Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs
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Johnny House - A Home on the Range
When I was a youngster staying on “Uncle Jim’s” rural farm in Virginia, the Johnny House was a place you ran to answer the call of nature. Back then we rated them as One Holers or Two Holers. If you train your own bird dogs you are probably familiar with a different type of Johnny House, often referred to as a “Recall Pen”.
The most common structures used are about four feet square and about six to eight feet tall. (Of course, in Texas they are twice this size.) The house has a screened in top area and ledges for the quail to fly up and sit on. Part of this screen area contains a door that can be lowered in order to let some or all of the birds out. The floor can be either solid plywood or hardware cloth. (I prefer a solid floor. We’ll talk about this later.) There is also a one way “catch funnel” located in the bottom of the house. This allows the quail to reenter the house but not leave again.
The typical structure will hold 15-25 quail and can be set up in a small field. The objective is to keep the confined birds healthy and available until you are ready to work your dog. After you pick up your dog and leave the training area, the quail are recalled back to the Johnny House by the birds that were not released or with the assistance of a digital recall device.
Inside, the quail find protection from predators and extreme weather conditions. They also have feed and water to hold them over until you return again. The ledges, located near the top of the house, help the birds maintain flight muscle strength as they fly from the floor up to the shelf. (Many people don’t realize this but most of the wing exercise is generated on the rise.) It is rare but if you should have a small varmint get into the house through the funnel, the birds can fly up to the ledge to get away.
If you don’t own a large piece of hunting land or the land you have access to is not close to where you live, then the Johnny House may be just what you need. The most common use of the house is to provide quail for dog training purposes. Training a dog to be steady on point or to honor another dog’s point by “backing” requires having birds with which to work. The Johnny House becomes the ready source for such birds. Quail can be manually caught and placed in a bird launcher or “dizzied” and placed in the field before the work begins. As the dog’s training progresses, you can release all or part of the birds from the house by lowering the release door and letting them fly out into the field. Once you have watched to see which cover patches the quail land in, you can then go get your dog and begin working the field.
Another use for the house is to train a young bird hunter how to work the dogs and be a safe hunter. This is a more controlled setting that presents a youngster with enough action to keep him/her interested in learning the finer points of wing shooting.
If your quail hunting area is only large enough to have a few wild or early released coveys, then the Johnny House can be used to provide additional birds during hunts. These additional birds will take some of the hunting pressure off your “premium coveys”.
Of course, the first thing you need to do is build the Johnny House. The plans used in this article are available from Quality Wildlife Services, Inc.
The field setting for the house should be good quail habitat. A field of fescue or bermuda grass will not work. Instead, find a field dominated by native grasses and weeds along with scattered small patches of “heavy cover” such as briars or small shrubs. If you are able, it is also a good idea to add a few scattered food plots of Egyptian wheat or sorghum to the setting. This gives the quail a visual target to fly to as they leave the house.
Place the Johnny House out in the field away from any rank or unhuntable thickets. The goal here is to make sure when the birds are released, that they don’t peel off into the jungle but rather they fly out into the work area.
Once the house is set in position, you can place some light brush tops around the funnel entrance on the outside of the house. This will give the returning quail some concealment cover as they mill around the funnel entrance.
Preparing for the Quail
First, you will need a way to feed and water the birds. For many years I avoided using a Johnny House because of the time it took to keep the birds serviced. The quail were constantly fouling up the feed and water with their droppings or the feed would get wet and nasty after rainstorms. That’s why I developed the LessMess feed and water system. The system holds enough feed and water to take care of 25 quail for two weeks and is designed to prevent any contamination from the droppings. This feeding system also prevents you from taming down your birds because it is not necessary to enter the house as often. The other option is to use traditional chicken feed pans and waterers sold in feed stores.
The kind of feed used is important. Wild or early season released quail are free ranging so they do very well when supplemented with grains. This is because they are able to pick up green forage and insects as they find them. Since the Johnny House birds are only “free ranging” off and on, you need to provide a more complete diet. I obtain commercial game bird feed from a local bird grower and mix it about half and half with either sorghum or wheat.
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