Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs
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Hunting with your Spaniel....Putting it all together by Jim Keller
You have finally made it through the dog days of summer with your spaniel. Maybe you have a young pupil who you have worked all summer with preparing him for fall bird season. Or perhaps you have a seasoned veteran who you have brushed up his skills. Now is the moment of truth, hunting wild birds in wild bird places. Let's face it. Bird hunting trips are only as fun as the dogs and people we are with. A dog soon separates when it is training and hunting and a disobedient dog can make a hunting trip just downright miserable. They are worse than bad company.
A young dog may be tempted to riot in the face of some very different surroundings than the familiar training grounds. Or the seasoned dog may become more and more unruly as the season progresses. How do we maintain the good habits we worked so hard for in training and yet enjoy ourselves?
Before you pack up and head out to go hunting with your pup lets discuss what he should be doing. During the summer we spend a lot of time with the youngsters properly building the foundation for our spaniel training program. They are worked daily in the yard in basic obedience such as hup, stay, recall, retrieving, kenneling, etc. Good responses to these commands are essential not only for a good day afield but for pups safety.
Next, they are taught proper pattern. A flushing dog that continually hunts out of gun range is useless. We make sure they find lots of birds while working an appropriate pattern for the cover and wind. Our spaniel training program is reward based. Hunt within range and you find birds and get lots of retrieves.
We usually introduce pups to quartering and retrieving on pigeons. Once they are working well on pigeons we move on to game birds such as pheasants or chuckar. I like to take the youngsters for walks where they will encounter wild game prior to the season opener. I usually get in some early scouting and pup gets some work on game birds awakening the nose a bit more than a pigeon.
When appropriate we introduce gunshot. Improper shooting over a young dog can turn off even a hard charging spaniel. It can be prevented with a little care and training. Sometimes folks get so wrapped up in shooting they forget there is a dog down field which may not like getting the muzzle blast. We introduce the shot in progressive steps, which the dog associates with a retrieved bird.
Some folks hunt a season or two with their spaniel unsteady to wing and shot before steadying him. If you are going to hunt over an unsteady spaniel make sure he comes back after a short chase. You can setup a drill while spaniel training by having him flush a bird, chase a short distance then hit the recall whistle and when you get his attention throw a dead bird or clip wing for him to retrieve. The idea is that when he comes back promptly he gets a reward.
Wild birds tempt a bit more than in training. Circumstances are a bit less controlled and sometimes you may go for hours before encountering game. Here are some tips I share with our clients to have a more enjoyable hunt with your young or old spaniel.
Training and hunting - treat it all the same
Many folks make the mistake of letting a dog get away with things while hunting that would not be tolerated while training. Treat it all the same and you will be rewarded with not only consistency but less chances of having to correct bad habits gained while hunting.
If you expect pup to retrieve to hand in spaniel training than expect no less when hunting. The same with steadiness to flush and shot or turning when asked, etc. This enhances not only overall hunting but also your training program. Dogs like consistency, it is less confusing to them and if you have to correct them they clearly know the expectations and you oftentimes have a better performer.
One of the best hunting dogs I ever had the pleasure of shooting over was not so much fun on his first hunting trip. We had long tails flying everywhere with a very excited spaniel behind all of them. Several years later during one of my hunts to "Big Sky country" this same dog produced over 100 birds to the gun, never missing a beat. Truly a pleasure to hunt over for many years. Consistency in training and hunting paid off.
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