|When you take a young, inexperienced dog to the field for
the first time, you should have an idea in mind as to what you would like him
to learn, or at least begin to learn. Reinforcing a dog’s basic training skills
in the field is important, but in this case, can’t take precedence over new
concepts that can only be learned in a hunt; you can always solidify his basic
skills at a later time.
In my opinion, one of the most important things a dog should
learn on his first few hunts is to recognize birds in flight. Inexperienced
dogs know nothing about looking into the sky to seek out a bird coming into gun range — or even
more confusing a flock of birds coming within close shooting distance. It’s
difficult to duplicate those conditions in a training situation, they have to be
learned in the field.
It may take more than one hunt with your young dog before he
can comprehend the idea that the birds are already in flight when they are
shot. You need to get a little lucky and hope you’re able to drop the first few
birds where your dog is looking. You can improve those odds if you just allow
your hunting companion to shoot the first few incoming birds while you handle
your dog. When you’re not
concentrating on shooting, you can manipulate your dog into position so he is
able to see the bird being shot and watch the fall.
I was very pleased that my new hunting dog, Zack, was able
to put things together within the first few shots while on his first dove hunt
in Mexico. After only six or eight birds, he was also able to understand that
dove was our prey and no longer followed every songbird in the sky. His young
eyes were able to pick up dove flying at greater distances than my eyes could
make out, which led to fewer foolish quick shots on my part — a situation all
dove hunters can relate.
Another important skill that young dogs need to learn from
field experience, is to follow the movement of the gun. Like spotting birds in
flight, this skill is learned more easily by some dogs than others. I should
ease your mind by telling you that the learning curve for both of these skills
is not necessarily a gauge of your dog’s overall quality. Don’t get discouraged
if it takes your dog a few hunts for him to fully understand the situation. Another
problem you will encounter with your young dog is when multiple birds come in
and you shoot only one. Inevitably, your inexperienced dog will follow the
birds that fly away instead of the one that dropped from the group. Here again,
be patient, he will eventually catch on, but it may take awhile.
It’s up to you fellow hunters to make it easy for your
novice dog to acquire these important hunting skills, so, make it all as simple
as possible. For my dog, Zack, I shot the first limit of dove in a plowed field
where there was no cover and a clear view of the birds coming in from the open
field. Focus on your dog instead of the hunt and give him the time he needs to
understand what the glorious sport of hunting is all about.
Grady Istre can be reached at reiber.com.