Getting Your Pointer Ready for Quail Seasonby Mark Roberts
Forty seven days, seven hours, twelve minutes. Quail season in Texas opens on the last Saturday of October. A giant red circle around October 26 serves to keep the calendar and I focused on the most important day of the year. In precisely forty-seven days, seven hours, and twelve minutes (not that anyone is counting) I will be quail hunting. Like every other true bird dog man, I am more than ready to start this season’s pursuit of Mr. and Mrs. Bob. I can’t wait. Last year’s disappointing season, in which Texas experienced a virtual quail famine, makes me more ready than ever.
So it is settled. I’m ready, but what about the dog? In quail hunting, the dog is the operative end of the partnership. If he doesn’t do his part the chances are very good you won’t be doing very much of your part, namely shooting (or eating) quail. Getting the hunter ready for quail season is mostly a matter of reading the annual quail forecasts, oiling up a favorite shotgun and buying more shells. What does it take to get the dog ready? It is entirely possible for you to make preparations, like making trips to the skeet range and finding a lost whistle lanyard, while your dog remains terribly unprepared. In six weeks, you and the dog will be in the field. What is going to happen then? If you start doing the right thing now both you and your favorite field companion can be ready. The secret is conditioning.
What has ol’ Bullet been doing since the season closed last winter? He’s been doing exactly what most pointers have done: nothing. Even if you are like me and field trial your dogs, the heat shuts that down in May. That means Ranger, my Britt, hasn’t had a decent run in almost five months. That is more than enough time for a dog to get fat and lazy, or at least out of shape. If your dog is a family pet and lives indoor the problem is doubly compounded: he or she is out of shape, and not acclimated to the heat of early fall. Laying around in a kennel, or lazing around an air-conditioned house all summer, doing little or nothing hardly prepares a dog for the rigors of quail hunting. In forty-five days, we are going to ask ol’ Bullet to run hard for several hours over difficult terrain with few breaks. We delight in seeing him quarter and work near and far – but the truth is that is extremely rigorous physical exercise requiring Bullet to have the heart and lung capacity of a trained athlete.
Sadly, some hunters just don’t seem to understand this. On opening day, when Bullet finds a shady spot and plops down after running for twenty-five minutes his owner will be unhappy and probably embarrassed. That is certain to lead to screaming, maybe a whipping, or even a wrong use of the e-collar. Not much thought goes into using those kinds of tactics on an out-of-shape and overworked dog. Think about it. If you were running a marathon, with absolutely no training to get you ready for it, do you think having an overbearing jerk screaming at you, kicking you, or zapping you with a cattle prod would help your time, instantly improve your conditioning or make you want to ever run again for this maniac who is annoying you? Only a fool would try to run a marathon without training for it and let’s just say that it is equally ill advised for anyone to run pointing dogs without training them for the field.
While talking about dogs as athletes and throwing around terms like "conditioning" and "training regime" sounds impressive and difficult, it really isn’t that complicated. Conditioning ol’ Bullet just means getting the dog out and letting him run so that he can aerobically work his heart and lungs and get into shape. The good news (or the bad news, depending on how you want to look at it) is that this is almost impossible to do without you getting in shape, too. That’s right. You are going running with Bullet.
Naturally, this must be done in small steps. If Bullet hasn’t done much this summer do not decide to run him for six hours first thing in the morning. Begin by taking him out three times a week for runs of ten to fifteen minutes. Three times a week works well for you and your dog because it gives you a rest and recovery day between runs. If you have never run before focus on running five minutes then walking five minutes, then running five more and then walking five more. As you get in shape run longer and walk less, until you can finally run the entire training period of ten to fifteen minutes. Then keep at it until, ideally, you are exercising twenty-five minutes or more.