Gone Hunting: Using a well-trained dog is essential when upland game bird hunting
I have expressed concern about this in the past, and I will continue to lobby for it – there should be a law requiring the use of a dog while upland game bird hunting.
Too many birds are wasted when cripples get away. The hunter continues to hunt, and in many cases takes a limit after crippling one or two and leaving those in the field. This means that five or six birds are actually taken by that hunter instead of the limit of three or four.
Having a dog does not guarantee the total elimination of waste, but it does reduce it substantially.
In the past 40 years I have had several dogs I call “candy bar” dogs. Hondo, Dollar, Dusty, Penny, Sioux and the best ever, Pepper.
If I was unfortunate enough to cripple a bird and it ran off, I would simply sit down and have a candy bar. Sooner or later that bird was coming back in that dog’s mouth. Those dogs lived for that moment and thrived on it. The look in their eyes and the perk of their ears is why I hunt with a dog.
This is the best time of the year to be working with your puppy. A 3- or 4-month-old puppy will be ready to hunt by October. Most hunters who I know do not care to invest the time it takes to have a good hunting companion. It does take a lot of time: I try to devote up to two hours each day to exercise and training.
There is nothing more frustrating than to hunt with someone who has not prepared his dog. Having to listen to him toot a whistle or yell all day takes a little of the fun out of the hunting experience.
Training your hunting companion should start in your home with crate training when the dog is 49 days old.
Socialization is the most important first step. Your pup should be handled a lot and by several people in your family.
Crate training teaches your pup about his home and the fact that the kennel is a safe place.
Several years ago I lost track of a dog in an uncut cornfield in Nebraska. She was hopelessly lost. I set her crate in the ditch where we had parked the truck to unload. I put her blanket in the crate. Two hours later, when I came back to check the crate, she was cuddled up inside on the blanket. She had found her way “home” on her own.
I also like to have my dogs “e-collar broke” by 6 to 7 months old. The electric collar or “power steering” is the most humane way to hunt with a dog. When used with a whistle, the e-collar maximizes your dogs potential in the field. My dogs are whistle broke along with the collar. Three toots of the whistle means come here and heel.
That is important when you are hunting near a road or railroad tracks where you need to have complete control over your hunting companion.
Gentle stimulation with the e-collar is just to remind them what needs to be done. I generally need to use stimulation once a day if that often on my dogs. I have seen people (I cringe to call them hunters, or even people for that matter) abuse their dogs. They had not invested time in their companions to help them realize their potential.
When a hunter puts in the time and effort that it requires, the hunting dog becomes an extension of the hunter. They begin to think alike and work toward the same goal.
It may be a tad difficult to understand for those who do not hunt, but hunting with a well-trained dog, a companion, is better than ice cream or a John Wayne movie.
Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.