I obtained a new hunting buddy last fall. After searching breeders I identified what I hoped would be an all-around family and hard hunting buddy; a hard task as you know if you have endeavored. I have a good buddy white lab. A love-hound in the house and serviceable dog in the field. Not the hardest hunter but not far from the most affectionate dog I have owned. Boo, my white lab is beloved by I and the family.
However, I longed to hunt with a lab who had unbridled enthusiasm for feathers and the hunt. Boo just wasn’t that dog. He retrieved and hunted as I asked but ….. he was ok with leaving a bird in the thick stuff or returning without a wounded diver if it alluded him for a while. On far retrieves he would yearn to get back to me prior to finding the bird. I hankered for a buddy who “needed” to get that bird as bad as I wanted that bird!
So, I acquired a new buddy born in late December. We played and trained. I focused on fun and the basics. By the end of August (8 months old) he was reliable in; “sit” (and stay), “come”, “no”, “fetch”, pile retrieves out to 200 yards in short grass and 80 yards in thick cover, “over” to 20 yards, “blind” command, and heal. He had an e-collar reinforcing only “stay” and “come”.
Here in Oregon we only an eight-day early goose season. Work and family life conspired to allow me only two days of early season exploits. I intentionally left the e-collar at home and gave myself a good talking to that these outings were only to help Chase enjoy the outing and get exposed to the hunting experience. He did all the stuff that will annoy anyone on a first hunt. He swam out to retrieve decoys and was bored in the boat and wanted to run the bank. I put up with it. I ended up shooting a couple of geese on each outing and he with a lot of encouragement swam out and looked at the dead birds and eventually brought it to shore. These birds were big; bigger then the frozen birds and dummies he has been exposed. He initially dragged the bird toward me a few feet. Although greatly praised for his effort subsequent birds he refused to even attempt a retrieve, (disappointing).
On two live wounded birds Chase swam out, inspected the birds, and then swam back, (again disappointing).
My first big hunt is always a trip to North Dakota. I again gave myself a good talking to; Chase was young and this was all new to him. He wouldn’t be a dependable partner for at least another season.
I was tempted to bring Boo with me and Chase to North Dakota. I decided not to because I wanted to only focus on Chase learning hunting. Chace at 9 months of age has a much higher potential then my four-year-old Boo.
My expectations for our first big hunting trip, like in most areas of my life, were still unreasonable. I wanted him to impress me and my brother who would be with me on this trip.
My plan was to get to North Dakota four days prior to my brother so I could spend some time hunting with Chase and ONLY focusing on his experience and continued training.
Unfortunately, my “Duck Truck”, a 2008 F250 Diesel threw a rod in Butte Montana in route to North Dakota. This delayed my arrival in North Dakota by one full day as I secured a new vehicle. When I arrived, I scouted and then made a plan to hunt over a pothole to give Chase his first duck hunting experience.
The first thing on our first morning some blue wing teal responded to some calling from my Northern Custom Calls double reed and I dropped two before they could escape. One hit the water dead as a rock and the other swam in circles. Chase charged the water and took the dead bird to the shore, dropped it, and smelled it. I got to him, and after loving him up for the half retrieve, lined him up for the wounded bird.
In retrospect I should have shot the teal again. But I thought it would be good for Chase to go get this cripple. It would have been. Unfortunately, Chase went out and swam around the bird, provided an escort toward deeper water and despite my encouragement to the contrary, returned without out a feather. Luckily the pothole wasn’t so big and I got to the other side and completed my own retrieve while Chase observed. We played fetch with the dispatched bird a few times and returned to our decoy set. A couple more dead ducks retrieved to the bank and a couple of refusals on cripples rounded out the hunt.
We did a few pile retrieves on the dead ducks on the ground in an attempt to improve Chase’s comfort level with the birds.
That afternoon, we walked up three Sharp-tail Grouse. First bird down Chase ran with enthusiasm and retrieved the bird with pride. Feeling great watching his reaction I was again full of unearned optimism. The next bird down was a live and Chase brought it back half-way and dropped it to watch it scurry off. The next bird was bloody. Chase started the retrieve and then dropped the bird. Despite encouragement he refused to pick the bird up. I played a new game of toss and refuse for a few minutes and then decided to let chase absorb the experience at his own pace.
Now let me say this; I am sensitive to the ideal that every hunting experience should be positive for a pup and I didn’t want to cause too much stress. However, it is difficult NOT to start corrections at this point. The best decision I may have made was to not have the e-collar on him.
The next day we hunted over water again. Today he delivered to me the dead birds and after an initial refusal on a live bird, later brought to me two crippled ducks; improvement.
Again, after the hunt we went sharp-tail hunting. Chase showed lots of enthusiasm for hunting the bushes but upon knocking down a bird he refused to pick it up. It was bloody. I decide something had to be done. I set Chase and opened his mouth by pushing his lip over his tooth and pushing the bird into his mouth. As he opened his mouth to avoid the lip pain. I let go of his lip pressure and petted him and praised him while not allowing him to spit the bird out. When he relaxed and held the bird I continued the praise and then removed the bird. We did this a few times and then continued the hunt.
That evening I did some pile work with some of the birds prior to cleaning them. He picked up all the birds EXCEPT the Sharp-tail Grouse used above. Again, I forced the hold and praised when he relaxed and held the bird. We ended our little training season with some fun fetches of a plastic dummy.
The following morning, we field hunted and I put the e-collar on him. He was given a couple of corrections when not staying in the blind. We shot two ducks with both hitting the dirt dead as disco. Chase retrieved both to hand.
The next morning my brother arrived. This would add a little more expectation to the hunt. First thing I did was reinforce to my brother that I was focusing on Chase’s experience. We field hunted and knocked down some ducks. Chase retrieved four consecutive before refusing a bloody gadwall that landed outside the decoy spread. I brought Chase back and lined him up a sent him on the retrieve. He went directly over to the bloody duck, sniffed it, and sit next to it. I went over and did the force hold exercise. I then took him away and lined him up for another retrieve of this bird. He refused and I repeated the forced hold. I then brought Chace back to resend on a line retrieve on this bird. Now we had new birds decoying and my brother want to work them but I retorted that Chase needed this now. The sent Chase on the line retrieve and low and behold he picked it up and brought it back! Joy and celebration followed and Chase jumped around with pride at his accomplishment.
We shot the rest of our ducks that morning and Chase retrieved each including a bloody bird with significant encouragement but no correction needed.
That afternoon we again walked for Sharp-tail and when we finally flushed one and dropped it Chase retrieved it like a pro.
We spent two days hunting pheasants. Chase was excited as he hunted these new birds and after muffing the first knocked down runner he figured it out. He was now displaying some aggression on these live birds; great to see!
Each day out chase retrieved better than the day before. By the end of our 14-day hunt he retrieved ducks alive or dead, bloody or clean. He enthusiastically and confidently retrieved birds that he refused or hesitated with just days again. Upon commanded to “heal”, “blind”, or when sent on lines he did so with eagerness and zest.
We still have improvement to be gained. I, and more importantly Chase (I believe), are confident of the mastering of new skills.
Upon returning home I took stock of what we needed to focus on now.
1. Hunting dead; finding downed birds in thick cover.
3. Increasing ability to hold a line in thick cover.
4. Lengthening over commands.
5. Holding until commanded to “Drop”.
6. Hunting with other dogs; honoring retrieves.
We will develop a plan to hardwire the above skills so that by next summer Chase WILL be Mr. Reliable! Dependability is the only standard that matters while on the hunt!
Until I see you in the field, be SAFE, be good, and BE LUCKY!
Chase's 1st Hunt~Learning the Game
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