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Q&A …

brittanyworking

Got your own question? Ask it at http://www.wingshootingusa.org – click on the “enter sweepstakes” link.

Q: Scott, I live in the big city and own a young GSP. What do you think is the best way for me to keep my dog in shape for hunting? Not only physically but also her bird finding skills?

A: Running alongside your bike (attached via a rig like the “Springer”) would be good for physical conditioning. Even a small backyard can be used for fundamental bird contact, especially combined with a long drive once a week to a spot where you can let your dog stretch out and find birds in a more natural setting.

Q: Is it OK to “rough house” with my dog while playing with him or does that hurt his discipline?

A: I do it occasionally, but not as often as I used to. I’m becoming a believer in “pecking order,” and that requires discipline on the human’s part as well as the dog’s. A dog that learns he can “play fight” with you is one step away from jockeying for the position of top dog.

Q: What are your thoughts on hybrid breeds? I have hunted with a lodge that breeds the GSP to Labs. The result is a leaner, faster retriever, and one that will point and or flush wild pheasants. I was hesitant to obtain one of the pups until I worked with one this early preserve season.

A: I guess if you want a dog that flushes sometimes and points other times that would be the dog for you. I prefer a dog that I can count on to do one or the other consistently.

Q: Do dogs stay on the scent of a bird better when their nose is wet?

A: Great observation. I think so. More humidity, period, helps a dog scent better (scent molecules “stick” better to vegetation and the ground). A nose that is damp collects more scent; nostrils (where dogs’ scent receptors are) that are damp are able to use more of those receptors.

Q: Is there a quality dog food that helps to limit the shedding of hair and the amount of gas that the dogs pass?

A: On the shedding question, probably not. See a veterinarian to make sure it’s not a medical condition like thyroid imbalance. On the gas question, yes. Causes are often: 1) overfeeding any ration; 2) too much fat; 3) too much protein; 4) a protein source that your dog is not able to metabolize well. Check your dog food’s nutritional content and adjust one or more of those variables.

Q: I don’t understand how you know when to shoot when the bird is far enough away after the dog flushes it. I have a feeling the dog is going to get hurt (shot).

A: Congratulations on having some awareness of the dog when shooting! As far as height, the general rule is don’t shoot a bird unless you can see daylight between the bird and the ground. As far as distance, only practice will make you comfortable with knowing “shootable” distances of 15-35 yards. So, go hunting more often.

Q: I noticed while watching the show that you place a piece of tape on the left eye of your shooting glasses. I believe it’s because your left eye is dominant and you shoot right-handed. So here is my question: Why don’t you learn to shoot left handed?

A: I’ve tried, and failed. Twice. The tape is not a perfect solution, but I don’t mind missing birds (as you have probably observed on the show).

Q: I have two Brittany’s, full brothers same litter, one will almost always lay down when backing and stand when first to point until I’m standing beside him. Then he may lie down. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it doesn’t bother me too much as I just hunt and do not field trial. Are there any suggestions on correcting this? He is a little timid when corrected very much, but he is a hard hunter.

A: You’ve probably identified part of the problem: he’s a soft dog that fears harsh correction … maybe you came down hard on him a few times when he wasn’t steady on a bird? Maybe instead of correcting him for flushing a bird, work on praising him when he whoas for the same bird? He may staunch up if he’s feeling good about the work he does for you.

 

I hope you had a fantastic hunting season – good times with friends and family, beautiful places and good dog work. I enjoyed meeting many of you along the way and hope we can connect again this season. Bear with me on this one, because it has become increasingly important to me – and I hope for you.

Our sport is threatened. Not just from politicians, anti-hunters, radical vegans or Thursday night football. Habitat, and the dollars to manage it, are dwindling. The number of hunters is shrinking. But the first problem can in large part be addressed by solving the second one. Simply put, more hunters equals more habitat and game management.
Manny retrieve at DK

Share it, save it.

If you know how this works, thanks for bearing with me, maybe passing this on to someone who doesn’t. And stick with me, because I have a favor to ask. If you don’t yet know about excise taxes, please take a minute and read on – you’ve got an assignment too.

Even though every citizen benefits (bird watchers, hikers, mountain bikers, photographers), your state game and fish department is largely funded by sportsmen and women. License fees, tags, stamps and permits, plus a giant pot of money the federal government doles out. That pot is filled by us every time we buy ammo, shotguns and other hunting gear. The federal Pittman-Robertson Act is a hidden excise tax on those purchases. There is a fishing equivalent (Dingell-Johnson) and sportsmen actually approached Congress back in the thirties and asked for these taxes to ensure game and fish had a place to thrive.
The feds, in turn, hand that money over to the states based on the number of hunting license holders they have. In most states, P-R and D-J funds make up 75 percent of the department’s budget.
You probably know where I’m going but let me be clear: to help wildlife in general and the birds we love to chase with our dogs, we need to do two things.
First, buy stuff. Second, and more critical, is involving someone new in our sport. I support and encourage all the efforts to attract kids, women, urban residents, etc., but there is one more – and in my view better – potential hunter that until now has been virtually ignored at the national level: our friends.People like us.
Everyone has a friend with a bit of money, understands food comes from animals, has free time because his kids are grown. We might know someone looking for a new hobby or retirement activity, is just a generation or two removed from rural life, or is interested in the “wild food” ethos.
Buddy points chukar

The ultimate recruiting tool. Use it!

They’ve listened to our stories, asked a few questions, maybe eaten one of your wild game dinners. It’s a gentle nudge to get them on a hunt, especially compared to dragging a teenager out of bed before sunrise to a cell phone dead zone and forcing her to wear blaze orange … not to mention the “eeeew” factor.

The odds are way better with friends. Need motivation? Who couldn’t use more mature camaraderie, more beautiful places, more non-stop action? And then there’s our biggest advantage, the magic our dogs work in the field.
You know the secret language … a primordial connection between predators working toward a common goal. It’s an unspoken, indescribable bond between man and dog. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Make a convert, fund habitat and conservation. He or she might become your best hunting buddy – besides your dog, of course.
I’ve made it my new year’s resolution. Will you?

Yep, takes a licking and well, you know the rest … click on the image and watch the video.

Okay, okay, when a manufacturer suggests I drive over their product, shoot it, or catch a shark with it, I immediately gotta have one. If not to try all that, at least to put it through its paces in my own world. REACTOR watches sent a couple of their new “Titan” tactical models and I have hunted with one on my wrist for most of the season. But that’s not all. I put one on Manny’s collar several times., and if he could tell time, he’d probably wear one too.

My only complaint would be it is a little heavy and bulky, but so are most serious watches designed for military use.

On the surface, the Titan is a simple timepiece, analog, literally, except for the battery powering its movement. You’ll know what time and what date it is. Two movable bezels let you track elapsed time. That’s it. No digital gadgets or technical gizmos. When you hunt, you want to spend your time finding birds and keeping track of your dog, and frankly, I’m frustrated enough when I use a GPS collar and don’t need more technical challenges.

No, I didn’t shoot it with my .22, as the REACTOR folks did …

reactor-bullet

Kids, don’t try this at home. Click on the image and see how this watch took one for the team.

But it survived a couple nasty falls on lava rock, and Manny carried it through grouse woods, quail hunts and snow as well as into a couple water retrieves. I dropped it – on purpose – several times on my concrete shop floor with no effect. It survived a squeeze in my vise, a whack with a 2-1/2 lb. sledge hammer, and an overnight soak in a bucket of water.

Having led a deprived childhood, I was less inclined to perform some of the more violent tests I’d watched on company videos, and possibly destroy a perfectly good watch. I doubt you’ll do anything harsher than I did, and bet you’ll be happy with the outcome … as the saying went “it keeps on ticking.”

reactor-titan

Test model. Color: Flat Earth.

But what good is a watch that doesn’t keep time? I don’t know, because the Titan does. A high-torque (read: long-lasting like a diesel engine) Swiss movement is powered by a 10-year battery. That is then enveloped in steel, and that in turn is encased in what REACTOR calls “Nitromid,” a scratch- and impact-resistant polymer that’s 50 percent lighter than steel. Watch geeks might initially look down their nose at a K1, hardened, high-ceramic glass crystal (versus most high-end watches’ sapphire) until you understand the company’s rationale. Glass may scratch but it’s shatter resistance is exponentially greater than sapphire. You don’t need to be a special operator to appreciate the practical advantages in the field.

Another old-school feature: the only electronics are in the Swiss timekeeping guts. Illlumination of numerals and the dial are new twists on a proven technology. A phosphorescent, extremely bright “Superluminova” coating is applied to the dial’s hands and markings, so you’ll be able to tell time in a black hole. When it wanes, tubes of tritium will glow in the dark for years. When you return to Earth, simply expose the watch face to the sun, ambient light or (more likely) your office lamp, and the Superluminova “recharges.” The company’s goal was a watch you could read all night (one of the less-exciting tests I conducted, but true), without having to push a button … because your hands have more important things to do.

Other components and features are just as well thought-out: NATO-style nylon web band coated in rubber is comfortable and virtually indestructible; the band is attached to the case with screw-in pins, not spring bars; the “crowns” used to adjust time and date keep water out even if you forget to screw them all the way in; and you can toast your investment with a tall frosty one because the package becomes a beer koozie that may last as long as the watch.

Like most things these days, the Titan is a United Nations of manufacturing and parts: movement and some parts from Switzerland, others from Japan and the U.S., with assembly completed in China.

If you’re with Delta Force (don’t tell me or you’ll have to kill me), or your law enforcement department has a big budget, you might have one issued to you. If not, you’ll pungle up $500 for this watch, but it will last a couple lifetimes. Start saving up. Or enlist.

Get more information here.

If you’re lucky, you hunt frequently. If you’re real lucky, your dog stays healthy and well-conditioned all season. I don’t trust to luck alone, though.

What you put into them, and when, is critical.

What you put into them, and when, is critical.

At the end of a hunt, I want to help my dog recover for the next day in the field. A number of studies (on sled dogs and bird dogs) and some long discussions with research vets and field trialers have convinced me that what you do at the end of the hunt day is critical if you want maximum performance from your dog the next day.

I give my dogs’ muscles the cell-repairing glycogen (a carbohydrate) they need. Done consistently, research shows muscles can experience up to a 95 percent recovery rate overnight. Based on current science and my practical experience, here’s one way:

  1. Immediately after your dog is done hunting (within 15 minutes) provide water mixed with maltodextrin (see package directions for dosage). Maltodextrin is a tasteless white powder (a derivative of corn) that a dog’s body converts to glycogen. Any nutritional supplement store catering to body builders will have the plain stuff; one dog-specific brand I like is “Glycocharge.” Its liver flavored and quite palatable to a dog. I’ve never seen a dog refuse to drink this concoction.
  2. Do not add maltodextrin to food. The fat in dog food inhibits the uptake of the nutrients in the maltodextrin.
  3. Give it time to be absorbed. Wait at least another hour and a half before feeding. I feed close to a full daily ration in a single feeding because I don’t feed my dogs the morning of a hunt. And when I feed, I’ll add a powdered pork fat supplement and mix it all with plenty of water. This should help with the calorie deficit sure to develop over weeks of hunting.

There are a number of bars, powders and other forms of glycogen or protein to be given before or during a hunt. Being low volume, they probably don’t do any harm, and may do some good. But if you think about the physiological processes, particularly how nutrients are absorbed and metabolized, most won’t do much good until the next day if they haven’t been pooped or peed out before then.

Yes, your dog will lose weight during a long season, in part from his hard work and partly because you’re not feeding him on the morning of a hunt day. But the added fat and larger portion in the evening should keep him firing on all eight cylinders until you both get home and return to couch-potato status until the next trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pay attention, become a better hunter.

It requires discipline, skills, planning, and a lot of time… on your part and your dog’s. No doubt, preparing for and entering a field trial or hunt test will make you both better hunters. But you don’t have to score well – or even enter – to accrue big benefits from these events.

I recently helped out at our club’s field trial, and while wrangling handlers, pitching tents and planting birds, I was struck by the treasure-trove of knowledge scattered like gemstones among the trailers, chain gangs and tents. All you have to do is pay attention.

Watch handlers: you’ll see how and what they feed their charges. You’ll hear their commands in the field and at camp, the vocabulary of high performance canine athletes. Observe how they prepare themselves and their dogs for their run, mentally and physically. Learn basics from how to stake out a dog, to backing a trailer, to which end of a horse to avoid.

Pay attention to the dogs: in one place on one day, you’ll have a concentrated dose of pack dynamics – how dogs relate to each other on the chain gang and in the field. You’ll learn what riles them up, and what calms them down. You’ll come away with a statistically-valid sample of everything from top-performing breeds, lines and handlers to the best tie-out stake to buy.

Ride or walk along in the gallery: heed the judges, scouts, marshals and handlers. Learn how hands-arms-whistles-voice are used to move dogs in the field. Track body language and comments from everyone for indications of good and bad dog work. Diplomatically ask questions of gallery members about why a dog or handler does what he’s doing. Suss out each handler’s strategy and tactics, how they cope with wind and terrain, the other dog and handler, what happens when a find is called, a bird flushed and shot.

Hang out: get the skinny on local clubs, find out who’s got a litter on the ground. Cock your ear toward hunting advice and good spots to try next season. Learn what e-collars work, find a shotgun for sale. Start the process of finding a new human hunting partner.

Watch a variety of runs: acquire a realistic perspective on what’s expected of dogs’ and handlers’ performances at each level. Yes, for the most part these are the overachievers, but you might be pleasantly surprised at your chances should you decide to enter the next event.

Adopt a helpful attitude and pitch in: “many hands make quick work,” and put you alongside knowledgeable folk. Be circumspect about your opinions, humble about you and your dogs’ abilities. Some field trials can make or break a pro trainer’s career, so watch what you say and do. They may be gruff, but cut them some slack – it may resemble a pastoral setting when below the surface it’s a simmering cauldron of emotion.

There are tests and trials of all shapes and sizes for dogs of all kinds. Finding the best fit for you and your dog is simply a matter of shopping, just as you did for your pup. Keep an open mind. To me, the drive was worthwhile if I picked up one useful tip.

You may never enter a dog game. But simply showing up will arm you for the hunting or training you’ll be doing the next day or the next season.

Position is not as important as what's underneath him.

Position is not as important as what’s underneath him.

If you’re reading this, you likely have a hunting dog. Which means sooner or later you will both face creaky joints, aching muscles, or worse. Today, let’s confine our discussion to our dogs’ needs: arthritis, dysplasia, and other orthopedic issues can debilitate your hunting partner, sometimes at a tender age, and almost certainly as they mature. The only question is what you can do about them.

Carefully managed, a hunting dog’s career can be prolonged and his quality of life improved, often for years. Unless you just crawled out from under a rock, you probably know plenty about non-steroidal pain relievers, pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, physical therapy, even surgical solutions. Each has their place at some point in a dog’s life and most merit discussion between you and your veterinarian.

If you’re indignantly crowing “it ain’t so in MY kennel,” odds are you’re wrong. Just as you ache after a pickup basketball game, our dogs feel the effect of a hunt, whether they show it or not. Inflammation, bone-on-bone wear, and muscle, tendon and ligament damage are a natural outcome of exercise.

According to veterinarian Cynthia Wooten, most dogs won’t exhibit outward signs of pain. Instead, “they’re slow to get up, can’t go as long, take short strides and are grumpy,” she says.

Wooten says dogs with joint pain also sleep more than usual, but seldom will they cry out in pain from the discomfort. In the wild, a dog verbalizing pain will get killed, so evolution has created an animal that sucks it up and keeps on keeping on.

That’s why we must be our canine brother’s keeper, minimizing damage and speeding the healing.

From the day your pup comes home, you can exercise more than an ounce of prevention: carefully meting out physical activity for pups (no jumping!) allows growth plates to develop properly. With luck, you researched your pup – buying a pup whose parents have sound hips and elbows.

A balanced diet for each life stage helps bones, muscles and joints develop at the right pace. Keeping your hunting partner on the lean side is just as critical. Wooten says a well-conditioned dog could live up to two years more than overweight littermate. Life-long studies by Purina support her contention.

Once orthopedic problems do arise (and they will), it’s a management challenge. The therapies mentioned earlier become the go-to solution for many of us and our gray-muzzled hunting partners.

But all life stages, there is something else we can do for our dogs, which should be second nature based on our own experience. We can help them sleep better.

Big dogs face a structural imbalance not only in their bodies, but in most bedding. The big-box-store beds, hand-me-down blankets, piles of straw, crib mattresses and even many high-end dog beds won’t support a 60-pound dog well enough to keep aching joints from contacting hard floors or ground. That in turn exposes joints to stress from below and above. The geometry of unsupported limbs stretches tendons and ligaments, compounding the grinding and grating of bone on bone, or bone on hard (often cold) surfaces.

Wooten says up to 80 percent of dogs suffer from the orthopedic effects of inadequate bedding. It is safe to say most hunting dogs, most times, are probably not functioning at their peak in the field, due to joint problems. Slept on a bad bed (or the floor) on a hunting trip? You can relate. I know I can. It’s why I love my foam bed.

Enter Eric Shannon. He was motivated to seek relief for his 92-ound mutt, Hank, when the dog was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. His choice was simple: surgery, or minimize the stress on Hank’s hips.

Shannon, who sold premium dog beds online, didn’t have one in his inventory beefy enough to take stress off Hank’s damaged hips. And he wasn’t alone: “Our customers would buy a new bed every six months,” he said, “they kept flattening.” His tests – and my own – confirm that. Considering that most dogs sleep an average of 12-14 hours a day, that’s a lot of joint-bone-floor contact.

Eventually, Shannon found a foam scientist (yes, there are such animals) and together they spent years testing formulations and designs, even using instruments NASA employed to map pressure points and materials’ resilience. They ultimately settled on a three-layer sandwich – softer top and bottom, more rigid center – and Big Barker was born.

Shannon won’t call his material “memory foam,” which he cautions is a nebulous term even in the human bed market. Using domestically-manufactured memory foam would also be cost prohibitive. Ask him, and it’s not the right material anyway. The closed-cell technology of memory foam restricts air circulation and causes most dogs – and humans – to get too warm. His foams are American polyurethane, “We call it therapeutic foam,” he said.

A quick Google search of “orthopedic dog beds” yields a variety of foams, covers, sizes and thicknesses. Most are imported, a few are made in the U.S. Shannon’s seven-inch thick pad is the Big Dog in this market, literally. Besides allowing for the multi-layer design, he suggests a thicker bed makes getting up and lying down easier for older dogs (think about which you’d rather climb out of – a futon or traditional bed).

My 65-pound wirehair Manny runs hard every day, and like the television commercials for human beds, wakes up refreshed and rarin’ to go. He also sleeps more soundly on his Big Barker crate pad, waking and turning less in the night.

I’m not suggesting everyone run out and purchase a Big Barker. Pile up enough straw, cheap beds, crib mattresses or other foams, and you can probably accomplish the same thing. At home, maybe you can convince your spouse to let Gunner share your foam bed. Um, on second thought, buying a Big Barker might be a better solution.

Better videos, please!

Like it or not, the tiny video camera is now a virtual extension of our eyes in the field. Mounted on our head, gun barrel or dog, it chronicles our triumphs and failures, breathtaking dog performance and every single stumble and missed shot. Why not make it worth watching – and sharing?

Think before you press the red button - you will make your video eminently more watchable.

Think before you press the red button – you will make your video eminently more watchable.

We’re not talkin’ art here, simply better home movies. If you want to make a statement, go to film school. If you want decent shots to share with friends and family, here are some hard lessons I’ve learned from two of the best shooters in outdoors television, my Wingshooting USA TV crew of Tad Newberry and Lynn Berland.

My guys’ work wins the awards. It has been on every outdoors and sports network you’ve watched and is used by major TV network shows and motion pictures. Any goofs on what you watch are my editing errors – I’m just a TV host. Here are some of their lessons:

Fill the frame. After a few establishing shots to create a sense of scale (tiny guy at the foot of monolithic cliff or dog quartering across vast prairie), set up your shots so they are pretty much full of your subject: guy in duck blind peering out, guy holding bird, dog with bird in mouth, two guys high fiving … leave out most of the background most of the time.

Be mindful of distance. Most camera lenses make distant objects appear even more distant. Seldom is it fun to watch a speck in the sky decoying to your set, let alone flaring and being shot at what looks like 100 yards. Wait for that pintail to drop his landing gear before you hit the red button.

Step out of line. Most shots are more attractive to the eye if they are a bit asymmetrical. Put the main subject just a bit to the left, right, or toward one corner up or down. No need to get fancy here, but a little off-balance composition just seems more natural. When you’ve got more than one subject, say a dog on point and hunter approaching, it’s easier.

Bend over once in a while. The best dog shots are those taken from their level. You’re going to be filthy by the end of the day anyway, why not get down where the action is?

Push up the hat brim. The eyes really are the window to the soul, and if they are invisible due to shadow, your images have less personality. Ditto sunglasses.

Plan ahead. I’m all for spontaneity, but when possible eliminate extraneous stuff: cigarettes, soda cans, gear, people in the background, and anything that looks like it’s popping up from your subject’s head like a tree trunk or gun barrel behind him. Same for items in the foreground – I was just given a set of photos by a “pro” where a woman’s head is popping out of my belly!

Pet peeve: treat dead birds with a bit of respect.

One more time. When possible, shoot at least one “insurance” sequence just in case. Light changes, eyes blink, dogs sneeze or don’t follow commands. In the newspaper business, we used to say still photo film was cheap compared to coming back and re-setting the shot. Bytes are even cheaper. This also gives you what Tad and Lynn call “coverage,” similar shots from the same time that you can cut in for different angles.

Hold still. Videos look more professional if you frame the action and hold the camera stock-still. A tripod, monopod, shooting stick or anchor of any kind (even against a tree trunk) is better than nothing. Most times, avoid following your subject with the camera (or God forbid, by literally walking behind or alongside him). Let him walk into and out of the frame instead. Minimize zooms as well.

Remember that “edit” is a verb. Use it in the field as well as when you get home to produce your masterpiece. Shoot only what you’re confident you’ll use and you’ll be saving time. A kill shot is great but repeating it three times in slow motion is probably not the effect you were really after. Vary something in repetitive field shots (who shoots, which dog retrieves), and it will alleviate monotony in the final product.

Mic check. If you want your subject to talk to the camera and be understandable, get close enough so the onboard microphone can actually record him. If you must “pan” or “tilt,” (move camera horizontally or vertically) make it slow.

Finally, your gaffes, mis-statements and actions take on a life of their own once posted to social media. Even if you couldn’t care less, others will take note of your language or how you treat dogs or dead birds. You’re doing a disservice to the rest of the hunting community when you act in an unsportsmanlike way. What that means is up to you. The world will judge your actions the moment you press the “post” button.

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