 2 sticks of celery, & 4 garlic cloves
  • Red wine vinegar & Madeira to deglaze
  • Bottle of red wine
  • Flour
  • Chicken stock pot
  • 2 parsnips and 4-6 carrots
  • Dried mixed herbs, garlic granules, and salt & pepper
  • Cumberland sauce & Worcestershire sauce

Method
Preparation Time: 20 mins — Cooking Time: 2 hrs

  1. Begin by marinading the pheasant breasts overnight in red wine with garlic granules and dried herbs overnight. (You can replace the garlic granules with a couple of chopped cloves of garlic).
  2. Render the fat out of the lardons and fry until nicely cooked. Remove the lardons.
  3. Cut the pheasant into bite-sized pieces and dust in flour (with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper). Brown the pheasant in batches, using the rendered bacon fat. Remove the pheasant from the pan and keep to the side with the bacon.
  4. Thinly slice the onions and finely chop the garlic and celery. Soften the onions and celery in the pan, only adding the garlic once the onion is almost ready. The onions should be golden, not burnt! Add the meat back into the pan and deglaze with a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a slug of Madeira. Add approximately half a bottle of red wine and chicken stock pot (or stock cube – no need to water down into a stock, the wine will do that job). Season with salt and pepper and a good sprinkling of dried mixed herbs.
  5. Meanwhile, dice the parsnips and carrots and par boil.
  6. Mix up some of the left-over flour with a splash of water until you have a paste – work it until the lumps have gone. Then add this to the stew. It will help to thicken up the wine and give the whole dish a lovely unctuous consistency. Add the parsnips and carrots when ready. Allow to slowly cook for around 90 minutes.
  7. To finish, add a good sized tablespoon of Cumberland sauce (or a drop of port and some redcurrant jelly if you can’t get hold of it) and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce. The former gives the dish a nice sweetness to offset the vinegar, whilst the latter adds a delectable savouriness to the dish.

It’s a hearty dish on its own, but if you want to serve it with a side dish, I find a green pea crush to be just the ticket. For this, cook up some floury potatoes and plenty of peas then crush them together with a dollop of crème fraîche and plenty of seasoning.

I’m just sorry I couldn’t provide a photo of the finished stew… It honestly didn’t last long enough, it was devoured in short-order.

EDIT… Have just made this stew again. Importantly, I remembered to take a photo:

PheasantStew

Siparium Sporting’s New Blog

Shooting ProfileWelcome!  As I’m sure is patently obvious to most, this is the first post on our new blog!  My name is Simon, and I’m the founder and sporting agent at Siparium Sporting.

Siparium Sporting is a small sporting agency based in Cirencester in the Cotswolds.  We provide a bespoke service to our shooting clients and also offer consultancy services to shoot owners.  The ethos of the agency is built around the enjoyment of shooting, camaraderie, and maximising the conservational benefits which shooting can bring to an area.  Our very first project was working with a beautiful grouse moor in North Yorkshire – developing a syndicate of like-minded guns so as to provide the funding for a focused recovery and regeneration project.  If we can manage that, we can help you too!

We hope that this blog will help to give you an insight into what we do and what we can offer.  Even better if you find it interesting as well as informative along the way.  As well as posting about what we’re getting up to on the shoots, we anticipate that the blog will provide us an opportunity to share all of our passions to do with shooting.  From cooking to conservation and guns to gundogs.

First up, tomorrow, will be our ultimate pheasant stew!  I’m a firm believer that we should lead the way as keen shooters and eat plenty of game.  If you hang the birds for just a day or two, this recipe is a great way to introduce friends to the wonderful world of game.

Forthampton First Drive