Captured on camera by an unknown studio photographer, the mid-19th-century gamekeeper (pictured below) – resplendent in his velveteen jacket and waistcoat, corduroy trousers and leggings – poses for his portrait, perhaps for the first time, with gun under arm and his dogs on either side. The main photograph, taken around 1890, depicts a group of smartly dressed sportsmen outside a country house prior to setting out for a day’s shooting, with two dogs sitting obediently at their feet. In both instances one dog is a curly-coated retriever, the other a spaniel – both popular gundog breeds at the time.

picking up history

In those heady Victorian days when driven game shooting was rapidly becoming the leading social fieldsport under the patronage of Edward, Prince of Wales, gamekeepers and sportsmen used a wide variety of gundogs for picking-up game on low-ground shoots, including curly-coated, flat-coated and labrador retrievers, Clumber, Sussex, springer, field and cocker spaniels, and even ‘retrieving poodles’ and suitably trained mongrels. Many kept a kennel of terriers for ratting, too, and a couple of bull mastiffs for pursuing poachers!

Picking-up on a shoot during this period was always carried out in-house by underkeepers or by gamekeepers from a neighbouring estate who brought their own dogs along, rather than by dedicated pickers-up. In fact, picking-up by outside ‘dog men’ or ‘dog handlers’, as they were generally referred to, did not really start until the 1920s when many landowners were obliged to reduce their gamekeeping staff due to high taxation and rising wage bills. Since this time, specialist dog handlers, who usually own several dogs, have gradually replaced gamekeepers as pickers-up on the great majority of shoots.