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Training Your Dog to Hunt Bird Preserves

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April 11, 2011

Training Your Dog to Hunt Bird Preserves

By Chad Love

For many of us, wild, free-ranging birds under wide-open skies is the upland-hunting dream, but put-and-take shooting preserves in heavily populated areas is the upland-hunting reality. Declining wild bird populations, disappearing habitat, decreasing access to private land and increasing crowds on public land and a demographic shift toward deer and turkey hunting on what land remains have all combined to fundamentally alter modern upland bird hunting in many parts of the country. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but it is what it is and it's not going away.


So for those of us who hunt preserves, what are some key traits to train for (or look for) in a dog? Here are a few tips from Pennsylvania-based pro trainer and field-trialer Lisa Price (570-467-0450, if you're interested in some pro training) who specializes in training close-working pointing dogs for the grouse woods, shooting dog trials and preserve hunts.

1. Control in the field:
"Shooting preserves, even the bigger ones, are fairly small places with a number of small defined hunting areas in close proximity," says Price. "And they're expensive. So if you have a dog that's constantly "trespassing" into another party's area and flushing other hunters' birds, that's a problem." Price says a naturally close-working dog that handles well without a lot of whistles and yelling makes for a pleasant experience for all involved.

2. Training for gunfire, and lots of it: "You need to condition your dog to be steady to multiple gunshots, and lots of them," says Price. "A shooting preserve party may have three, four or five guns, all shooting at once, which can confuse a dog." Which also leads to something Price says you should avoid, especially with young dogs. "Even if your young dog has been introduced to gunfire and is steady to shot, you need to gradually introduce him to multiple gunshots before you just throw him headlong into a preserve hunt, because the sheer volume of gunshots he may be subjected to can cause problems."

3. Working well with others: "Shooting preserves are social environments with lots of other people and dogs. Proper socialization is important, and when you're in the field having a dog that will honor another dog's point and a dog who will whoa consistently and not bust birds is very important, especially when you're paying by the bird" says Price.

It's great advice, and universal to all gundog owners, not just for those who run their dogs exclusively on preserves. How many readers do the majority of their bird hunting in a preserve environment? Any pointers (pun intended) to add to the discussion?

Comments (4)

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from Wags wrote 3 years 5 days ago

A big problem I have seen with pointers is the tendency to get sloppy. Kick and shoot birds are stupid, and usually fat. They sit incredibly tight. Pointers get to where they don't lock until they are right on top of the bird. Works fine at the preserve, but get them around some wild birds and they are a day late and a dollar short. My Carly looked like Tamoca at a preserve as she cut her teeth on wild quail. Preserves were like shooting fish in a barrel. I recall with great fondness a particular hunt in Michigan on a preserve where she very distinctly showed up a guide's prize German Shorthair. We were invited to go off and hunt on our own, which we gladly did.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Moncler4u wrote 3 years 5 days ago

Yes,we should try the best to protect the ecological equilibrium

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 3 years 4 days ago

The last couple of years I have hunted a National Fish and Wildlife Bird Reserve out West. I grew up and hunted in that state but never gave much thought to hunting F&W land. Figured it was too busy and, yes, the birds were stocked dummies. Boy, was I wrong. I wound up hunting this place purely by coincidence and have been back every years since. As far as I can tell, the birds are all wild. Tons and tons of tulies and what's not tulies is Russian Olive. Great cover but really tough hunting. But a lot of exercise never hurt anybody. There's always a lot of guys there hunting the water for waterfowl (including swans and sandhill cranes) but I try to keep my distance from them out of courtesy (my upland vest has the orange yoke). The dogs do pay attention to their shooting but they won't go that far from me even when they do see a bird fall. I think a great way to teach dogs about multiple shooting is to introduce em to field waterfowl hunting and have someone (preferably someone you know) set up not far away. If your pup charges to their shots and falling birds you can get out in the field and sort it out (or use the e-collar if that's your preference). Sometimes I think a learning dog is a bit more responsive to field decoy hunting situations rather than over water (they figure out pretty quickly that you're not going to swim out there and get them). And, yes, a lot of pre-season work with dummies and other guys firing blanks might make a difference ... and it might not. Once the smell of birds is in the air, it becomes an entirely different environment. That's why I'm a big advocate of on-the-job training.

"Meet and greet" problems are something to be concerned about. A few years back I was returning a goose to some guys half a mile away (the bird had floated over to me before collapsing). I made the mistake of dropping the bird next to the guy and his lovely little female lab pup. My older dog got possessive and lit into the other dog, whose owner promptly kicked Pearl in the ribs. Shocked heck out of her (and, of course, I lit into her too) and the guy took off in a huff. Very embarrassing and I sure don't blame him. I would have done the same thing. Since then it hasn't been a problem. I almost exclusively hunt alone and that isn't always the best thing for the dogs (or for me - I need to be more sociable). I would advise anyone training a pup to mix it up hunting with other dogs and other guys. The right kind of guys (not show-off hunting guides!). Also, spend a lot of time with your dog in situations where meet and greets are going to be common every-day experiences (i.e. walking in the park, on downtown sidewalks, etc.). Sadly, some dogs, even if they're from the "right breed" (like labradors), are naturally cranky. Accept the fact and keep your dog out of situations (like busy hunting preserves) that are overly busy with other hunters and dogs.

I can appreciate the advice about keeping your dog from busting another dog's point. Fortunately, I met a fine fellow from Michigan with a wonderful English setter who let me break my dogs into hunting with pointers. Best thing I ever did! Since she was a pup, Opal (my younger lab) has naturally pointed any bird that will hold tight and now Pearl (age six) honors her point. In fact, repeatedly last fall I couldn't get either one of them to break if Opal was on point. Had to kick the birds up myself. But it was tough for both of them to learn to stay with me while that setter ran all over hell's half acre. It took a bit of work and I'm thankful that Dale was so patient with us. Helps immensely if the other guys in the field are mature and not overly concerned about shooting stuff (Dale and I enjoy being out there and watching the dogs - the longer it takes to limit out, the happier we are).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 3 years 2 days ago

After giving it some thought, I can see how it would be very difficult to hunt uplands on an overcrowded preserve with pointing dogs. I have hunted over an english setter and a german wire-haired pointer. Those dogs are all over the place. It's what they do. I'm thinking that a less rangey flushing breed like springer, brittany, or lab might do the trick better in those situations. My dogs range twenty to thirty yards and as often as not flush the pheasants (they do point a few that will hold still). I'm using my full choke pump goose gun most of the time and have pretty good luck. I can always let the bird get out there a ways before shooting if I have to boot it up off point (hopefully the wind isn't blowing!). Seems like the steel shot required on the federal refuge is no handicap at all. It may in fact be giving me a better pattern with that barrel for those conditions. A couple of places I hunt have birds that hold better (harder to hunt so less hunting - I WILL NOT hunt anyplace that isn't open to public hunting). Then I switch to the auto Browning with modified barrel (lead shot is allowed).

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from Wags wrote 3 years 5 days ago

A big problem I have seen with pointers is the tendency to get sloppy. Kick and shoot birds are stupid, and usually fat. They sit incredibly tight. Pointers get to where they don't lock until they are right on top of the bird. Works fine at the preserve, but get them around some wild birds and they are a day late and a dollar short. My Carly looked like Tamoca at a preserve as she cut her teeth on wild quail. Preserves were like shooting fish in a barrel. I recall with great fondness a particular hunt in Michigan on a preserve where she very distinctly showed up a guide's prize German Shorthair. We were invited to go off and hunt on our own, which we gladly did.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Moncler4u wrote 3 years 5 days ago

Yes,we should try the best to protect the ecological equilibrium

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 3 years 4 days ago

The last couple of years I have hunted a National Fish and Wildlife Bird Reserve out West. I grew up and hunted in that state but never gave much thought to hunting F&W land. Figured it was too busy and, yes, the birds were stocked dummies. Boy, was I wrong. I wound up hunting this place purely by coincidence and have been back every years since. As far as I can tell, the birds are all wild. Tons and tons of tulies and what's not tulies is Russian Olive. Great cover but really tough hunting. But a lot of exercise never hurt anybody. There's always a lot of guys there hunting the water for waterfowl (including swans and sandhill cranes) but I try to keep my distance from them out of courtesy (my upland vest has the orange yoke). The dogs do pay attention to their shooting but they won't go that far from me even when they do see a bird fall. I think a great way to teach dogs about multiple shooting is to introduce em to field waterfowl hunting and have someone (preferably someone you know) set up not far away. If your pup charges to their shots and falling birds you can get out in the field and sort it out (or use the e-collar if that's your preference). Sometimes I think a learning dog is a bit more responsive to field decoy hunting situations rather than over water (they figure out pretty quickly that you're not going to swim out there and get them). And, yes, a lot of pre-season work with dummies and other guys firing blanks might make a difference ... and it might not. Once the smell of birds is in the air, it becomes an entirely different environment. That's why I'm a big advocate of on-the-job training.

"Meet and greet" problems are something to be concerned about. A few years back I was returning a goose to some guys half a mile away (the bird had floated over to me before collapsing). I made the mistake of dropping the bird next to the guy and his lovely little female lab pup. My older dog got possessive and lit into the other dog, whose owner promptly kicked Pearl in the ribs. Shocked heck out of her (and, of course, I lit into her too) and the guy took off in a huff. Very embarrassing and I sure don't blame him. I would have done the same thing. Since then it hasn't been a problem. I almost exclusively hunt alone and that isn't always the best thing for the dogs (or for me - I need to be more sociable). I would advise anyone training a pup to mix it up hunting with other dogs and other guys. The right kind of guys (not show-off hunting guides!). Also, spend a lot of time with your dog in situations where meet and greets are going to be common every-day experiences (i.e. walking in the park, on downtown sidewalks, etc.). Sadly, some dogs, even if they're from the "right breed" (like labradors), are naturally cranky. Accept the fact and keep your dog out of situations (like busy hunting preserves) that are overly busy with other hunters and dogs.

I can appreciate the advice about keeping your dog from busting another dog's point. Fortunately, I met a fine fellow from Michigan with a wonderful English setter who let me break my dogs into hunting with pointers. Best thing I ever did! Since she was a pup, Opal (my younger lab) has naturally pointed any bird that will hold tight and now Pearl (age six) honors her point. In fact, repeatedly last fall I couldn't get either one of them to break if Opal was on point. Had to kick the birds up myself. But it was tough for both of them to learn to stay with me while that setter ran all over hell's half acre. It took a bit of work and I'm thankful that Dale was so patient with us. Helps immensely if the other guys in the field are mature and not overly concerned about shooting stuff (Dale and I enjoy being out there and watching the dogs - the longer it takes to limit out, the happier we are).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 3 years 2 days ago

After giving it some thought, I can see how it would be very difficult to hunt uplands on an overcrowded preserve with pointing dogs. I have hunted over an english setter and a german wire-haired pointer. Those dogs are all over the place. It's what they do. I'm thinking that a less rangey flushing breed like springer, brittany, or lab might do the trick better in those situations. My dogs range twenty to thirty yards and as often as not flush the pheasants (they do point a few that will hold still). I'm using my full choke pump goose gun most of the time and have pretty good luck. I can always let the bird get out there a ways before shooting if I have to boot it up off point (hopefully the wind isn't blowing!). Seems like the steel shot required on the federal refuge is no handicap at all. It may in fact be giving me a better pattern with that barrel for those conditions. A couple of places I hunt have birds that hold better (harder to hunt so less hunting - I WILL NOT hunt anyplace that isn't open to public hunting). Then I switch to the auto Browning with modified barrel (lead shot is allowed).

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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