Across many of our bird hunting regions seasons will be winding down and the weather will be taking a turn for the worse when you read this.
So rather than an article on "How to Keep Your Pointer Steady when Four Roosters Blow out of the Snow-covered Cattails Three Feet from His Nose," let's look at a few small projects, that won't get in the way of the "honey-do list"' your wife is preparing for you to tackle when bird season ends.
"Four Roosters€¦" Sorry, kind of lost my head for a second with that intro. I guess it's one of those flashbacks you have when you get to my age€¦in any case, let me offer up a quick checklist of possible projects for after bird hunting season.
1. Work on fundamental commands. There is no time in a dog's life when the basics aren't important. With a young dog this is a great time of year to spend working on key commands and building on them as we nurture the learning process and shape our "canine good citizen" and prepare him for more advanced commands and drills in the months to come.
But let me suggest this is a great time of year to refresh those same basic commands with older dogs as well. Older dogs with good basics only require a refresher, but on the other hand if you're ready to admit old Bowser needs a solid course, then what better time to get to it?
Can anyone say his or her dog worked perfectly throughout the bird hunting season? I'm guessing not. Quite often the problem is rooted in the fact that somewhere along the line our foundation training was flawed, skipped or shortcut.
I feel it's usually not advisable to fuss with the problem directly; rather, time is better spent thinking through the procedure, then backing up and working your dog through the training process once more, taking particular care to see that all steps are completely understood and obeyed as you progress. Most often when you're finished you'll find the problem has been corrected.
If you're interested in information on basic training, please check out the listing of books and videos available through our Gun Dog Library.
2. Check out sporting dog clubs. If you feel you might like a little help with your training, seek out the breed club for your specific breed or look into the possibility of joining a hunt test or field trial club. Whether or not you feel you'd enjoy competing, these clubs all offer tremendous possibilities.
Not only will you meet a bunch of really great people — people with like interests in dogs, hunting and training — but you'll find these folks provide multiple benefits at all levels of experience and can help you with your training as well as appreciate your help with their training. Yet another benefit is found in the available training equipment (shared or club-owned), boats, bird releasers, launchers, etc.
And don't forget conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and the Ruffed Grouse Society. Not only do these groups support conservation; they all conduct educational sessions/seminars promoting training, exercising, feeding and conditioning of working gun dogs.
To quote an old friend: "If you hunt but don't support one or more of these conservation organizations, shame on you."
Without these groups our sport would be in real trouble, not only due to the loss of habitat and subsequent diminished bird and other wildlife numbers, but also because of legislation related to our access and freedom to hunt.
Our conservation organizations are continually working for us so give some thought to joining if you haven't already done so.
3. Schedule a checkup with your veterinarian. This is another project you should check off your list. Most of us are pretty good about pre-season checkups but I'm sure many folks forget or don't realize the importance of a follow-up after season's end.
However, realizing nearly six months may have passed since the fall checkup, and that during hunting season our dogs are stressed to the max from travel and hard work in cold, harsh conditions, I suggest a general health check even if your dog appears to be the picture of health. At the same time, his shot protocol can be brought up to date as necessary.
4. Follow-up call to thank land owners. Good hunting grounds are harder to find each year, so a call or maybe a card thanking landowners and letting those folks know how appreciative you are for the opportunity to hunt their ground is the least you could do to "cement" the relationship and possibly ensure access for next season.
If you're lucky enough to live relatively close to the property you've hunted, volunteer a day or two of work.
5. Clean, organize and store hunting equipment. Clothing, guns, ammo, training collars, etc., should all be thoroughly inspected before they are put away for the season. There's nothing like putting on a hunting vest for a spring training session and finding that salami sandwich you planned on eating last fall.
Training collars should be cleaned and charged, guns cleaned and properly stored, ammo sorted, wiped down and segregated. For hunting clothes, vests, pants and coats, dump out all the pockets, check for needed repair, cleaning or replacement. I understand worn clothes are sometimes considered a badge of honor, but there is a limit.
As you might guess, I'm the guy with a mix of weed seeds and shotshells in his vest pockets and a couple rust spots on the old double so I'll be taking some of my own advice€¦but not until I've checked to see if there might be time for one more trip to Texas before quail season closes.
Having some easy projects to keep you and your hunting dog busy during the off-season will not only benefit the both of you, but will keep you off the couch during those long winter months.