Archive for the ‘bird hunting’ Category

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou make lists, check them twice … and no, it’s not Christmas, it’s the opening of bird season. Pile stuff in a corner or right into the truck, check off the last training goals. Make plans, book trips. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Here are 13 reminders that might come in handy somewhere in the field or along the way. Have a great season!

– If your dog is licking all the medicine off a wound, put something tastier on another accessible part of his body.

– As the day goes on and ground heats up, warm air rises from the bottom of draws, valleys, river canyons, creating an uphill or upstream breeze almost everywhere. As the sun rises, hunt from above the best bird hideouts and you’ll help your dog intercept scent as he leads you along a ridgeline or down a draw.

– Do you own a TriTronics Upland G3 Special? Turning on the beeper remotely from the collar is sometimes a sketchy situation. Try this: once you’ve pressed the button on the beeper to turn it on, hold the collar so the prongs on the battery unit face the base of the beeper. Then hit the green button on the handheld transmitter to turn it off.

– The best bedding in an outside dog kennel or house is grass hay. It breaks down slower than straw and makes less dust. Cedar shavings are pretty strong-smelling and might impact a dog’s scenting ability.

– Remove the entrails of shot birds immediately after they’re retrieved to help them cool quickly. In wintry conditions, stuff some snow into the body cavity. Scuff a hole in the dirt and bury the guts – unless your dog is riding in the back of the truck – bird innards are fart fuel.

– When fogged-over shooting glasses leave you stranded in a pea-soup of your own making, turn your hat around. Put the bill in back where it won’t catch your exhaled breath, hang around your glasses, and condense on the lens.

– Burning eyes and fatigue are common early signs of dehydration in humans.

– Having trouble opening that barbed-wire gate? Can’t get the post into the wire loop? Before you pull the gate toward the post that’s anchored in the ground, stretch the top strand of the gate wire by pulling from the middle to stretch it. If that doesn’t help, make sure you’ve put the bottom of the post as far as possible into the wire loop located at ground level. If you’re lucky enough to find a short pole anchored by a length of wire to the nearby post you’re trying to reach, loop it through the gate and apply some leverage.

– All the modern electronic gizmos we take outdoors these days are worthless without instructions, so pack them in your kit as well. Don’t forget your reading glasses either (equally useful when doctoring dogs).

– If you carry one of those Mylar “space blankets” in your survival kit, check it every year for age-related rips. I opened mine once and found that every fold had become a full-length tear. Luckily, it was at home, not in the woods on a cold, rainy night.

– Permethrin is the most effective tick spray, if you use it right. That means applying it to your clothing before you venture out. Hang, spray, and let dry for at least two hours before you put it on. In formulations for clothing, it is not appropriate for dogs.

– Warm up by fueling your internal furnace. Carbohydrates burn fastest, proteins slowest. Best is a snack food that offers both for sustained energy.

– Buy a bandanna. Silk or rayon, get the big ones that real buckaroos wear, available at farm supply and western stores. Keeps your neck – and the rest of your body, in turn – warm. A multitude of other uses around camp from sweatband to oven mitt.

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Thanks for all your questions. They make me think (a lot) and prompt even more questions in my mind. If my answers help you, all the better. Here are some of my favorites:

Q: Scott, I love the dogs that you hunt. I personally hunt German Shorthairs. I was wondering about the range of the Wirehairs. I really need a dog that covers more ground than my Shorthair. That way the wide running dog would complement the close dog.

A: Before you make that investment, think about your close-working dogs … are they close because they find birds close? In more open country, with sparser bird concentrations, do they range farther? Probably not a wire in your future, then. Mine will stretch out in sparse cover if the birds are scattered, but they’ll also hunt close in the puckerbrush or when birds are thick. Wires are not typically big runners; in fact, your shorthairs may run bigger. If you want more range than that, maybe an English Pointer is in your future.

Q: How suitable are Brittany’s for quail hunting? Are they too energetic to halt and hold point?

A: Some of the best quail dogs in pro Rick Smith’s string are Britts. Energetic is an asset; uncontrolled chaos is not. Like any pointing breed, a Brittany can be taught that he must find and point birds, staying steady until asked to move on or retrieve.

Q: Scott, what are some methods to try with a dog that has a hard mouth or who is prone to chomping a bird on the retrieve? (not eating, just zealous death chomps).

A: Usually, I’ve been content to get a bird back, period. “Zealous death chomp” is not only a great name for a heavy metal band, but tolerated at times by this trainer. If it’s not truly “hard mouth” resulting in torn-up or swallowed birds, try shooting better so all the birds are good and dead before your dog retrieves? (That’s a little joke – I’m the last guy to be making suggestions like that.) But seriously, a live bird that flaps, flops, squawks or scratches is a bummer for your dog, no wonder he wants to quiet it down. Practice with dead birds for a while. The ultimate solution, though, is force training – the entire retrieve becomes an obedience skill with no tolerance for chomping.

Q: What is the best way to break a dog from jumping into the air to catch a bird on the flush?

A: If it’s a pointing breed, go back to steadiness training and “whoa.” If it’s a flushing breed, give him a dog biscuit for his spirit. Then, teach “hup,” with verbal and whistle commands – the dog should sit on the flush or command, or the shot, and not retrieve until commanded. No matter the breed or the weight of your game bag, don’t shoot low birds.

Q: I am an older hunter and am interested in getting a calmer-bred upland bird dog. Which one would you recommend?

A: Some of the versatile breeds may be just what the veterinarian ordered. “Ugly dogs” like the Spinone Italiano or Wirehaired Pointing Griffons generally hunt closer and slower than other breeds. The Clumber Spaniel is like a Springer in slow motion. Or, a field-bred cocker spaniel, once trained, will hunt close, and with such little legs, they can’t get up much speed!

Q: Scott, how and what have you found to help with the passing of one of your own dogs after they have celebrated their hunting career with you?

A: This one is tough and I’m sorry if you lost a dog recently. I’ll never get over the companionship, hard work and loyalty my dogs showed me. That’s the principal reason I make my TV show. To show my gratitude and respect, I wear my dogs’ collar tags on my whistle lanyard. I know someone who puts their dogs’ collars under the driver’s seat of their truck. Paintings, impressions of pawprints, you’ll find something that reminds you of the good times you had hunting with them.

Q: How can you overcome a young dog that seems lethargic when yard training? My six-month-old wirehaired Vizsla has all the energy in the world in the field but when training in the yard he tends to have a lot of quit in him.

A: Usually, yard work is booooooring to a dog. Remember your worst job? It’s like that, which is why they gave you money to do it. Offer praise, treats or whatever reward serves as your dog’s “paycheck.” Yard training is especially dull if it moves slowly, with little challenge or progression in skill level. Or worse, when birds aren’t part of the equation. Bring birds and I bet he’ll perk up. Be methodical in how you progress from basic skill to more advanced work, but keep it moving forward, even if you experience setbacks periodically. Raise the bar, challenge your dog regularly, and make it fun.

Q: I have a one-year-old Lab. She is very smart and well behaved until we have guests. She will jump up, bark, and whine when she normally doesn’t. What are some ways of correcting this behavior?

A: At least you didn’t mention crotch sniffing! Short answer: gradual conditioning, baby steps. Identify and eliminate triggers (doorbell, for example). Teach obedience: sit, stay, quiet. Keep the energy level low. Put some distance between the dog and the guest, working closer and closer as the dog remains calm and on task with the command. Be ready to correct, i.e. praise when she obeys, and move guest and dog closer together over many practice sessions. I’ve found that yelling doesn’t help – it actually can raise the excitement level and things spiral out of control faster.

Q: Do you typically recommend pet insurance for a hunting dog?

A: I’ve looked at this question frequently (usually after a spendy vet visit), and if you have ready access to cash, the short answer is no. If you can’t afford an expensive emergency but can afford a monthly premium, invest in it. One consumer magazine I read studied the question and found it seldom pencils out in the long run.

Q: I am working with two English Pointers. A two year old male that is a natural and a three year old female that has some issues. If both dogs are working the field together the male takes the lead and the female tends to sit back and not hunt. In addition, when the female is hunting with the male she is very aggressive toward the birds and tends to not hold point. Is there a way to train them to hunt together? And will the female learn from the male?

A: I’d hunt them separately – maybe forever. The female will learn from the male, acquiring both good and bad habits. She will never be bold and independent if she can let the male do the heavy lifting. And as you’ve learned, she has a competitive streak that causes her to break point. That probably isn’t doing the male any good either. He might start busting birds too. Save yourself some anxiety and hunt them one at a time.

Q: What is proper etiquette when hunting your dog with someone else’s dog for the first time?

A: Most of the time, everyone is happier when you hunt dogs singly. Alternate them, then compare and contrast their styles at the end of the day over a tall cold one. Dogs need to be trained to hunt as a brace, must honor each other’s points and retrieves, and obviously need to get along. If you must hunt them at the same time, try spreading out – way out – and effectively hunting by yourselves. If that doesn’t discourage you, introduce the dogs on neutral ground with leashes loose so they are not feeling your stress, and if possible hunt dogs of opposite sex together.

Q: What are the pros and cons of a pointer versus a flushing dog?

A: Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A flusher will probably be ready to perform reliably a season sooner than a pointer, because you don’t have to work on steadying the dog while on point. But if you are dazzled by a staunch point, you’ll be willing to wait a season. On the other hand, few feelings match that of the constant adrenaline flow following a close-working flusher. Both need training to retrieve reliably.


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Now would be a good time to give a command - he's looking at you, and not distracted by something more fun.

Now would be a good time to give a command – he’s looking at you, and not distracted by something more fun.

In the past I’ve talked about “tells,” those little signs that clue you to when your dog is getting birdy, or ready for direction, or in need of correction. I’ve also mentioned timing your commands, praise and correction for that “golden moment,” when he’s amenable to them. But just like those indicators of readiness, there are times when you’re wasting your breath and your emotional energy. You can yell, scream, jump up and down, or do cartwheels and your dog will steadfastly ignore you.

It think it was legendary pro trainer Delmar Smith who said “never give a dog a chance to fail.” I take that to mean don’t expend training capital – or sanity – giving commands that are destined to be ignored. The dog still learns, but not what you hoped to teach. He learns he can get away with murder.

As a dog matures and training progresses, he will be more likely to listen to you and pay less attention to the siren song of roadkill. It is a gradual and cumulative process but early on, keep your expectations at an appropriate level.

What kind of clues should inspire you to stow your whistle? Some are obvious. My guy Buddy is a digger. When he’s bored and there are no birds he’s happy enough hunting ground squirrels. Once he’s digging, there is no point in my asking, telling, imploring or threatening. He’s in predator mode, single-minded and focused on the critter that is frantically tunneling away at warp speed.

Virtually any distraction has the same effect on a dog brain. They are linear thinkers after all, one idea at a time. Run. Stop. Pee. Run. Smell critter. Run toward it. There’s no room for other thoughts during this process, so don’t try to intervene. A dog in hot pursuit of a whitetail is not going to “whoa.”

Other dogs, people, and sounds can distract a dog and flummox a command. Breath deep, give it a minute, wait for your opportunity, then deliver your direction once there’s an open niche in the thought process. Right after he pees and before his hiked leg hits the ground is a perfect time. Following a good shake is another. While howling at a neighbor jogging past is not.

Hunger or anticipation of a meal is another deal breaker. Once a week I catch myself wondering why Manny won’t listen, let alone follow my clear direction. Then I look at the wall clock – it’s dinner time.

Or something in the wind will entice … and it doesn’t need to be bird scent. Dogs often react first to what their noses tell them. If you don’t give that new scent a beat or two to “sink in,” your command will fall on deaf furry ears. If you don’t catch him before that shoulder tuck, you probably won’t forestall a roll in that stinky dead critter.

With a dog, learning is a gradual progression of baby steps, leading to mastery of commands to the point of flawless obedience in the face of compelling distractions. The yin of your direction is constantly buoyed by the yang of sweet temptation. Only with repetition and gradual introduction of distractions can you tilt the balance in your favor. Even then, you’ll almost always lose out to roadkill.

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Want to get up here? Start working on it now.

Want to get up here? Start working on it now.

By my calculations, it’s only about 120 days until we can start chasing birds again. With the opener come all the joys and trepidation of a new bird hunting season. We’ve waited, planned, practiced, anticipated, maybe dreaded, everything from the alarm clock’s buzz to the smell of Hoppe’s Number Nine, to the post-hunt celebration.

Okay, I’ll say it: kind of like Christmas Eve.

But ensuring a fantastic opener takes more than trusting to luck. Relying on a wing and a prayer is not a strategy. Orchestrate your first day afield to ensure a safer, more enjoyable start for you and your dog. Some has to wait until the night before, but some you can start working on now.

Gear: Like any athletic event, half the game is in your head … familiar gear and mastery of it creates a level of confidence in both hunters. Now is the time to learn your way around your stuff. Then, you’ll be shooting the gun you shoot best, even if you bought a new one in the off season. Get to know that spare shotgun, too. New boots? Break them in now, when you have plenty of time to dial in your new stuff. On that first day you want to feel comfortable literally and figuratively. Ditto for the new e-collar or GPS, figure out all the bells and whistles now, so you can manipulate those buttons with your eyes closed.

Place: Who doesn’t love new hunting spots? The joy of discovery is addicting. But to start the season on the right foot, start doing your homework now. Often, it’s best to start the season hunting a spot you know. You will be more confident (read: shoot straighter) and you’ll have a better chance of finding birds (read: happy dog). If you simply can’t resist the siren song of a new covert, do your research, talk to the regional biologist now, when he is a little less harried, and hang that topo map on your office wall to study. Now’s the time to secure permission to hunt private property or “open to hunt” lands.

People: You might have an opening weekend tradition – I do. I invite the right hunting partner – the one who helps buy fuel and brings a spectacular lunch. He guns while I handle the dog if necessary, holding off when I’m working on steady to wing and shot. He knows not to shoot bumped birds. But the selection process takes a while and might be done best with some “practice” during dog training season.

Dogs: No baseball player skips spring training. No football player shirks the weight room. Neither should your dog (or you, for that matter). Make a list of what you want to fix from last season, setting both training and fitness goals. “If you’re dog’s fat, you need more exercise” is an apt cliché, not matter how hard you plan to hunt. Fit hunters handle opening day heat better, can hunt longer and more efficiently. Oh, so can your dog. Mobilize some buddies and meet weekly to work on pointing, retrieving, etc.

It looks like a lot, but you’re in it for the long run. In many states, bird season is four or five months long. As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Might as well make it the right step, in the best place, with a good partner and a dog that will be able to work for you all season.

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Actions speak louder than words, and don't spook birds, either.

Actions speak louder than words, and don’t spook birds, either.

At its most fundamental level the idea is to shoot birds over your shorthair’s point or within gun range of your lunging Springer. Maybe it’s putting a sneak on feeding mallards or decoying honkers to your pit. But if you sound like the circus coming to town, you’ll seldom get a decent shot.

Game birds may not be as spooky as whitetails (though late-season sharptailed grouse might get close), but they are still very cognizant of predators and the sounds they make. Just ask yourself why so many game birds roost in the thick, crackly vegetation, or why pheasant hunters don’t slam truck doors. So it behooves we apex predators to “stuff a sock in it,” so to speak.

I’ve snuck within inches of birds by treading more carefully, ghosting my way through brush instead of bulldozing it. I try to make my footfalls more like an elk hunter than a linebacker. Light steps on scree minimize rattling, deliberate wading, delicate paddling … all get you closer to a killing shot.

Even rattling whistles or duck calls, sloshing water bottles, or a ringing cell phone will put the kybosh on a stealthy approach to pressured birds. Reaching for that coffee mug (let alone dropping it) in an aluminum boat can resemble a clanging fire alarm to pintails dabbling around the next bend.

I often go a step further, taking the jingle-jangles off the dog’s collar. One of those riveted identification plates starts to make even more sense in the grouse woods. I own a half-dozen e-collars with beepers and an assortment of bells, but many times I’ll go unplugged.

Spoken, rather than shouted, directions are heard plenty well by most dogs. When possible, use hand commands instead of a voice or whistle. Just like any other skill, retrievers can be taught to sit still and quit whining in a blind. It might take a bag full of treats and many weeks, but all of it pays off when wings cup and landing gear deploy.

Oh, and here’s another good reason: while I like Monday-morning quarterbacking yesterday’s game as much as the next guy, when my mouth is shut, my eyes seem to open wider. I see and enjoy more of the dog work, catch on quicker to his birdiness, savor the scenery … and to me, that’s almost as much fun as nice, close shots.

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The (intensity of) media is the message.

The (intensity of) media is the message.

Your dog is constantly watching you, and learning from your movement, your tone of voice, what you put up with, and what you simply won’t tolerate … whether with him, other dogs, or your first-born kid.

Because he has a limited vocabulary, literally, your actions often speak louder than words. But even words have different meanings to your dog depending on how they are delivered. So why not use your ability to nuance training “language” to influence your dog.

I’m lucky in that I can watch myself on TV a lot (someone has to pump up the Nielsen ratings). I learned to be a teacher the same way – with video. It is a cruel but fair instructor, the small screen. But you don’t need a camera to reflect on your actions and the messages they convey. Just think before you act, adjust your pace, the magnitude of your movements, and your dog will get the message. He does that now, but it’s often to your detriment and you might not even know it.

For instance, move slower and you literally demonstrate to your dog that things are not as exciting (or distracting) as they seem. When you’re winding down an amped-up retrieving training session a short “heel” around the yard in slow motion could cool down your Lab and prepare him for a rest in his crate. A quivering shorthair gulping in pheasant scent while on point might be steadied by a calm, confident and low-key approach to the flush.

Conversely, getting your Springer pumped up for an assault on that blackberry thicket might require an energetic pep talk and gentle pat on his butt. An easily-distracted wirehair might maintain focus during a long retrieve with some loud and animated encouragement from his owner (don’t ask).

When words are the appropriate communication tool, a whisper is often better than a yell. It certainly brings down the adrenaline levels, calming the situation. Like people, dogs will often pay closer attention to you if you make it hard for them to hear what you’re saying. Drop the volume level and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

On the other hand, an icy water retrieve by a young Chessie could merit a boisterous shoreline cheerleading squad. Again, evaluate your desired result and pick the correct arrow out of your quiver.

Even physical praise has degrees. As I write this, I’m scratching my old guy’s neck following a quiet “here” command. It’s a slow, relaxing touch, light and low-key, but a reward nonetheless. He in turn, is lying down, expecting nothing but a chance to be near me as his payback for a small job well done – he showed up. A vigorous, two-hand rib tickle implies something else entirely, higher energy and more excitement. It might be just the ticket to jet-propel a long cast in chukar country by my five-year-old.

That five-year-old Manny simply cannot stand still when he first gets on the training table. I used to yank on his collar, yelling “whoa” at increasingly high volume. Now I speak calmly, slowly, sometimes from a sitting position, stroking his back until he settles – faster than he ever did when I engaged him in a battle of canine (half)wits. Then, we can get on to the important stuff.

So consider expanding your training communications repertoire, usually by dialing down your energy. You might see better results, sooner.

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Your dog can’t say “huh?” or he often would, because when he disobeys it’s likely the owner’s fault, according to author and TV host Scott Linden. He’ll share his ideas with fans on the 3rd annual “Cabela’s Awesome Upland Road Trip … destination Kansas.”

Linden’s observed and tested his theories on the more than 250 dogs he’s hunted with on his TV show, Wingshooting USA. He says thinking about how dogs process information can elicit better cooperation and performance, in the field and at home.Last year's appearance at the Mitchell, SD Cabela's was also captured on Tom Brokaw's

Last year’s appearance at the Mitchell, SD Cabela’s was also captured on Tom Brokaw’s “Opening Day” TV special.

He – and his own hunting dogs – will be answering dog- and bird-hunting-related questions, meeting fans and signing books at stops between filming episodes of the show, which airs on NBC Sports, Pursuit Channel and eight other TV networks. The schedule includes:

Sept. 9-11 Produce show from Invitational Hunt Test, North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, Ohio

Sept. 21 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Billings MT 4-6 p.m.

Oct. 16-17 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Mitchell, SD Pheasant Classic 10-3 Friday, 8-11 Sat.

Oct. 21-22 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Ringneck Retreat, Hitchcock, SD

Oct. 24-25 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Prairie Sky Ranch, Veblen, SD

Oct. 29  Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Rapid City, SD 4-6 p.m.

Nov. 18 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Sidney, NE

Nov. 21 Goodland KS, Governor’s Ringneck Classic (also producing an episode)

Nov. 23 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Carlson’s Choke Tubes, Atwood, KS

Dec. 8 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Ruggs Ranch, Heppner, OR

Dec. 17 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Reno, NV

Feb. 19-21 2016 Pheasant Fest, Kansas City, MO

“Communicating with our spouse is much easier. Listening rather than just hearing smoothes the way,” Linden said. With dogs who can’t say “What was that dear?,” body language, behavior, and attitude shows whether they understand their owner’s direction – or not.

On the other hand, er, paw, Linden says the dog’s owner can be more clear in his signals to the dog. That’s usually where – and by whom – the ball is dropped. From easily-confused command words, to conflicting hand signals, he says many dog problems are really “operator error.”

At Cabela’s appearances, the first question is often about the dog on the table with Linden. Bushy eyebrows and beards, and a friendly demeanor make Linden’s German Wirehaired Pointers ideal ambassadors for the sport of upland bird hunting.

The “Cabela’s Awesome Upland Road Trip … destination Kansas,” is Linden’s annual foray into hunting territory to make episodes of the program. Over the years, it’s become a chance for him and his dogs to meet fans who earlier provided input on everything from tires for the official vehicles to Cabela’s dog gear for his hunting partners. Road Trip vehicles are displayed at the stores so fans can see how their ideas have been used.

Available everywhere books are sold (including Cabela’s stores), Linden’s book “What the Dogs Taught Me” covers communication, how dogs think, and offers tips on hunting, shooting, dog training, an extensive glossary and Q&A section. You’d think he’d heard it all, but he says he’s constantly surprised at the variety of questions from fans. “I answer over a thousand every year on the Wingshooting USA Facebook page,” he said, “but there’s always a new one out there.

The most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., Wingshooting USA is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and sponsored by Cabela’s. It is broadcast year-round on up to ten television networks.

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