by: Howard Nichol, Brentwood, TN
In our first two articles we covered the methods necessary to train our Boykins to Quarter and be Steady to Wing and Shot. We should how have a spaniel that covers the ground in front of us, staying within gun range and is steady at the flush of a bird when contact is made.
The problem is that the Pheasant and to a lesser degree the Chukar don't always just sit there waiting to be flushed. They run and many times run fast and far ahead of the pursuing dog. So unless we are hunting with a group where blocking shooters are placed at the end of a field while others, with or without dogs, walk and push the birds toward them, our birds get away or flush out of gun range.
This is where the well trained flushing dog comes into his own. The most wonderful fact here is that we don't have to train him to trail that running bird. His nose of 400 times the sensitivity of ours tells him how. There is something absolutely beautiful about watching a dog pick up the track of a running bird, exploding with excitement, heading out in the correct direction, crisscrossing the trail, head up to air scent then bead back down to the ground. As he is moving, he is constantly working those fantastic nostrils to the soft crackling sound of air being pulled and pushed through as fast as possible. Many times he will overrun and lose the scent for a minute, only to back track and pick it up again.
While he is doing the work, it is our job as the hunter to go with him. He is in charge now and will close in on that bird for the flush. We must now put ourselves in range for the shot. However, since many times the bird will run fast and too far, we must teach our Boykin to stop on a running bird and wait for us to catch up. We may have to do this more than once on the same bird. But if dog and hunter work as a team, the result will eventually be a flush within shooting range.
As a non-slip retriever, our Boykin knows the meaning of the single blast "sit" whistle. You use it for the same reason here. Your dog does not have to turn and look at you when he sits but otherwise it is the same. A word of caution here, do the training described below only after your dog has flushed and retrieved enough pheasants to assure you that he is driven to go after those birds even when live and kicking. It also would be a good idea to use a hen pheasant until you are sure he takes no prisoners when retrieving those birds.
First, you need a large open field with low cover but still high enough to hide a pheasant from the dog. It also needs to be thin enough for you to see your dog and pheasant at all times and not afford the pheasant any thick cover to set-up and hide in (i.e. we want the bird to keep moving, not tuck in deep cover and hide). On a day with good scenting conditions, get a game farm pheasant and tape both wings down so it can not fly (I also tie a strip of orange surveyors tape on it's tail to aid my visibility). Set out the bird and when it has walked off, get out your Boykin and put a long check cord on him (at least 30 yards).
Put him on the trail and let him go to work. From then on it is just a matter of stopping him on the whistle, using the check cord for compliance. Each time you stop him, walk up closer and release him to continue the chase. Finish by letting him close in on the bird and trap it.
If you have electronic collar conditioned your dog and use the collar for retriever training, especially the "sit" command, you could use it here instead of the check cord. Just be sure you use it only in this training and under these controlled conditions when the dog is still quite a distance from the bird. Remember back in quartering training we worked hard developing the Bold flush by letting our Boykin bust in on clipped wing birds and trapping them. If we use electricity in the hunting field to stop the near-out-of-range dog trailing a runner or wounded runner, we are asking for trouble. Not able to see the bird, if we zap our dog just as he is closing in for the flush (unknown to us), we have just told him to back off when he should be charging forward.
It is far better to miss a shot because of an out of range flush than to mess up the dog's drive to get at that bird. With time your hunting buddy will learn that the stop and wait command is only a momentary delay. Hunting ground running upland birds with a well-trained flushing dog is, to me, the ultimate in hunter and hunting dog teamwork. He is using his fantastic nose and genetics to scent, trail, locate and flush those elusive birds for you. And just because he loves you so much, he is staying close so you can sort-of come along for the exciting ride. Your job, of course, is to give him something to retrieve.
You can reach Howard Nichol by e-mail at:
Spaniels in the Field Periodical dedicated to spaniels. Great articles on training
your dogs to flush.
To be a part of the Boykin Spaniel pages, contact Pam Kadlec:
Upland hunting - quartering
Upland hunting - flushing
Pam's Boykin Home Page