15 Tips and Tactics for a Better-Hunting Bird Dog
We have rounded up the best field and training tips from some of the best gun dog trainers out there. These quick simple guidelines will help hunters navigate everything from basic training principles to coaching a flock-busting turkey dog.
Get a Retriever Ready for the Big Water
- Assess Your Dog
Not all retrievers are made for big water. “Your dog has to be very confident in his abilities and have a high prey drive, because what you’re asking for is far above and beyond normal duties.”
- Start Short, Then Go Long
Even if your dog has what it takes but you should start with short bumper retrieves in a big, but calm, lake. Then, increase retrieve distances using a dummy launcher or a buddy in a boat.
- Ride the Waves
Have the dog swim in big waves before the real hunt. Remember, his eyes will only be 4 inches above the surface, so the bumper will keep disappearing from his line of sight as he swims through the chop. Your dog needs to learn to stick with the retrieve even when he can not see the bumper.
Bring Up a Blood Tracker
- Read Up
Check out Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer, by John Jeanneney. This is essential reading for anyone who interested in tracking dogs. But also make sure that blood-tracking big game is legal in your area.
- Meet with a Local Pro
There’re tracking-dog clubs all across the country that offer training days and seminars. It is way easier to learn from a veteran trainer than to figure it out on your own.
- Save Blood and Deer Hair
You will need these from your next deer to get your dog keyed in to deer scent.
- Get Your Dog Working
Once your dog is a trained tracker, he will need real-world assignments each fall to improve his skill. Fifteen to twenty tracking jobs per season is ideal.
Hunt a High-Flying Pointer
- Range Him Right
You are the one who decide the range that your dog hunts, not the other way around. Usually, the faster you walk, the farther your dog will range. If you slow down, it is easier to bring him in closer.
- Whistle or Buzz
Sometimes you will want the dog to range way out, but you do not want to be yelling across the prairie for him to come back. So train your hard-charging dog to return on a whistle (which is easier for him to hear than hollering) or to the buzz of his e-collar.
Run Your Own Turkey Dog
- Know the Game
Fall turkey dogging bears little resemblance to spring gobbler hunts. In fall, turkeys are usually found in gobbler groups or flocks made up of multiple adult hens and poults. Dogs are used to disperse the flocking birds, which are keen to remain together. Once turkeys have been scattered, they’ll attempt to re-call and often gather at the precise point of the flock break. And this is where hunters should be waiting. By matching the tone and cadence of the first re-calling bird, you can often bring the entire flock in.
- Pick a Pooch
Boykin spaniels may be historically bred specifically for fall turkey hunting, modern breeding has given rise to specialized lines such as the late John Byrne’s Appalachian turkey dog, which is a mix of pointer, English setter, and Plott hound. These are by no means the only dogs capable of breaking up a fall flock of wild turkeys. Renegade flushers are regularly re-trained to hunt turkeys.
“Remember, a good turkey dog is basically a bass-ackwards bird dog,” Byrne said. “They range too far, chase birds clear out of your sight most of the time, and then bark when they do it.”
- Hop on the Turkey Train
Steve Hickoff has successfully trained two English setters to become fall flock busters. “The basic Particularity to look for in a potential turkey dog are a strong prey drive, the ability to run big, a desire to check back regularly, and the capability of smelling or tracking flocks,” says Hickoff. “Ideally, the dog should bark or be taught to bark on the flock break, which will helps you find that break site, where you need to set up. Finally, the dog needs to be trained to sit silently and calmly in a dog blind during the re-call.”
How to Start a Super Puppy
- Teach Basic Commands.
Sit, come, stay, heel. If your dog has not mastered these commands, he doesn’t ready to hunt.
- Simulate a Hunt.
You should expose the dog to the smells, sounds, and gear he will experience in the field. That means decoys, boats, dog blinds, gunfire, duck calls and waders.
- Introduce Fur or Feathers.
Your dog needs to have some experience with game before the hunt. Work a bird dog on pigeons or at least feathered bumpers.