The partridge season extends until the end of January, but birds are fairly scarce this late in the fall and coveys tend to flush wild.
Otherwise, the 2019 southeastern Idaho bird season is almost over. As I reflect on this fall’s bird hunting, I believe that it was the poorest I’ve experienced in many years. Nevertheless, I can’t say this was an unsuccessful season because I was able to enjoy this fall’s ups and downs with my bird dogs. I reveled in great points and retrieves and commiserated with them over birdless hunts. Regardless of the day’s activities, my dogs seemed to relish every adventure and always looked forward to a treat of cheese at the end of the hunt.
I’ve been a bird hunter for about 55 years. Over that time, I’ve owned two retrievers, four spaniels, two setters, and seven shorthairs. I’ve never owned a bird dog whose company I did not cherish but I’ve seen plenty of hunters that were frustrated with their dog’s efforts and seemingly clueless on dog training. I’m going to use this column and the next to share my thoughts on owning and training a bird dog.
For better or worse, I’ve trained all of my dogs and believe there is nothing more satisfying than watching my dog enjoy success, whether that’s slamming into a rigid point, making a difficult retrieve, or finding a wounded bird.
With appropriate training, all bird dog breeds will increase a hunter’s success by flushing or pointing birds and finding downed game. One of my hunting partners believes that a good dog substantially increases the number of birds he adds to his bag. I strongly agree and think that figure is 50 percent or more.
I’ve had wounded pheasants and partridge scramble into small caves and badger holes only to be found by my dog. I’ve dropped pheasants in the middle of South Dakota ponds and never had to worry because my dog would retrieve the birds. Last year, my grandson made a great shot on a pheasant, but to our dismay the bird pheasant fell across a river into some very thick cover. This didn’t present a problem for Lulu, our German shorthair. Following my command, she swam the river, located, and retrieved that bird.
I’ve never found training a bird dog to be overly difficult. Then again, I spent years coaching girls’ soccer and most things might seem easy by comparison. However, there are many similarities between these very dissimilar activities. The first is that to be successful, both kids and dogs must understand expectations and be well-grounded in fundamentals. For dogs, this means basic obedience commands — sit, stay, heel, come, and “whoa” for pointers. Instructions should be clear and fairly simple. The command is “sit” not “hey you, sit down over here.” Use repetition and positive reinforcement. Okay, to be clear, I’m talking about dogs now, not kids. I use electronic training collars but never before a dog understands the commands and never until a dog is at least six months old.
I have seen hunters who think dog training is all about screaming, apparently believing the louder they scream the more likely the dog will obey. Some people should stick to cats or goldfish. I’m not saying this lightly. Only folks that are willing to put in the time and provide appropriate training should own a bird dog. Leaving a dog in a kennel or worse, chained in a backyard, for most of the year and then expecting it to hunt will only end in disappointment and is incredibly unfair to the dog.
Next week I’ll discuss socializing and training dogs as well as care and potential problems in the field.