Posts Tagged ‘hunting dog’

The Gun Dog Lifestyle

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

“Hunter” on a solid retrieve after flushing a rooster in range. Photo by Todd Sauers / Pheasants Forever

“Hunter” on a solid retrieve after flushing a rooster in range. Photo by Todd Sauers / Pheasants Forever

“Hunter,” my English springer spaniel, has ramped up it up as the weather changes here in Minnesota. Our cool weather has him sniffing around more intently, moving faster when off-lead, looking around more, keying in on sounds and movement.

At over six-years-old, Hunter is entering that period in a dog’s life that is prime time. He’s fit, an experienced hunter and knows it, that is, he’s confident and ready roll for the upcoming upland hunting seasons.

My gun dog philosophy reads thus: every interaction with my dog is an opportunity for training. When I walk take him out first thing in the morning, its “Hunter sit” so I can put his lead on. While canoeing a nearby lake, its “hoka hey” when I see a duck. Hunter knows that’s my signal for “game sighted.” He looks around and whimpers. I keep an e-collar on Hunter while on the lake to keep him from chasing waterfowl, but also as a reminder that I’m in control and I expect him to behave. It also keeps him from chasing game at a time it’s not allowed.  Sure, I let him make a few bounds in their direction for fun, but then it’s back to discipline.

When we see a rabbit in the yard it’s “no bird” and I turn him. When a deer ran in front of us while on my land near Duluth in northern Minnesota this summer, it was “no bird” and we turned. A bit later, we heard a noise in the brush and it was “get ‘em up” and Hunter bounded off on the prowl.

On our bike rides (I run him 2-3 days per week), its “sit” while putting on the lead. Sometimes I’ll walk around the corner, out of sight, to tighten up his obedience. Then it’s” heel” as we walk to and fro, then “sit and stay,” as I walk away, and walk back. If he breaks, we do it over until he doesn’t.

I carry a pistol on my land sometimes and pop it off to gin Hunter up. He doubles his speed and intensity working the brush as an experienced gun dog should. At home, I make Hunters sit, then hide a retrieving dummy somewhere inside the house. Then, I give the command “fetch” and off he goes on the hunt. He must bring the dummy to hand and hold it until told to release. If he doesn’t, we do it over until he does. If he can’t find the dummy, it’s an opportunity to train him on blind retrieves. I sit him by me, point in the direction of the bird and its “back,” his command for blind retrieving. He knows then the ‘bird’ is in that direction and he won’t give up until he finds it.

Hunter is a hunting dog and I treat him as such. While dove hunting, the training continues (dove hunting is a great opportunity to sharpen a dog for the hunting seasons that follow). Dove hunting is mostly a retrieving experience for Hunter, but I do use him to flush birds in stubble and standing crops (where I get permission), being cautious not to overheat him. Especially early seasons, I keep an e-collar on him until I’m sure he’s tightened up his behavior, but for most of the recent seasons, I don’t even put it on him. He knows what I expect of him.

Gun dog ownership is not a part time hobby, but a lifestyle lived and enjoyed every day for both parties involved. Our dogs want to be a part of our lives, not a toy to be set aside when we’re done playing with it. That goes for training too. Train them yourself and you will be that much closer, that much better a team afield.

I think when our gun dogs are family, they know it and respond accordingly, more likely to please at home and afield. This is prime time for Hunter and I can’t wait for the next few years hunting with him.

The Nomad is written by Mark Herwig, Editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at

Meet My First Hunting Dog

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

“Sprig” has taken a liking to dog-friendly hotels. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

A few weeks back, after another so-so performance at our local training group, I asked the pro trainer if I should even take “Sprig” out in the field. “Heck yes!” he said, “She’s quartering and flushing and the retrieve will come, and we can work on that next spring. You have yourself a hunting dog. Go hunting!”

You don’t have to tell me that twice, or Sprig either. We’ve been hunting our way through the early upland seasons in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, driving too much, eating too poorly (okay, just me) and finding enough birds along the way to keep us coming back for more. We still have a world of work to do as a hunting unit, but she’s impressed me with her drive and her eye for birdy cover – she’s developing into the little pistol I hoped she would.

As referenced earlier, while she’s performed reasonably well with dummies, Sprig hasn’t put the pieces of the field retrieve together, and I’m hoping things click as she hunts more and has more birds shot over her.

But for now, I’m a happy hunter with a tired dog, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone…except maybe Sprig. Move over!

I’ll be wrapping up the My First Bird Dog series next weekend following the Minnesota pheasant opener and Sprig’s first pheasant hunt.

Read more in the “My First Bird Dog” series here.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

3 Top Reasons to Trust Your Dog Afield

Monday, June 4th, 2012

I’ve done it, we’ve all done it…but we must stop ourselves! What am I talking about? Second guessing our dogs while hunting.

Trust your dog’s nose. It’s an F-35 Lightning II jet…yours is a wood cart with square wheels. A dog’s nose not only dominates its face, but its brain as well. Depending on the breed, a dog smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than nasally-challenged humans. The percentage of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than a human’s. A human nose has five million scent receptors; a bloodhound’s 300 million.

All in a day's work for a couple of trusty dogs. Photo by Mark Herwig / Pheasants Forever

They follow scent, not your instincts. We are the masters, right? Yes, in town when we must protect a dog from cars, running away and checking out the neighborhood garbage cans. But in the field, follow the dog…he or she is in charge. You may not know why your dog is running around in circles, cutting back, going the other way or going the opposite way you want him to go, but he does. As a young hunter, I would make the dog go the way I wanted to go, as if I had a nose with 300 million scent receptors. Also, many hunters pay no attention to the wind direction at all when upland hunting with a dog. I used to assume experienced hunters knew this, but no more. Many times I’ve had to speak up, even with experienced hunters. Most folks listen, but some still think they know better…sooooooo follow the dog! Humility in the face of 300 million receptors is a good thing, folks.

Everywhere there’s sign. If a dog is barking, leaping in the air or running twice as fast as it was it usually does, pay attention, there’s a good reason for it. Look and listen to your dog. Springers love to yip and leap when they see a bird in front of them. I know when my springer does either of these things to get ready to shoot. When my dog does a bee line in the opposite direction I’m walking, I don’t hit the e-collar, I turn around and follow him. They aint looking for the car, they got a pheasant in mind.

If my dog is slowing down, not showing up, bug-eyed, wobbling, let’s out a sharp yip, is bleeding, tongue hanging out blood-red, following me or otherwise acting unusual, I pay attention and figure out what’s up. These are all signals a dog, which cannot talk, is trying to tell us something important. One of my greatest joys hunting a dog, especially one I’ve had for years, is being able to read it like a book; to communicate with it like a good friend, to connect with the beast as a fellow critter.

And let me tell you, dogs know if you listen to them or not. Listening to your dog will gain you its respect. Being well-connected to a longtime dog partner is a feeling like no other; it is being one with him, it is being a pack member on the predator trail. I love it.

The Nomad is written by Mark Herwig, Editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at