Establishing an Effective Pattern in Hunting Dogsby George Hickox
The two hunters were working their way through a CRP field, following a black Lab that was covering ground by running straight out and back again. Suddenly, a cackling rooster flushed to the side and behind them, setting its wings and sailing straight away into the wind. The pair spun around at the sound, but were so surprised that neither could get a shot off. Both knew the dog had a great nose; they'd seen him smoke birds from 20 yards on other hunts. But it wasn't until they'd stood for a minute with the breeze in their face that they realized their mistake: Improper patterning and ineffective use of the wind had been the culprits in this case.
Proper patterning and proper use of the wind are necessary for the maximum number of bird finds whether hunting over a flushing or pointing dog. You may have heard the phrase "hunting objectives." This is a term used mostly by dogmen in wide-open country. The hedgerow 500 yards away across a plowed field may be the only place where birds would be. The pointing dog should strike "to the objective" because hunting the bare ground in between would be futile. Once the dog reaches the hedgerow, the bird must be upwind in order for the dog to smell it. If the wind is blowing from the dog to the bird, the dog will likely bump the bird before it can smell it. A dog's ability to use wind properly comes through experience and training.
There are three distinct wind conditions hunters will experience: upwind, crosswind and downwind. Correct patterning by the dog is different for each.
By far the most productive condition is upwind, because when the wind is blowing from the bird to the dog, the dog is able to smell body scent. Obviously, we'd prefer to hunt into the wind the majority of the time, so it only makes sense to train dogs to effectively pattern for upwind situations. A dog with the wind in its nose that covers the ground to the left and right of the hunter's path has considerably more opportunities to produce birds than one that hunts in a straight line down the field.
In order to train a close-working dog to quarter (in a windshield-wiper pattern) into the wind, you need to start early. Beginning with the first puppy walks in the field; walk into the wind in a zigzag fashion. When you change direction give two short beeps on your whistle. In no time the pup will learn to change direction upon hearing the two beeps.
For more structured training, use planted birds and a groomed field to create the habit of ground coverage you desire. If the prevailing wind in your training field is from the north, cut rows east-and-west, alternating high rows (knee to waist high) and low rows (about six inches) down the length of the field.
You can jumpstart the pup's quartering training by using two helpers, or teasers. Have one set up about 25 yards to your left and the other 25 yards to your right. All three of you should then move downfield into the wind. The helper on the right should animatedly call the pup's name, clap his hands and encourage the pup to run to him. When the pup reaches him, give two beeps on the whistle. The lefthand teaser should now enthusiastically entice the pup to his side. For flushing and retrieving breeds, the teaser can use a Velcro-wing pigeon (a strip of Velcro around a live bird's wings will prevent the bird from flying) to pitch for the pup. The game should be fun and upbeat.
When the youngster is accustomed to running back and forth to the guns (teasers), plant Velcro-wing pigeons in the high rows at the outside edge of desired range, alternating sides of the field in every sec- ond row. With the birds in the high rows, the pup will be encouraged to use its nose, not its eyes. Regular repetition of this exercise will create a dog that habitually quarters to the sides at whatever distance you desire. Another trick in training is to always give your dog a plant on the first cast. If right out of the box the dog always finds a bird to the side, it will be less likely to pour straight down the field when initially let loose. When the pup is on its first hunting season, carry a live pigeon, chukar or quail in your vest. If the young dog gets way out, toss the velcro-wing bird out in front and to the side of you. When the pup comes back, it will find a bird near you and think, Gee, I'd better stay closer. That's where the birds are.