We’ve been chasin’ grouse, roosters, geese, ducks n deer for most of the fall but with ducks ‘n deer done for another year, some late season goose options still exist and grouse season still rollin’ along but my interest is still drawn to the rooster pheasant. I know there are fewer out there than on opening day and I know the survivors have been schooled by hunters and the dogs of many colors but there’s something about this bird that can run my dog in circles one day flushing wildly far ahead and the next holding tight with only a pink nose between the two of us that insists I keep searching. The weather is turning cold, sloughs again covered with walkable hard water and fields of corn picked and plowed but there’s still the best part of a month to go before leather boots find their place in the closet with the orange and camo.
What is it about the bird that makes it so special? The annual cat ‘n mouse game certainly isn’t new because I’ve been playing it for decades and it absolutely never gets old. My 4-legged hunting partners have changed over the years but the rules stay the same. I’ve been afield with Pirate, Doc, Kaz, Molly, Kate, Jesse, Tess and now Snap, all 30 pounds of her. Apologies to any names I might have forgotten too. The walks are often tiring and long or as my good friend Bob St. Pierre refers to them “Billy Big Walks!” Evening always brings a welcome meal and a good sleep along with tired dogs. Sometimes so tired that a day off now and then is required. But with the late season things change a bit. Both man and dog are in pretty good physical shape, well better than opening day and cool or cold days change the dynamics of the walks from early season too. This along with the fact that any roosters now are truly trophies, long tails and brilliantly colored. But more than that is the addiction to this small feathered bird. Each and every time afield when the dog gets hot I tell myself “be calm, take your time, shoulder the gun, lead the bird ‘n squeeze!” That being said it seldom happens even if I know the bird is there. Every, every time that flush absolutely steals my breath as my mind screams “hurry SHOOT!” It’s different than any other critter I hunt and I have no idea why!
But now to late season. My travels will almost always be focused on cattails. Dense tangles of rushes with the slender dark brown hand grenades that explode in your face and eyes. We spend time usually along edges with the inside better suited to dogs crashing them. Snap who is often partnered with Acea, Erik’s Golden both seem to really enjoy this cover. Able to often get under and through the mats as they search for scent then popping out as if to say “just making sure you’re still there” before launching back inside. There’s little prep time for these late season flushes since they happen in an instant with little if any warning. Again often much different than earlier in the season. A good dog is probably the most essential component now for both flush and recovery. Also if truth be known I’d probably not have much interest without them.
OK so we’re into the 4th quarter now and if score was being kept Roosters would be way ahead and it wouldn’t be close. Some have come home with me but many more have cackled and flown away but then I don’t play this game to win that way, ‘n never have. Every day afield is one put into the win column as far as I’m concerned and as long as Snap doesn’t get frustrated with the misses we’ll keep doing it together!
“Come on Snap let’s Hunt ‘em Up!”
Let me begin by stating up front that I am neither a professional breeder nor a professional dog trainer. Admittedly I am an addicted bird hunter whorefuses to hunt without his dog coupled with the fact that I’ve had hunting dogs in my life as long as I’ve been around owning my own for about 40 years. So that being said first let me say having a “good” dog is mostly “inspiration” with just a bit of “perspiration!” All but one of my dogs have been Golden Retrievers with the exception being the current and probably the best pheasant dog I’ve owned which is a Brittany, Snap. I’ve also owned some bargain dogs too which came along after simply looking at a litter with little knowledge of the background which brings me to the inspiration/perspiration bit. In any litter there can be some challenged pups but arming yourself with knowledge of the linage and pups’ parent background ups the odds thus the inspiration comes in the shape of pups’ ability and traits handed down from parents and grandparents. There are a lot of pups out there that are pure bred but the owners/breeders simply breed to another dog because it’s of the same breed. My dad used to say “you
get what you pay for” and this is certainly true in gun dogs. A so-called bargain dog is no bargain when you consider that in most cases it will be with you for at least 10 years or
more. Factor in vet bills, food, the shoes you’ll throw away due to a pups teeth, your time and time afield, because few people can part with a dunderhead dog the initial cost is the least of the entire experience.
So let’s say the breeding is solid from good parents, the pups’ been properly socialized before bringing it home and the vet health check is a good one now comes the perspiration in the form of training. Pup’s no doubt scared and missing littermates but enjoy this time because although sometimes challenging it passes quickly. If this is your 1st
hunting buddy you should already have begun the study part of training be it a
book or videos. My first was long before videos were popular and even though my choice then was Training Your Retriever by James Lamb Free questions came up not covered between the hard covers and consequently mistakes were made so my recommendation would be to have a friend or some other person as a source of information for questions. My dogs have never been perfect but functioned afield doing what I wanted done. As a foundation you must have pup obedience trained and believe me you can do this yourself. Come, sit, stay, heel being essential commands also learning to be a good citizen with other
dogs and people. This people part is crucial if you ever want to be invited places or entertain friends from time to time. The training doesn’t take extreme amounts of time but it does take consistency and large doses of patience. If frustration sets in STOP put pup in crate
and begin again later. Not all dogs are great retrievers but if it’s important to you then work on it. Sometimes professional assistance will be required. Then it’s time to get afield. I always enjoy getting out prior to the actual hunting season and can be a great time to focus on what you’ve been working on thus far such as quartering, whoa (I’ve still a ways to go
here), come, sit and heel. I’ve heard some say the heel command isn’t so important for upland dogs and I totally disagree. When leaving or returning to the truck heeling a dog may just keep it alive and not being hit by a car.
Now what should your dog really be graded on gun dog wise? The correct answer is totally up to you but remember in the first year the learning curve is steep. Patience will be rewarded and the ability to solve rooster puzzles will happen with in-the-field experience. One last thought. Remember the bird season is usually about 4 months long but your 4-legged hunting partner should be your buddy for all 12 months and when you drop a bird 10 yards into standing corn with another 15 yards of tangled canary grass and find your gun jammed due to an I D 10 T error then a couple minutes later are greeted by a small orange n white dog with a very alive rooster in mouth as she delivers to hand the world is a very fun
place to be at that moment. I know because that was me last week! Also remember it’s
just the beginning but you’ve truly witnessed “The Making of Your Very Own Gun Dog!”
It just doesn’t get any better than that!!!!!!!