Posts Tagged ‘My First Bird Dog’

My First Bird Dog’s First Pheasant Hunt

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

“Sprig,” and 11-month-old English cocker spaniel, with her first rooster find. Photo courtesy Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

“Find it! Dead bird, find it!” “Sprig” and I came out of a cattail draw after flushing out a few ringnecks, one of which my buddy winged down. She was now tracking her first cripple.

A minute or so went by, but with the warm, dry conditions on this Minnesota pheasant hunting opening weekend, I wondered if the scent trail would vanish as they had all weekend. But Sprig’s tail kept wagging while her other end kept sniffing. She followed the trail off the edge of the cattails, up into the surrounding grass stand and zigzagged up and over a hill. A few seconds after she disappeared, I saw the flutter of the rooster on the ridge…and then Sprig came into view. The bird made it about another 10 yards before she smacked into him headstrong; hunting without pulling the trigger has never been so much fun.

I embarked on the “My First Bird Dog” series with the goal of choosing a dog breed, breeder, a litter, a pup, taking the little he or she home, naming it, training it and heading out pheasant hunting. Twenty one blog posts, 229 online comments and a year and a half later, my baby bird dog grew up right in front of my eyes during two days of pheasant hunting.

My only regret is that I didn’t get a dog much sooner. Most everyone I know either works too much, worries too much or whines too much – including me, at times – and having a devoted dog, I’ve found, is perhaps one of life’s best defense mechanisms against all that. Sprig goes with me practically everywhere I go, including work, sleeps in my bed and, including my significant other, Kailyn, has become the joy of our lives. We’ve become “those crazy dog people” and subsequently are wondering When’s the right time to add bird dog number two?

My desire to upland hunt, wingshoot and conserve wildlife habitat through Pheasants Forever’s conservation mission has only grown since Sprig entered my life. And Kailyn, smitten with her puppy and not wanting to spend her entire autumn as a “hunting widow,” without any prodding from me, completed her firearm safety course and joined hunting’s ranks. She’s become a Pheasants Forever member and is recognizing how conserving wild places is important for our wildlife, our environment, our quality of life and our dog’s quality of life.

As the “My First Bird Dog” series draws to a close, I’d like to thank Pheasants Forever’s community of members and supporters for participating. You’ve helped create an online catalog that future hunters and conservationists will find valuable. As for Sprig and me, this isn’t the last you’ll hear from us, but we’ve got to get to work and flush some more roosters. See you in the field!

“My First Bird Dog” posts:

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

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 AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

What’s Your Dog Training Golden Rule?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

“Sprig,” my now 7-month-old English cocker spaniel, is showing promise as a hunter. She’s happily retrieving on both land and water, gets crazy about birds and has been introduced to gunfire. She’s also, unfortunately, been working on the art of selective hearing (which she learned with help from her master), which has left said master exasperated.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dog training in this brief time period, it’s that you need an overwhelming amount of patience. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in the last half year, it’s that patience is a virtue of which I’ve not acquired the requisite amount.

"Sprig" doing some wing-on-a-string work earlier this year. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

I imagine this is a crossroads many first-time dog owners reach. With the puppy varnish wearing off, the enormity of the commitment settling in and having hit the first few “bumps in the road,” that feeling that “I can’t do this” can creep in – I know it did for me. So what to do?

Don’t give up. That’s one of The Golden Rules of Dog Training. In fact, this simple little list from SportDOG is one I’ve visited countless times over the last two weeks. That was also the message I received from “Sprig’s” breeder, a high-level trainer himself. “Don’t give up, and go back to the basic building blocks. You can always go back to the basics.”

Since my pup ownership’s midlife crisis, and following The Golden Rules, “Sprig” has shown remarkable improvement. It’s going to be a fun summer…and a better fall…

What’s your “Golden Rule” of dog training?

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 AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

My First Bird Dog: Make Retrieving an Addiction (VIDEO)

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

While puppies are cute and naturally fun, any pheasant hunter has an eye to the future when that dog is ready for more rigorous work in the field. Not to mention housebroken.

While “Sprig,” my now 3-month-old English cocker pup, has been getting healthy doses of basic obedience and plenty of play time, I’ve been looking for signs that I’ll have a legitimate hunting dog on my hands. I like her energy, willingness to explore new environments and a nose that’s constantly “on.” When I picked her up, the breeder – who also trains, trials and hunts extensively – gave me one piece of advice that I’ve held above all else: “Make retrieving an addiction.”

Starting with a glove in the apartment and graduating to a tennis ball, Sprig has shown natural retrieving instincts and, most importantly, seems to enjoy it. Next we’ll move outside with a dummy and, since it’s been an unseasonably warm winter in the upper Midwest, some light grass.

What did you see in your pup early on that got you excited about your future hunting buddy?

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts:

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

Puppies: What the Training Manuals Don’t Say

Friday, January 13th, 2012

The author has found "Sprig," an English cocker spaniel, to be heckuva lot of work and a heckuva lot of joy.

“Is a puppy more work than you thought it’d be?” This is the most-asked question of me since “Sprig” arrived in my household one month ago.

I’d read the books on puppies and watched some videos, but in hindsight, they’re remarkably desensitized. A few examples:

The manual said: Pup may whine his first night or first few nights away from his littermates.
In reality: Bellying her size, pup will let out primordial death howls. She will not sleep, nor will you, and you’ll wonder about the sincerity of neighbors who say they “didn’t hear a thing.”

The manual said: Encourage pup to play with his own toys.
In reality: You will go to the pet store and spend $50 on toys. Pup will spend five minutes playing with each, a buck per minute per toy. Pup will find socks, stocking caps and empty yogurt containers much more to her liking. Pup will not reimburse you the $50.

The manual said: Pup may nip hands and fingers as he’s teething and learning to control the power of his jaws.
In reality: Reality bites, and there will be blood (it will not be pup’s… )

The manual said: Pup may “eliminate” on the carpet. They don’t yet have the ability to hold it.
In reality: Your carpet will be eliminated. You didn’t need that security deposit anyways, right?

So is a puppy more work than I’d originally thought? Yes.

But would I trade it for anything? No.

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts:

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

Meet My First Bird Dog!

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

The quest for "Sprig," the author's first pup, was chronicled in Pheasants Forever's "My First Bird Dogs" series.

The serious search for “My First Bird Dog” began at Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest* earlier this year. Initially, I’d zeroed in on an English springer spaniel, but after seeing my first-ever English cocker spaniel up close and personal at National Pheasant Fest, I knew. And just before the holiday break, I picked up “Sprig,” a lemon and white female field-bred English cocker, from Thunderstruck Gundogs in Balaton, Minnesota – my first bird dog!

*Speaking now from personal experience, Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic is the must-see event for bird dog owners or soon-to-be owners. While I didn’t purchase a pup on the spot, I gained first-hand info from an exhibiting professional dog trainer and his valuable reference on a quality breeder closer to my home. This year’s show is in Kansas City on February 17, 18 & 19.

An English cocker is the perfect fit for me: A close-working dog – check; adept in the grasslands and wetlands – check; a small breed that’s sized for my small apartment – check; and good looking to boot – check. The breeder, Mark Mercie, said, in his experience, he found females a bit easier to work with, so I heeded his advice. In fact, in the six-month lead up to getting Sprig, Mercie took many questions from Kaily, my significant other, and I on an all-too-regular basis – I can’t overstate how important this was to us. We picked her up at her seven-week mark, and didn’t have to dangle a pheasant wing or practice puppy psychology as she was the only female in the litter.

As I type this, Sprig is sound asleep on my lap. An hour before, she was treating the flesh of my hands as a chew toy. These are the highs and lows of puppy ownership, but she’ll age so quick – my day is her week, seven times faster than me – that doing anything other than simply enjoying this time is silly.

The “My First Bird Dog” series will now shift gears to the training process, with sights set on the pheasant hunting opener in 2012. The thought of this teething, 6-lb. peanut ever flushing and retrieving a pheasant is a near-foreign concept right now, with dog training like a foreign language. My puppy passport has been punched – know any good translators?

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts:

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

My First Bird Dog – When everyone’s a Dog Expert

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Pheasants Forever's "My First Bird Dog" series follows a pheasant hunter's journey into bird dog ownership.

This weekend is pick-up day for my first bird dog, and excitement is paired equally with a dose of “Am I ready for this?” After months of digesting all dog-related material I could get my hands on, picking the brains of dog trainers and soliciting insight from dog owners and Pheasants Forever members right here online, I announce myself as…fully unprepared for my first bird dog as I was six months ago.

That’s not quite true, but the path to a bird dog is one filled with questions – What breed? Pup or started dog? Male or female? Pick up at seven or eight weeks? Use a pheasant wing to select your pup? Pet insurance? – and consensus answers that are about as slippery as a dog on kitchen tile.

So you look for some direction, some sort of dog compass, only to find too many dog owners, every one of them with their own expert advice – your co-worker says pickup at eight weeks, your hunting buddy says the magical 49th day is the day, the breeder says he can go either way and the latest issue of Gun Dog magazine has an article about a new fad of waiting 10 to 12 weeks. It can leave a lot of head scratchers while waiting for that new, little head to scratch…

While I’ve come across few certainties in the process, I’m sure of one thing – I’m ready to learn by doing…and maybe that’s when you know you’re really, officially ready for your first bird dog.

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts:

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

My First Bird Dog – Best Bird Dogs for an Apartment

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Pheasants Forever's "My First Bird Dog" series follows a pheasant hunter's journey into bird dog ownership.

Pheasant Blog reader Jeff posted recently: I am surprised that only 65% of (Pheasants Forever) members own a dog. Who hunts pheasants without a dog? Who’d want to?

Probably not many, but circumstance and desire don’t always match up – just ask any apartment dwelling pheasant hunter such as myself. My last two weeks included a phone call informing me dogs would no longer be allowed in my apartment building (evidently someone’s unapproved dog had bitten someone else), to a lengthy conversation with the apt. owner going over every detail of my upcoming pup to earn an exception to the newly instituted “no dogs” rule. With just five weeks until my pup is in my hands and a week-long Rooster Road Trip in the mix, moving just wasn’t an option.

The first question from my apartment owner was “What breed are you getting?” A valid question, as when it comes to an apartment, not all dogs are created equal. Recently, Kyle Wintersteen from the NRA’s American Hunter wrote about Five Bird Dogs for Today’s Suburbs. In addition to his solid list, here are five more (and yes, the breed I’ve selected is on either his or my list) worthy of consideration in the tight quarters of the concrete jungle:

American Water Spaniel. This small (25-45 lbs.) sporting breed is obedient, a good family fit and the State Dog of Wisconsin, where they must have lots of apartments.

English Springer Spaniel. Their breeding stock learned the Queen’s manners before crossing the pond.

Golden Retriever. Very adaptable and eager to please, which pleases other tenants.

Poodle. With its hypoallergenic coat, can accommodate almost any living situation. Perfect if you want a hunting dog with the look of a city dog.

Weimaraner. This breed is known for getting along easily with children, which urban areas are usually full of.

What do you consider the best breed(s) for an apartment or urban area?

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts:

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

A Farewell to Mooch the Pooch

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Pheasants Forever's "My First Bird Dog" series follows a pheasant hunter's journey into bird dog ownership.

Pheasants Forever’s Rooster Road Trip 2011 happens to be my last major pheasant hunting trip without a bird dog to call my own. And if ever there was a case study about the power of dogs when it comes to chasing ringnecks, this week has been it.

PF’s Bob St.Pierre, with his midst-of-her-prime shorthair, Trammell, has three times as many shot opportunities as me on this trip, and PF’s Andrew Vavra, with his coming-into-her-own lab, Beau, has twice as many shot opportunities as me. Me? All I have are my own two feet – “Mooch the Pooch” – sandwiched haplessly between these two trying to scratch out a bird off their scraps.

This is not to say I don’t fully enjoy my time afield; rather, I want that “next level” of pheasant hunting only made possible with a four-legged companion. The relationships Bob and Andrew have with their dogs is something I aspire to. This Rooster Road Trip has also been a crash course in what will be asked of me when I become a dog owner, a day that’s just five weeks away. In that respect, it’s been the ultimate training ground for the soon-to-be trainer.

But I’ve also grown impatient. I’ve waited a long time to get “My First Bird Dog.” I’ve appreciated Trammell and Beau’s field work. I’ve enjoyed watching Bob and Andrew’s wingshooting. And I’ve been a congratulatory bystander after either pair has earned a sporting rooster. But a part of me is also completely selfish and wants that all – for me. What mooch wouldn’t?

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts:

Follow Pheasants Forever’s Rooster Road Trip 2011 at www.RoosterRoadTrip.org, on Facebook , YouTube, and Twitter (#rrt11). 

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

My First Bird Dog – Stuck Between Two Litters

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

"My First Bird Dog" follows a pheasant hunter's journey into bird dog ownership.

The search for my first bird dog has entered the final stretch. I’ve selected a breed, breeder and am now in the position of preparing to put my name down on one of two upcoming litters. For those coming off summer vacation or new to this series, here are the first half dozen “My First Bird Dog” posts to get you up to speed (and there have been so many great reader-submitted comments that those alone are worth a look):

Now that you’re caught up…I’m in the unenviable position of selecting from two litters – both are fall breedings and puppies are expected in about a month – deadlocking me between a bird dog and a hard place.

Both expected litters have very solid pedigrees, and at various moments the past few days, I’ve found myself madly in love with the parents of each – in that “I could see me with one of your puppies” sort of way. Both litters appear to hold all the characteristics – hunting drive, temperament, bidability – I’m looking for. And not that it would have been an issue, but the price is the same for each. The color scheme of the respective litters is about as major a difference as I can see, and I’ve tried to avoid using that as my deciding factor. The rest is splitting hairs.

I angled to get one puppy from each litter, but Kaily, my partner in bird dog purchasing crime as well as our home’s resident voice of reason, squashed that in a hurry.

Have you or anyone you know been “stuck between two litters”? What were the “make” or “breaks” that led to the final decision?

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

This post appears in On the Wing, the monthly eNewsletter from Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. Return to On the Wing.