Joy of Hunting
bruce's blog &
Over the last two years I’ve had the hard-to-match pleasure of training Labrador retrievers from a strong line of exceptional Yellows, and a Brittany from a similarly gifted Canadian line of pointers. I’ve watched them interact with terrific concentrations of both wild and released pheasants here at the Joy of Hunting headquarters. We’ve also had the singular good fortune of having seasoned dogs from both lines to help with the training process!
There’s one other factor that I can’t over-emphasize…a regular hunter here has a wealth of pointer experience (which I lacked). He graciously has taken Anne and I out on pointer-based hunts, during which, and immediately after while enjoying a sip of liquid refreshment on the back porch, the finer details of pointer training have been “expanded” on!
So here we are in November enjoying an extended holiday weekend. Anne and I chose to start off with labs for the first morning hunt. The canine patrol included our seasoned matriarch, Vio, and her nephew, Rimu, an eight month old prodigy that Anne is training, with support from me. Anne really emphasizes a “positive” reinforcement angle. Yes, there are times when this process seems cumbersome and slow, but then, always, in hindsight it truly is working. Rimu is extremely good-natured, but also highly motivated. Rimu is performing at a terrific level for a puppy, without any doubt! He needs a bit of work when it comes to retrieving 12 pound geese from the river up a 105 foot embankment, but pheasants? No problem! That day we hunted for two hours and collected four roosters. Vio was the hero of the moment, and kept our recovery ratio in the perfect zone. Truly, labs are an all around, multi-purpose breed that performs at all levels!
Two days later we took my high energy, wide ranging Brittany out for a pointer experience. Reacher, named after “Jack”, was supported by Vio too. So we had retriever backup for 18 month old Reacher.
He didn’t need it. In fact, noses of young dogs seem incredibly perceptive! With both Reacher, and Rimu, the pups picked up on birds from as far away as thirty yards!
Rimu demonstrated this by shifting from one side of our spiral canal to the other, my side, with his nose up and bounding high in the air to keep with the hint of scent he had picked up on. He worked my side for less than a minute, then flushed a long tailed rooster with twenty yards of me. I had to swing back, behind me, and the twenty mile an hour wind gave the bird even more speed, but it tumbled! Vio and Rimu worked the retrieve. I also had marked the bird. Moments later Vio figured it out, and the DOA bird was in hand.
Over the course of Reacher’s morning hunt we witnessed one of the special capabilities of fast pointers. There were, at least, three episodes where Reacher was pointing a bird, but the bird shifted. It ran. At one point I glimpsed a rooster dashing through a pin cherry thicket only thirty feet from where I stood. Just caught flickers of motion as the bird covered ground. Then Reacher, with his amazing lope, his speed, ran around me and attempted to head the bird off.
He did this at least four times. Twice on hens, which we passed on per normal. And once it didn’t work. The bird won! We didn’t kick it up. But then, on one of his loops, sort of a corralling effort, it came together. He got to the other side of a runner and stopped it. When the bird exploded it was within range, and fell. And Reacher retrieved to hand. It was all I could ask for.
Between that bird and the incidental flushes, we collected three birds on that hunt. Reacher has learned that he can outrun a pheasant, no mean task! He can loop around and block their escape. He can corral them, at least occasionally. Pheasants run, hide and and fly. But flying is a last resort. They vastly prefer to run, which is a lot less of a calorie push. If anything, hens prefer to hide. They are well adapted to this strategy. But an experienced canine can contend with this mixed strategy, that makes pheasant hunting what it is.
Here at Joy of Hunting our dogs get a real mixed bag workout. Clients may or may not be interested in the waterfowl aspect, the mix of cacklers and full size Canadas, but their dogs are exposed to pheasant in optimal pheasant habitat, and sharptail grouse too, especially this year when their numbers are so high!
Training hunting dogs can be an incredible pleasure, or an ordeal. I have to acknowledge Anne, and her positive reinforcement approach, as it makes the training process slant far more towards the “incredible” pleasure side of the equation!
Bruce knows and loves the pheasant like no other hunter / landowner, and he writes with humor and expertise about this glorious bird. His stories are full of wisdom and insight and are fun to read! Eventually they will be published - working title "Pheasant Book".