When it comes to investing in training tools for your gun dog, it's sometimes hard to imagine just how important these tools can be, especially if you're new to the training game.
I remember how shocked I was the first time I saw my breeder's pickup truck. Under his topper was an aluminum three-hole kennel. And beneath that, a custom-made organization system. Twin bed-length drawers rolled out to reveal even more training and handling gear.
At the time, I thought it was overkill. I mean, all you needed was a whistle, leash and maybe an e-collar, right? What else was there? But many moons later (and with plenty of dogs under my belt), I've come to realize that gear — good gear — is a necessity for training any gun dog well. Here are some items I consider to be among the best tools for training your gun dog.
DOKKEN'S DEADFOWL TRAINERS
Proper fetch and hold is key for retriever training. While the process may be rough, the results can be glorious. Getting a plethora of bumpers is key, too, which is why a Deadfowl Trainer or two is mandatory. Their unique construction helps teach proper hold, and the hard, dangling head discourages shaking. As a bonus, liquid scent can be injected to add realism.
$25 | DEADFOWLTRAINER.COM
GARMIN ASTRO 430
Once upon a time, GPS collars were a luxury. These days, they're a necessity if you hunt anything other than golf greens. The Astro 430 is the latest iteration from Garmin and it has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from sci-fi technology. It'll track Fido's every move in the field as well as up to 19 of his pack buddies. And with a clear sky, they can get out to 9 miles and still ping a point. For the hunter, the handheld unit has an Almanac's worth of topographical maps, too.
$650 | GARMIN.COM
SPORTDOG BRAND CONTAIN + TRAIN
Very few of us are full-time dog handlers. Our gun dogs are pets 95 percent of the time, and hunters the rest. Contain + Train was built for us. Combining the usefulness of an In-Ground Fence System with proven training capabilities of the FieldTrainer 425, it allows security at home and in the field. In containment mode, the collar assures your dog stays in bounds. In training mode, it has a range of 500 yards and is fully customizable, with stimulation in low, medium and high, as well as vibration and tone.
$420 | SPORTDOG.COM
GARMIN FENIX 5
This is the kind of technology Captain Kirk would find fascinating. Paired with a Garmin Astro or Alpha, the Fenix 5 smartwatch goes far beyond simply counting steps. It allows you to track dogs from your wrist, which comes in particularly handy while hunting or training. When not tracking dogs, the Fenix 5 can show the way during hikes, or even track your heart rate — an interesting feature if you want to see how many BPM's you hit after a rooster flushes.
$600 | GARMIN.COM
Usually hunting is an excuse to leave the phone in the truck. But with the Dogtra Pathfinder, You better think twice. This swanky setup brings GPS and e-collar technology right to your smartphone. The pathfinder allows access to Google Maps with satellite and terrain views, in conjunction with the ability to track up to 21 dogs or hunters, share locations, playback data and create customizable GeoFence alerts. As for the collar itself it's equipped with a slew of stim levels, and an impressive 9-mile range.
$430 | DOGTRA.COM
D.T. SYSTEMS CANINE COACH 360
If you're just getting into the dog handling world and don't feel like shucking out huge bucks for an e-collar, the Canine Coach is a nice entry-level option. A unit that works at home or on a hunt, it's a "weekend warrior" weapon of choice with features you'll find on most modern collars. Sixteen levels of stimulation, a beep option and a quick charge of about two hours. And it's waterproof, too.
$200 | DTSYSTEMS.COM
ZINGER WINGER UPLANDER G4
In hunt tests, Zinger Winger is king of the launching game. And the Uplander G4 ranks up there with the best of their offerings. It's a versatile spring-loaded launcher that can be Tweaked to gently toss live birds, or power up for bumper bombs out to 200 yards. Plus, it'll fire a 209 primer to simulate a shot in the field, if needed. When combined with either Dogtra, Sport DOG or Garmin remotes, the Uplander seamlessly works with your gear regardless if the drills are marked retrieves or steadying a bird dog through wing, shot and fall.
$300 | ZINGERWINGER.COM
D.T. SYSTEMS BL LAUNCHER
Whether chucking chukars or rowdy roosters, the BL line of launchers are versatile tools for introducing a new bird dog to its feathered quarry. The BL Launcher is unique because of its special side-loading door, which allows the trap to be locked before a bird is placed — a great safety feature. You can link up to 16 launchers on a single remote and find them all later thanks to a loud locating beeper. And, if you're well past the puppy phase, the BL is a great off-season tool for brushing up a veteran hunter.
$350 | DTSYSTEMS.COM
CONQUEST SCENT STICKS
While the adage that you can't make a bird dog without birds is true, using something like Conquest Scent Sticks isn't a bad alternative. Duplicate the scent of the real thing while utilizing a simple bumper to lay a tracking drill or real-world retrieving scenario. Water, saliva and weather resistant, these convenient sticks are an easy way to add scent without mess. Choose from popular gamebird species, as well as rabbit, raccoon, antler and blood trail.
$13-$20 | CONQUESTSCENTS.COM
GUN DOG SUPPLY COMPANY
I used to be all about window shop-ping for dog gear at big box stores. These days, however, the one-stop online shop is where it's at, and that place is Gun Dog Supply. Steve Snell, the owner, provides a ton of informative videos and feedback on gear, and you can do some quality assurance by seeing what other purchasers say. Regardless if you're looking for a leash, e-collar or kennel, Gun Dog Supply will be your new favorite digital outdoor store.
There are few things more painful than losing a remote or transmitter — but breaking one comes close. Fret not, because Collar Clinic is the answer to your prayers. In business since 1988, they can make your gear good as new again, no matter how "classic" that collar. Or if you're considering an improved model, trade your old gear for an upgrade or try one of their budget-friendly reconditioned units.
LCS BIRD DOG& TRAINER SYSTEM
When you're knee deep in training gear, there's something to be said about simplicity. Case in point: The Bird Dog Trainer from Lion Country Supply. Not only is it a rugged, flexible color for any hunting dog, it also operates the LCS Remote Backing Dog and Bird Launchers. It's a great system for getting a pointer to honor. Pop the backing dog, handle your pointer to honor, then launch the pigeon to simulate a flush.
$180 (e-collar only) | LCSUPPLY.COM
REAL DUCK TRAINING DUMMIES
Lots of training means bumpers take a beating. That's why Real Duck constructed their training dummies out of a super durable poly firehose case. Practically indestructible, they also float thanks to a granulated cork core and hold scent — toughness and features that make traditional plastic bumpers almost obsolete.
$12-$21 | REALDUCK.COM
All work and no play makes Jack a dull pup, so don't forget to incorporate some fun during long stretches of serious training. With a loop of surgical tubing attached to a hard rubber ball, the Go-Frrr is just as fun to launch as it is for your dog to fetch. Our dogs have plenty of toys, but their Go-Frrrs are easy favorites that come with us on every trip to the park.
$9 | PROBALLINC.COM