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How to Trap and Home Pigeons

Learn why the barn bird may be one of your greatest training tools in your bird work program.

How to Trap and Home Pigeons

Level up your bird work by trapping pigeons for single use or starting your own flock of homers for ongoing bird training. (Mark Chesnut photo)

Bird dog owners know that it takes birds to make a good bird dog. However, with dwindling wild bird populations in many areas, combined with lack of time and access to suitable training grounds, getting a pointing dog exposed to all the birds he needs to learn the lessons necessary to excel can be many dog owners’ biggest limitation.

One answer, of course, is the common pigeon. The question is: How do you go about getting pigeons and keeping them long enough to use for dog training? Even if you manage to acquire a pigeon, after you flush it for your dog it will fly right back where it came from, making it basically a single-use training aid—unless you intentionally work to home your own flock of birds.

English pointer retrieving pigeon
As mostly a renewable resource, pigeons are a great way to work on your dog's pointing, flushing, and retrieving skills. (Mark Chesnut photo)

The Pigeon Whisperer

Josh Gwartney, a dog trainer from Pryor, Oklahoma, traps and raises his own pigeons for his extensive training effort and has trapping and homing pigeons down to an art form.

“I couldn’t afford to buy them and train a dog for what it cost just for the birds,” Gwartney said. “If people were wanting their dog trained, it cost me more in birds than what I charged them to train the dog. So, I got into it just kind of out of necessity. I lucked into a couple of good places that I could catch quite a few, just kind of dabbled around with it and ended up being able to catch all I needed and then some.”

Pigeons typically are strong flyers, and wild trapped ones are usually quick to flush, alleviating the chance of pups catching them and setting their training back. Gwartney initially tried a couple of pigeon traps marketed by different manufacturers, then came up with a better, more affordable idea. “I make my own, they just have bob doors on them,” Gwartney said. “I make them out of 1-by-2 roll wire that I get at Tractor Supply.” Gwartney’s traps are made in various shapes and sizes, and he’s caught as many as 80 pigeons in one trap at the same time. At $5 a bird, that’s a $200 catch, cutting training expenses substantially.

dog trainer with child and dog
Increase your dog's bird contacts and decrease your bird costs when trapping or homing pigeons. (Mark Chesnut photo)

Where and How to Trap Pigeons

Gwartney has numerous different places he traps pigeons, many of them commercial business. He says most people who let him trap in, on, and around their buildings are happy to see the messy, pesky birds gone. “I’ve got them on just about any kind of business that you can think of,” he said. “I’ve got them on convenience stores, manufacturing plants, on schools, all over the place really.”

One place Gwartney doesn’t trap is bridge abutments and underpasses—places many other people focus on because of their high pigeon numbers. He feels like getting the government involved makes it too complicated and prefers to stick with privately-owned spots.

Gwartney admits that his limited time—most of which he likes to spend training dogs—has led him to employing some help in his pigeon trapping endeavors. High school kids are just the ticket, and he enjoys helping them make a little extra cash. “A lot of these kids are highly involved in sports and can’t work a real job,” he said. “My son’s one of them. They can go run those traps and I’ll pay them a little bit for going and catching the birds. It’s a win-win situation for them and me because I don’t have the time to do it and I don’t like going out at midnight. Those kids don’t mind.”

pigeons in a trap
It's not uncommon to leave with a large amount of pigeons during a trap recovery. (Mark Chesnut photo)

While catching the birds is fairly easy once you have found your location and have a trap ready, it takes a little preparation to be successful at trapping them. That, and plenty of whole-kernel corn. “What I do is, I’ll put my traps out two or three weeks before I need the birds,” Gwartney said. “First I’ll go and just bait an area for a week or two and not even put a trap there. Then after a while I’ll move a trap over to where the bait is, zip tie the doors open and put most of the corn inside, sprinkling the rest around the outside. They get used to eating it and going in there.” At that point, he releases the bobs. The next time the birds walk through the bobs to feed, then are kept from exiting the trap when they are finished.

Once you have your system in place, Gwartney believes it’s easiest to continue putting in a little extra effort at the trap area for when you’ll be needing more birds, since starting over again is quite a bit of work. “I keep my traps baited all the time, whether I’m catching birds or not,” he said. “Right now, I probably have 500 birds at the house that are killers, so I don’t need any. But about once a week I’ll go up there and put some corn there just to keep the birds coming to that area.”

pigeon in the hand
Pigeons are generally easy to handle and maintain for novice bird dog trainers. (Mark Chesnut photo)

Since Gwartney trains mostly hunting dogs, he kills many of the pigeons he uses in training. However, in situations like starting puppies, training dogs to be steady to wing and shot, and some other scenarios, he doesn’t shoot the bird and wants a pigeon he can use over and over again. That’s where homing pigeons come into play.

Young boy with dog and pigeon
Pigeons can be a great way to introduce a young pup to birds, and an equally exciting way to get kids involved in dog training. (Mark Chesnut photo)

All About Homing Pigeons

Homing pigeons are amazing animals as they can be released hundreds of miles from home and quickly return there. In fact, the homing pigeons I keep at my house for training are nearly always back in their loft before I get home from my training grounds.

The problem with homers is that if you purchase grown homers, the first time you use them, they will return to their old home. The best way to get your own set of homers is to buy “squeakers” (young pigeons that haven’t flown from their loft yet) or keep older birds you’ve purchased or trapped long enough for them to reproduce. The young will generally home to your loft, and many of the adult birds will, too, after raising their young there.

Most birds learn quickly how to use the one-way bobs on the door used on most pigeon lofts. These are designed to allow birds to enter but not exit. I usually leave one bob up and take my young pigeons and hold them on the landing in front of the door. They typically want to walk away from me so go right through the hole left by the one bob, inadvertently pushing up the bobs on either side to enter. After a couple of times, I’ll close the final bob and put them where the only thing they can do is walk through. Soon it becomes second nature for them. If you do this every day they’ll have the trick down in less than a week. If you only do it a couple of times a week it will take you a little bit longer.

Advice for Newbies

Gwartney said bird dog owners who are serious about training their dogs need to find a way to have access to plenty of training birds and he believes trapping pigeons is the easiest and lowest cost way to do that. “If you’ve got a good place to trap, it’s definitely cost effective to catch your own,” he said. “They reproduce like rabbits, except faster. If you’ve got a place to keep them, eventually they’re going to breed.”

Gwartney added that you don’t have to live out in the country and have lots of acreage to successfully raise enough homers to get your dogs all the bird work they need to become the best bird dogs they can be. “Even for guys that live in town, it doesn’t take much,” he concluded. “You can have a small coop in your backyard and keep birds there. The more access they can get to birds, the better they’ll be able to train their dogs.”

hunters with a haul of birds
If bird contacts make the bird dog, pigeons can help put your dog on the fast track to becoming a bird-wise hunter. (Mark Chesnut photo)
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