A while back, in the comments section of a post I did on the pros and cons of buying a started dog reader jcarlin asked:
My gun dog experience is limited to hunting over my beagle, who was a rescue, hunts largely by instinct and by the introduction a past owner had given him. I really think I’d enjoy bird hunting over a dog, but never had. What path should an ignorant man like myself take towards owning a bird dog? Training your first pup seems like a good intro for the handler. Buying a started pup with no handling experience will likely lead to a flustered me and a completely puzzled dog who is looking to me for commands.
That’s a great question, and my reply was, basically, that the best way to get into gundogs is to find someone already doing it and then ask to tag along. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of resources out there, from training DVDs to online forums and boards, for the beginning gundog owner. There are many more resources available than there used to be, but I still think the best way to really learn and to foster that interest is hands-on advice, help, and support from a real live person. I even blogged about it.
Of course, that begs the question of how to find someone local, and for that there are several ways: I’d find out if you have a local chapter of Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Quail Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society, DU, etc (you can find local chapter contact info on the national groups’ websites) and ask if they have any training days, chapter fun hunts or anyone interested in training with you.
But perhaps the best way to find training help and advice is through local gundog or field trial clubs that will be affiliated with national gundog, field trial or hunt test groups. All these groups will have websites where you can find state and local chapters, and many gundog clubs will have scheduled training days where people are encouraged to come out and train with the group.
For example, if you’re interested in retrievers, look at the Hunting Retriever Club, the North American Hunting Retriever Association, and the various AKC-affiliated hunt test and retriever field trials.
In fact, here’s a great resource on the AKC website for finding clubs in your area. It’s searchable by club type (field trial, hunt test, etc.) and state, and brings up a list of every AKC-affiliated dog club in your particular state, which includes all the various breed clubs, field trial and hunt test groups. That includes coonhounds, flusher trials and tests, pointing dog trials and tests and retriever trials and tests.
If you’re into pointing and versatile dogs some of the other national groups to look into include the National Shoot To Retrieve Association, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America, and the National Bird Hunters Association, to name just a few.
Once you find a local club, call them up and ask to tag along with a training group. You’d be amazed by how willing people are to help you out. It’s a win-win for everyone: your local club gets a new member, and you get an instant advice and support system for training your new pup.
But I’m interested, how did you all originally get into gun dogs? Family tradition? Gundog club? Or, like jcarlin, are you new to the sport and wondering how to break in?