Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
Great Expectations For October?
Can it really be true? Has opening day finally arrived? Yes, it’s here and time to have some fun. I emphasize the word “fun” because too often I’ve seen the opposite happen. The reason is unrealistic expectations of our dog. Our expectations are for perfect dog work, i.e., staunch points, steady to the flush and shot and impeccable retrieves.
We expect a well-mannered dog on opening day because we’ve been working hard with pen-raised birds and all seems well. When working with pen-raised birds, the typical routine is to plant a bird, let the dog locate and point the bird, flush the bird, shoot the bird and get a nice retrieve. It’s all nicely orchestrated and delivered neatly with few variables. There is, however, a world of difference between pen-raised bird training and wild bird hunting. What are those differences and how can we prepare the dog for greater success? And more fun for you?
One of the more difficult variables for a pointing dog to handle is a running bird…and most wild birds run. Amongst pointing dog enthusiasts, when talking wild birds, we consider woodcock and wild quail to hold the best for a point. Even these birds will run if given an opportunity. This means a dog needs to identify a strong scent cone versus a fading scent cone. Identifying fresh from old is difficult for a younger dog. For a hunting dog, we prefer they not stand to stale scent, which is a waste of time for everyone. We can help our dog prepare for running birds by using a running bird during training. I like chukar for this purpose but quail will work also. The key is to not dizzy the birds. Just drop them in the field and let them run. Allow your dog to sort out the scent. Again, this may take a few seasons for a younger dog. If it happens on opening day, simply take a chill and let them work it out. Once they understand scent, they will relocate when required.
Another issue is the flush of a wild bird such as a grouse or cackling pheasant. If your dog is only used to the flush of a pen-raised bird, he could develop into a blinker (avoiding birds). Try to conquer this issue before the season opening. Get hold of some larger birds, i.e., Huns, chukar or pheasants, and hold them by the feet and let them flap their wings with your dog near by. This is of course only done with a dog that has already been introduced to birds.
Yet another variable could be the fact that you have a couple of buddies with you and now when a bird flushes there are multiple shots over the dog. “Yikes” says the dog, “I’ve only heard that little training pistol before…maybe I should be scared and run.” Avoid this issue by introducing multiple shots to the your dog…after he has been properly introduced to a gun shot.
Weather can be a serious issue. So, you wait for nice sunny days to train your dog? What about those cold drizzly days in October? Hunting season is too short so seldom does weather keep me from hunting. Train your dog in the cold and rain so he’s ready for miserable opening day weather.
How about terrain? Was all your pre-season work done in nicely mowed meadows? If so, how will your dog handle uneven terrain, brooks, blow downs, thorny brush? Be fair to your dog and expose him early to all of these bird cover variables.
Those are a few of the issues you may encounter on opening day and how you might avoid dog problems ahead of time. It’s important to remember that wild bird hunting is the reward your dog gets for working all summer with you on better field manners. Do not turn this reward into a yell and e-collar stimulation festival. Stay cool, try to relax and have fun. Also, do you and your dog a favor…let your buddies do the shooting the first day and you simply handle your dog.
Good luck and Dillon (my shorthair) and I hope to see you in the field.
Paul Fuller is host of Bird Dogs Afield TV which may be seen in New England on WBIN and
Fox 23 beginning in November and running through December. Previous TV broadcast
episodes, and dozens of videos of training and hunting videos and Paul’s previous Sporting Journal columns may be seen or read on Paul’s website which is www.birddogsafield.com.
Paul may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.