Off-Season Gun Dog Work

My first duck season with Pritch is just a memory now. But our last hunt is one that I will remember for a long time. My nephew, who was hunting with me that day, likes to refer to it as the wrestling match in the swamp--Pritch versus me.

Our first two duck hunts had been quick affairs. We sat on the edge of a small wood duck swamp with hardly any calling and the birds came in early and fast. We took a couple of shots and it was over. But our third and final duck hunt was more typical. (For the record, I was not carrying a gun.) We had a large spread of decoys on a decent size pond, and there were three of us in the blind. We were set up nicely when my nephew and his buddy started really working their calls…and Pritch went gonzo. At first it was a constant whimpering that would crescendo into the occasional bark. When the first shot went off (a miss) she resembled a small but powerful bronco. The exact opposite of gun shy--call it gun happy. As soon as I had her calmed down the calling cranked up again and she started chewing on nearby stalks and tree branches as if rabid with hunger, whimpering the entire time. So excited for birds she couldn't contain herself. (You can't fault her enthusiasm.)

As a newbie dog trainer I learned something that day. I had not truly simulated a hunting experience during my pup's training. I knew Pritch wasn't gun or water shy, had no problem swimming through decoys, and would plow over a deadfall to get her bird. But she'd only heard a smattering of duck calling, not a duo of callers talking duck. And once the guns started going off, in concert with the calls, she was about ready to pop with excitement. Looking for guidance, I called my friend Pam Kadlec of Just Ducky Kennels. As usual she put me at ease and gave me a course of action. Here are a few of her thoughts:

This isn't anything earth shattering--just start training her with duck calls and don't let her go until she's quiet. Gradually add in distractions. Train with other people as much as possible and have them use duck calls as well. The more things you can expose her to the better she will be. Once she will sit quietly with just you calling then add in another person and another call. When you can train in the country make sure you add a shotgun as well. Get some primer loads that fit in your shotgun. After duck season closes go back and train in the same areas where you hunt. Take the time to set up the decoys and make it as much like the real thing as possible.

So that's what we're working on in the off-season (among other things). How about you? Any of you fellow first-timers discover some problem areas with your pup? How about you veterans? Need to brush up on some stuff with your dog? Let's hear it.