Field Work Finishing School

The puppy passed her latest test with flying colors

By Rob Breeding

As far as bird hunting goes, the weather hasn’t cooperated much this season. It’s either been too hot, or blizzards have blown in from the north. On the rare days with good conditions, I’ve had to work.

Yesterday, however, I was able to sneak out early enough to get in an afternoon hunt. The wind was once again out of the north, but at least it wasn’t carrying snow that had begun its descent from clouds over a Canadian province.

The wind was really just a stiff breeze. Doll got on scent early, though as is often the case, the roosters weren’t sitting for points. She managed to coax one into holding still long enough for her to show off a statuesque pose, but I failed to properly execute my role in our joint endeavor and it was gone.

The pup, Jade, was along. She’s in high school now, learning the ropes from the Big Dog. Canines grow up quite a bit faster than humans, of course, and by five months I figure she’s just about completed her elementary school education. Her early curriculum included learning to “go” outside, and which things she’s allowed to chew, and those she isn’t.

It’s not that she’s stopped chewing prohibited items, but she now knows enough to act guilty when caught.

Hunting pheasants with a young pointing dog poses a dilemma. Since the birds can be so tough for a dog to pin down, I routinely shoot pheasants that flush while Doll is still working — before she goes on point. Doll knows the game by now, but a young pup is another matter.

When Doll was just a little older than Jade is today, I passed up an easy shot on a pheasant she flushed. I watched her get a little birdy, then creep in and bust the bird. With puppies, the fear is that if you start shooting busted birds, the puppy will come to assume finding and flushing is their job, rather than finding and pointing.

I’m not worried this season. The main learning outcome I intend for this part of her education is to absorb the knowledge that hunting is fun. That, and when I tell her, “Find birds!” I mean real birds, not tweeties or rabbits.

We’re practicing “whoa.” She sort of gets it in the field, but in the house, when I’ve got a handful of Rice Chex, she’s solid as a rock. Next summer we’ll spend time training with the whoa barrel to firm up her skills. For now, she’s usually following Doll’s cue anyway, so when the Big Dog points, the puppy stops too.

She hasn’t yet figured out why doing what Doll does is important, but she will.

More and more, Jade is doing the things you expect from a bird dog. Instead of just following the Big Dog around, she’s putting her nose to the ground, working scent and following where it leads. Twice yesterday Jade flushed roosters. She was startled by the first, but the second time, I watched as she tracked the bird’s long flight across the open grassland.

Two months ago a killdeer could bob and weave 10 yards in front of her and she’d barely notice.

We got one bird, a young rooster that succumbed in typical fashion. In waist high cover, Doll went on point, then repointed, and finally, while she was still plowing grass with her nose, the bird flushed off to the side.

This time I held up my end and we had a pheasant for dinner. I let Jade play with it a bit.

She sniffed it and cocked her head. It was that thing she had smelled, the thing that smelled like everything, just a moment before it exploded out of the grass. This was that thing.

The puppy passed her latest test with flying colors.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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