Do you want to have a more productive hunt next season? The only way I know of to accomplish that is to review this past season’s performance.
To begin, think about your dog's behavior in your pre-training sessions before the season began. After a long layoff, dogs tend to be a bit on the unruly side. Instead of having to use harsh discipline to get your dog under control, I would suggest that you start your pre-hunting training a bit earlier to give yourself time to iron out problems well before the coming season.
Another gauge of obedience is to assess how your dog acted in his usual environment away from the field. A good balance between work at home and in the field is a proper goal. An assessment about two months before the season begins should be adequate — that's what I recommend to all of my clients.
Also, how did your dog act around the clubhouse or the motel? Unless your dog lives with the family at home and is totally comfortable on the inside of a public dwelling, I would suggest bringing your dog crate into the motel room to avoid unnecessary problems.
And, at the clubhouse, if you know your dog has an aggressive nature, it's not a good idea to bring your dog inside. In my experience, I have found that most hunt clubs will allow dogs into the clubhouse as long as they get along with other dogs and people. Dogs in that setting seem to add a primitive nature to the gathering that most hunters enjoy. I know I do.
Of course, the bottom line for any hunting dog is how well did he perform in the field. I encourage clients to maintain a modicum of control over their dogs, which I believe begins with steadiness. If you brush up your dog on his steadiness, everything else seems to fall into place.
But sometimes there can be problems you can foresee! For example: I was invited by a client to hunt ducks at his club in Los Banos this past January, and on the morning of the hunt we were pleased to have what I consider an adequate amount of ducks coming towards our blind to harvest a double limit.
But the ducks wouldn’t come into our decoys. Instead, they would flare just out of gun range. Baffled and frustrated, I finally got out of the sunken blind In an effort to see what was going on. I couldn't see a damned thing wrong with the decoys spread or our setting, yet the ducks continued to flare. As noon time approached, I noticed that our Black Labrador Retriever was wagging her tail, vigorously. I had to laugh when i figured out that her happy attitude had been our problem all along.
The motion of her tail was so extreme that small rocks were scattering about. Late-season ducks are quite wary, and even a small movement is enough to make them flare away from an area. These days, waterfowl coming down all the flyways are getting so much pressure from hunters that we need to take extra measures to avoid detection. During all the years that I hunted the Louisiana marshes, I never concealed my dog. But times have changed, fellow hunters.
There are quite a few manufacturers that make nice dog blinds but they are cumbersome and difficult in some cases to carry out to your blind. I suggest you consider taking a camo blanket instead. We could have used one to cover our dog’s tail action. That’s one of the things I learned this past season. Controlling your environment takes a bit of study, but the one thing you can certainly control is your dog.
Observing your dog’s habits in all areas will aid you in preparing for the next season. In order to make your dog a better companion and hunting dog it's important that you remember, and write down, what he did at home, at the motel, the clubhouse, and especially in the field.
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Grady Istre’s column appears in WON every other week and he can be reached art reibar.com