Sweat The Small Stuff...
September 23, 2010
...and the big stuff gets a lot easier.
Ever notice that the harder one works, the luckier he is?'‚
Heat and humidity are the biggest threats to a gun dog with heart. I once had a big-hearted dog go down in the heat and it scared me very badly. Once assured that the dog would be okay and recover, the situation also embarrassed me badly because I was not hunting alone.
I decided long ago to slow down and enjoy hunting, rather than just racing around trying to kill birds.
Slowing down allows the dog to hunt thoroughly, and more successfully, rather than rushing past birds. Slowing down ensures that the dog is not pushed too hard to properly utilize his most fantastic physical feature, his nose.
My primary focus when bird hunting is to watch the dog work. I hunt slowly and thoughtfully to maximize pup's training and ability.
Here is how I hunt birds, and the reasons I do things the way I do. Much of what follows is basic, and yet many hunters either do not know these things, or they overlook them until there is a problem.
The hunter is the brains of the hunting partnership and must ensure that pup stays safe. Pup can do many things for you, but thinking ahead is not one of them. Pup is depending on you, so do not let him down.
I no longer want excitement in my life, especially my hunting life. Because of that I hunt mostly alone or with just one friend for safety reasons. I will no longer hunt with more than two other experienced hunters, preferably hunters I know fairly well.
Narrowing your selection of hunting partners helps keep pup safe, too.
The number of dogs you have determines much of your day's plan, including how long you can hunt, the type of cover you hunt and the techniques you can use to work various covers. '‚
Having several decent dogs should provide an especially good day and allow for more diverse hunting methods. If you have just one or two dogs you must hunt more wisely, and pick and work your covers to make the most of your limited dog resources.
Cloudy days make good hunting days because it is easier on skin (sunburn), body temperature and eyes (glare, fatigue, reduced vision). Clouds help your dog in many of the same ways. Damp days are like icing on a cake, providing better scenting and better dog work.
I like to watch decent dog work, at a minimum, and enjoy some decent, successful, shooting.
Never carry dogs loose in the back of an open pick-up truck. Traveling in a crate keeps pup safe and rested. Carry a lot of water and a cooler of ice from home for man and dog, since dehydration or other heat related problems can come on fast.
If you have any concern about heat bothering your dog, stop hunting immediately and provide him with water. Put him in water if possible. If it is not possible to put pup in water, cool his undersides with water and ice. If you have them, place plastic bags of ice against his femoral arteries on the inside of pup's upper legs.
It is an easier decision to stop hunting your dog to cool him down and crate him if you have another dog, or dogs, to hunt. Do not let that be the deciding factor as to whether or not you stop hunting and cool pup.
Pup's life is more important than a couple of additional birds; cool and kennel him if you think he is overheated, whether you have another dog or not.
Avoid wide-open fields of beautiful but monotone cover. Instead, hunt nasty smaller spots with rugged, ugly cover, perhaps even a bit of water or damp areas. The nastier the cover the better your chances are of finding birds.
Heat and humidity are the biggest threats to a gun dog with heart. I once had a big-hearted dog go down in the heat and it scared me very badly. Once assured that the dog would be okay and recover, the situation also embarrassed me badly because I was not hunting alone. And finally, the situation angered me because I used poor judgment and did not stop pup soon enough to keep him from harm.
The cardinal rule regarding gun dogs is: The dog comes first--always.
Over the years I have heard and read about tragedies that took place when a hunter took his gun dog from his car or truck while preparing to hunt and the dog was hit and injured or killed by a vehicle. That should not happen, ever.
Before taking pup from the vehicle, check the lay of the land, see where cover is and determine where the wind is coming from so you know where you want to start hunting.
Prepare everything for your hunt, except loading your shotgun, prior to taking pup from your vehicle to go afield. Leash pup and lead him safely away from the road, and release him for a couple of minutes so he blows off steam if necessary.
Leash pup again and walk to where you want to start hunting. Once pup is on lead, make him sit/hup while you safely load your shotgun. Give pup a small treat and cast him to one side and then signal him to the other. Call/whistle pup back to your side. If he stays close and under control, give pup one more small treat and then cast him off and begin hunting.
If possible, work pup into the wind. Also, work the periphery of properties to keep birds on the property, rather than pushing them off the property.
Hunt only one dog. That goes for hunting alone or with buddies, including buddies with good dogs. This keeps dogs fresh, while allowing one dog to cover the ground that he should cover. Hunting only one dog minimizes distractions and allows the handler to watch pup intently.
Watch pup when hunting, and then watch him some more. Keep your eyes on pup, glancing around only enough for safety reasons and to keep track of your whereabouts and the location of any partners you might have.
This next one is big. Make sure hunting partners watch pup intently at all times. Birds will flush near pup, so be sure your pals are watching him — it's a huge safety factor and it helps ensure that pup and hunters are rewarded with a shot bird if pup flushes a bird.
Avoid wide-open fields of beautiful but monotone cover. Instead, hunt nasty smaller spots with rugged, ugly cover, perhaps even a bit of water or damp areas. The nastier the cover th
e better your chances are of finding birds.
Neither hunters nor dogs like hunting nasty cover. Smart hunters and smart dogs hunt nasty cover anyway. Dogs can, and will, learn that birds are in nasty cover if you provide them with opportunities to find birds in such cover. Pup will learn to hunt tough cover early, and will hunt it often.
Many people, including some bird hunters, do not realize that the only one who wants birds more than the hunter is the dog. Birds make good dogs happy.
Swap pup out with another dog if pup is tired, if one is available. I prefer switching dogs before the first one is exhausted. A dog rested before he is totally beat will usually have some more hunt in him for later, but a beat dog is usually done for the day.
Do not rush pup. Take a quick breather after working a long or heavy swatch of cover. Hunters should get off their feet because then pup is more likely to do the same. It does not take much of a rest to recharge pup if you brought him into the season in shape. Keep pup hydrated by carrying water while you hunt, though drinking from a stream or pond will usually not harm him.
Take a couple of pigeons along for young or youngish dogs, especially dogs without much experience. If, after a half hour pup has not found a bird, plant one for him to remind him why you are afield. It will refresh and reinvigorate him. Check your state's laws before doing this.
When hunting, treat pup like the best friend that he is. Do not overwork him or make him go too long without water. Rest him regularly while you enjoy the beauty around you.
Check pup from stem to stern for cuts, injuries, briars, cut pads and burrs when you reach home. Check pup's eyes--a good cleaning with eye solution is worthwhile. Feed him and give him a good loving up before kenneling him. If he sleeps inside, love him up all evening. It will make you both happy.
Enjoy yourself and your dog; that is just as important as birds in the bag. And last but not least'¦hunt safely.