A few minutes with a dog will improve chancesWORTHINGTON — So it’s the third weekend of the Minnesota pheasant season and the reports are generally very bad.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — So it’s the third weekend of the Minnesota pheasant season and the reports are generally very bad.
This comes as no surprise.
The weather has been awful and the conditions even worse.
Pheasants love a cornfield even better than the farmer who planted it does. They will leave the grass in the early morning (before sunrise in some cases) and will hang out feeding and resting in a cornfield until dusk, and even after dark some days.
What this means, with virtually all of the corn still standing in fields across the pheasant range, is that if you don’t have 40 guns in your hunting party you are going to harvest very few birds until this harvest position changes.
Large groups can walk large fields and drive birds to the ends and get some shooting. Small groups can walk 40 miles in a one-fourth section cornfield all day every day and never even see a bird.
They just keep backtracking and evading, much to the frustration of the dog and the hunter.
Now, I have never, nor am I likely ever, going to hunt in a really big group. My favorite size hunting group is two. Because most hunters are much like me, there have been very few birds harvested so far this season compared to seasons past.
This bodes well for hunting success in the months to come, as many pheasant hunters will give up the shotgun for the deer rifle or the bow in their deer hunting efforts. This leaves very few hunters pursuing an abnormally large percentage of the pheasant population that remains as a result of almost no bird harvest in the early weeks of the season. This makes hunting tough now, but makes for a very exciting balance of the season.
Any pheasant hunter will tell you that it only gets better the later in the season that you get.
This is even truer this year than in years past.
I had a call from a guy who I am hunting with one day next week, and he was describing the difficulty that he is having in keeping his hunting dog close. This is probably the most common dog issue that hunters in general struggle with. It matters little if the dog is young or old. This can be a big problem.
A dog will generally stay close as long as nothing very interesting is going on. This all changes when the dog gets a nose full of pheasant scent and then the dog is off to the races. A dog’s natural instinct is to pursue the bird. This is what they have done for thousands of years. The dog in question will need to understand that even if it really wants to forge ahead towards the bird, it must still stay in range of the gunner.
Many hunters will try to compensate for this by running with their loaded shotgun in an all out chase to stay close enough to the dog to remain in shooting range. Unfortunately, this method is used by far too many hunters.
There is nothing more dangerous than running with a loaded gun, and the end result is hardly ever satisfactory. I can think of nothing more frustrating than a really long walk in difficult cover where you know that the birds are running ahead of you. This walk can be as long a mile. As you near the end, where you know all of the action is going to take place, all of a sudden you see the skies fill with birds 100 yards ahead of you.
It only takes a second or two and you can see why.
Someone’s dog had managed to get way out of range and it is having the time of its life with no hunter within cannon range to harvest a bird after all of that effort. Those walks are referred to as boot leather walks. The only thing you can show for it is a little less boot leather. I really hate those kinds of walks.
The key to keeping a dog close is attention to the dog and the proper training technique. As odd as it may seem on the surface, a dog is never corrected for chasing a bird or being out of gun range. It is never corrected for chasing anything for that matter. Whether it is a car, a deer or a rabbit, the dog is only corrected for one of three known commands.
Those three commands are here, sit or heal. Everything that a dog needs to be corrected for can be converted into one of those know commands.
First, the dog needs to know and fully understand those three commands. I use a whistle to issue commands to my dogs almost all of the time when in the fields. One really loud single blast of the whistle means sit. A toot, toot, toot on the whistle means here. I train this drill in the yard at home all the time. Once the dog knows what these mean in the yard then you can cross over to these same whistle commands while hunting.
If a dog that I am hunting with starts to get to far away I will give them a toot, toot, toot on the whistle for here. If the dog does not comply then I will issue the whistle command a second time. It the dog still refuses to comply then I will give the whistle command again followed by a correction with an electronic collar, and then repeat the whistle command yet again.
The collar correction is not for being too far away or for chasing the bird, but is received for non-compliance of the known command “here.” It will most likely take a few more of this same type of correction until the dog realizes that no matter how bad it wants to do what it wants, it still needs to do what I want. Each time the correction is made, the intensity of the correction increases until the dog says “uncle.”
Uncle means that I comply with the human command. There is never a correction unless there has been a command given first and compliance is not realized. Command first, correction second, this is playing fair with dog.
In this process you will reach a point as the correction increases in order to gain compliance that the dog to come all the way back to your side and be unwilling to leave. This is called polishing your boots. This is a normal outcome in the training process and is to be expected. It will take some dogs just a few minutes to shake off the correction and they will be out hunting again. In some cases, the correction needed to get the dog to comply will be strong enough that it might take until the next hunting outing for the dog to feel confident enough to get going again. This training step can be done with young and old dogs alike as long as they both understand the whistle command “here.”
The few days this training takes is well worth the effort and the benefits will be dramatic over the life of the dog. I can say with pride that so far this season and all last season my boys never flushed a bird out of gun range.
The next step to insure success is to sew the lanyard of the whistle to the inside of your vest pocket. This will insure that you never get out of the truck and be a half-mile away before you realize that you forgot your whistle.
One really big side benefit of this method is that roosters do not seem as spooky towards the whistle as they are to a human voice command. This allows you to control your dog without spooking every rooster within a half mile with the loud voice “here” command.
Get a good whistle and spend a little time with your dog and this will go a very long way in capitalizing on what is surely going to be one of the best late pheasant seasons in many years.