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Posts Tagged ‘pheasant hunting’

Nom nom nom. Good dog!

Whether this works for you, you’ll have to decide. If a more experienced trainer has an opinion, I’m sure I’ll hear via Facebook. But at least one of those, pro trainer George Hickox, thought enough to bring it up in a recent conversation:

1. Dogs work for themselves, not us. If they choose to cooperate with us, “obeying” our commands, it is a means to an end.

2. The end is quite often food (especially in young dogs) or prey (in our situation, usually birds).

Makes sense to me. Think about it for a couple days as you train, and see what you think.

So, how do we adjust our training philosophy and practice in light of those observations? I’m using the prospect of holding a dead bird as a much more frequent reward with Flick than with past dogs. So far, so good.

In steadiness training, when he slams on the brakes the moment he scents birds, he gets to retrieve one. Almost every time at first, and as quickly as practicable after a flush/shot. Then, he learns to wait a while from point to flush to fall to retrieve command.

In a gentle version of force fetch training I’m testing, a variation. Obviously, he “gets” the bird when he’s sent to retrieve it. But – and I’ve seen this countless times on the TV show and at training days – the moment a dog arrives at the human, the bird is yanked from his mouth.

Not Flick. He gets a moment or two to savor it. Maybe more, if he doesn’t start chewing! I’ll often heel him back to the yard or training table as he carries the bird – that’s a lot of savoring! And once he releases on command, he gets another chance to snort-sniff-lick it while I hold it.

A bird in hand may be worth two in the bush. But a bird in the mouth is worth two hundred in the bag … if Flick can enjoy it for a bit.

I’ll keep you posted.

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This is Manny, in a long-ago image combining the Smiths’ “half hitch” with Bob Farris’ “belly hitch.”

I’m working pretty hard on steadiness with Flick. Here, that means hitting the scent cone and slamming on the brakes, holding through the flush, shot and fall. Maybe you are faced with some of the same challenges on that one!

But another dimension of steadiness is “sight pointing.” Derided by some as cheating by a dog that should have whiffed bird scent prior to seeing the bird, it is a fact of hunting life. A dog can approach from upwind, birds can run from cover, and here in chukar country they can be seen skylined on a ridgetop, skitter across a rock field, or otherwise vex a dog. And that’s not counting the valley quail perched on a fencepost for all the world (and Flick) to see. Eventually, Flick will also screech to a halt on the sound of a flush – I hope!

It’s pretty simple: you either expect nothing from your dog and he chases/flushes them wild; or, you want the same performance as if he’d scented the bird/covey. I prefer the latter. We get more shots, the process is virtually the same for the dog so he gets the same reward, it’s safer, and if there are more birds around they aren’t accidentally flushed.

Easy to say, hard to train.

I am spending a lot of time secreting birds in my vest and surprising Flick with them as he roams the yard and field. It’s not the same as rounding a corner and finding one pecking on the ground, but it’s a start. A stop-to-sight is rewarded with a “flush” and a retrieve of the dead bird I also hide in my vest. A few good versions, and next time I put the bird on the ground after the “point.” Sometimes, when I’m confident of his steadiness I will dizzy a bird and let it waddle around a bit until it gains its senses and flies off. Next is anchoring birds out of sight, then bringing Flick around a corner to see them and lock up.

We are making progress – are you doing anything like this?

The peaks are often accompanied by a valley or two – Flick will crash in on the unsuspecting bird and we head back immediately to Square One: on the training table, belly hitch/checkcord are my retrograde training tactics for steadiness. I am a real believer in the flank-pressure method pioneered by Delmar Smith and taken to the next level by son Rick and nephew Ronnie. (Bob Farris has a more “portable” version, illustrated above, that has a detachable dragging cord if you like, but it’s only effective if you’ve already used the cord and the Smith’s “whoa post” method with the cord through the dog’s back legs to the post.)

Ronnie recently explained some basics about pressure/contact/”Silent Command” that resonate (hope I get them right – if not, someone please comment): neck pressure is used to get a dog to move, go forward, change direction … all motion-inducing commands. Flank pressure is to stop a dog, or keep him still once stopped.

The revelation is, a checkcord going to the collar will certainly yank a dog if he breaks a point. But it will not really have a lasting effect. E-collar on the neck, ditto, which is why you often seen field trialers’s photos (especially) of a collar on the dog’s waist. Per Rick and Ronnie, “stop” comes with flank pressure: half-hitch, e-collar, even a hand tap.

I’ll keep you posted.

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I doubt he knows the difference.

I doubt he knows the difference.

Why do you hunt?

“Being able to watch your young dog come into his own.”

“My Springer Bonnie. It’s not a day in the field without her.”

In my viewer surveys virtually all of you said something similar. Dogs rule, and we hunt so we can watch them perform magic in the field.

So why condemn pen-raised birds?

One reason might be our own biases. I’m not judging your leanings, mine are probably similar. But if we’re honest about the pre-eminence of dog work to our experience, why aren’t well-raised planted birds just as valuable?

Do dogs ignore the scent of a liberated bird, while pointing a wild bird? Show me the evidence. For that matter, can you distinguish a well-raised planted bird from a wild bird without looking at the peeper hole in the beak?

Does your dog’s tail droop when pointing planted birds? At a preserve, does he trot instead of gallop, boot-lick rather than range? When you command “fetch,” does he spit out planters?

“Watching a setter work in a beautiful field on a gorgeous day is always the best day.”

Maybe it’s all in our heads, and I get that. We love wild places, untrammeled ground, off-the-grid coverts. But that’s not what we’re talking about (or is it?). Unless a covert resembles something from a Mad Max movie, I wonder if your dog cares whether it is aesthetically pleasing or simply a bird-holding environment.

But how wild is wild? Beyond the quails and grouses, virtually every upland bird we shoot at was planted at some point. Do you shun chukar hunters because their birds were planted in Nevada in the thirties? Wild pheasants are simply descendants birds Judge Owen Denny “released” on his Oregon farm in the 1880’s, or similar, later efforts in Redfield, South Dakota, etc. Gotta problem with that?

“Wild hatched” might be a better description of the birds some cherish more than their domestically-reared cousins. But why can’t we value a released bird that acts just like its wild counterpart, much as our dogs do.

“Seeing the dogs do what they were born to do.”

We’ve all encountered bad planted birds, bad apples that spoiled entire barrels of good introduced birds. They flounder instead of flushing, our dogs catch them on the ground, and nobody’s happy, especially the birds. But many of us have also encountered released birds that thunder, tower and jink just like wild birds.

My dogs don’t seem to know the difference and truth be told, I’ll bet yours don’t either.

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He's on "whoa" so I can get a photo

He’s on “whoa” so I can get a photo

Terms from the world of training, trials and hunt tests …

Viszla: Shorthaired versatile breed from Hungary.

Wachtelhund: German spaniel originally bred to hunt quail.

Weimaraner: Shorthaired versatile breed from Germany.

Whoa: Command word to stop a dog and have him remain motionless.

Whoa barrel: Metal or plastic barrel laid horizontally on the ground on which trainers place dogs to encourage steadiness to the whoa command and to birds.

Whoa post: Metal or wooden post in the ground around which a checkcord is looped to stop a dog’s forward movement.

Whoa table: Another term for training table, typically a low platform trainers put a dog on to teach or enforce commands, often including the “whoa” command.

Wild flush: Bird that flies before the hunter or dog purposely flushes it.

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A well-deserved drink.

The weather girl had it right for a change: winter was starting right on time. So did we. Here in South Dakota you can’t start hunting until 10 a.m., to me and my crew, a most civilized statute. Departing Ringneck Retreat, we were in the truck and rolling a few minutes before the appointed hour, down a bumpy farm road past a feedlot and into the boondocks.

A light snow coated round bales and thistle blooms, adding magic to the morning – Tinkerbelle’s sprinkling of pixie dust – to our adventure. Gray skies weren’t enough to darken our spirits – a breeze from the west beckoned canine noses and human feet.

Buddy and Manny got the nod today. After too many miles in their Owens boxes they trembled with anticipation. Park – guns out – cameras rolling – rattle open the door. At the timber patch that was our starting line, Manny rocketed over logs, shimmied under bushes, snaked around the ancient elms’ alligator-skin trunks. The thick grass underfoot yielded not a bird.

Once out of the timber, he was on point within seconds. Bird up! And quickly down. The young wirehair had hit his stride, galloping toward the crumpled rooster, he snuffled it into his grip. A short race back and he relinquished it gently to hand. Fifty yards later, another lock-up, cackling flush and bird crashing into the ditch. Right-left-middle he coursed until the enticing aroma of birds arrested his forward progress. One got away clean. Another was warned with a surprise early shot then grounded with the top barrel. The last rooster in the strip jinked hard right, soaring over our blocker. The shot string from his first barrel drew feathers, but the rooster reversed field and soared three hundred yards over cut soybeans before rolling as he hit the ground.

Manny was off like a drag racer at the green light, quickly outdistancing the young Labrador stationed at heel with another blocker. Scooped up and trundled 900 feet back to me and the camera, the ringneck was relinquished from the tender grasp of a bearded muzzle. Maybe it was the pixie dust, a smidgen of fairy tale. Whatever the cause, it was an enchanting day.

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Petroglyphs up there - one of the lessons to learn.

Petroglyphs up there – one of the lessons to learn.

In another life I must have been an historian. I love the past, reading about it, talking about it, and especially the dazzle of discovery. Besides being with dogs, the chance to span the decades (even centuries) is high on my list of reasons to go hunting. Cresting a ridge to find everyday stuff lost or discarded by those who walked the same path brings dusty books and mind-numbing lectures to life.

I’ve stumbled over sheepherder stoves and peeked (not too far) into abandoned gold mines, camped in willow corrals and counted bullet holes in a Buick abandoned after a foiled bank robbery. Man-made artifacts, each with a tale to tell those lucky enough to walk a bit farther.

A ranch driveway bears a faded sales pitch for an insurance agent, painted on a boulder when the rutted gravel was the only road into town. Pictographs and petroglyphs are a regular discovery in the tumbles of lava that define chukar country. Rock cairns called “stoneboys” by Basque sheepherders, were piled to counter the boredom of minding a flock. Stories from different ages, for differing reasons.

Wagon wheels, lead-soldered cans piled among shattered crockery, square nails from abandoned homesteads, all tie this life to past lives. Everyday junk joins us to predecessors.

Why did someone leave that wooden bucket on this ridge? Who knapped arrowheads, leaving a pile of obsidian chips glittering at the base of this rock? Was that intact spear point dropped in the heat of a chase? A clean miss? What – or who – was the target?

That’s why I love this stuff, the stories. Do you have any?

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This is how you welcome a newcomer, according to Buddy.

This is how you welcome a newcomer, according to the master of the method, Buddy.

The Grandfather and I conspired, I admit. Whose dog would best deliver a bird so that the Grandson had a controlled, safe shot at his first pheasant? He’d broken a ton of clay targets, but never a feathered one, and deserved the best possible introduction to our passion.

I lobbied for Grandfather’s Lab. What a great story that would make! But at his insistence, my wirehair Buddy got the nod. A point, not a flush, would give us more time to safely get the gun to the shoulder, feet pointed in the right direction, staying aware of the other hunters.

The field of head-high grass held promise, and once we entered, a full measure of adrenaline. Three adults, one 12-year-old, and my reliable dog. Bird up! And my veterinarian had the hard left crosser on the ground. Buddy leapt the rushing creek, tracked expertly, jumped the creek again with his feathered burden, and delivered to me waiting on the other side. Good boy.

Grandson was clearly psyched up from the flush, and I had to keep one eye on the uneven ground, one on Buddy, and a hand on his shoulder to keep things in control. A slog or two later, Grandfather called “point,” and we high-stepped our way through the clinging vegetation. Ready.

The rest is a blur. Someone walked in to flush. I kept one hand on Grandson’s shoulder for safety. Veterinarian watched from a distance. Buddy trembled in anticipation of a mouthful of feathers. Brrrrrr! Bang! Bird down!

Another track, a leap across the creek and back, and delivery, then fist bumps and high fives. Grandson’s first pheasant, a pleasant weight in his game bag. Photos all around.

Welcome to the fraternity, WM.

(If you want to take a kid hunting, enter my contest here and maybe you’ll be joining us on the shoot.)

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