Recipe by Roxy Wilson, owner of Wildrose Roxy, Wildrose Cora and Wildrose Suzy
Preparing the Goose Harvest from the Land of the Dinosaurs
In December 2020, the Wilson pack had a wonderful opportunity to hunt with Wyobraska Waterfowl along the North Platte river in the surrounds of Torrington, Wyoming. We hunted Canada geese in the mornings and ducks, mostly mallards, in the afternoon. Cora, Suzy and Roxy all had spectacular picks. In the times between birds, I asked each guide his favorite way to prepare goose breasts. The following recipe was inspired by these conversations.
2-4 goose breasts (any variety works)
Apple cider to cover
4-8 strips bacon
Thaw breasts and rinse well, removing any residual shot and feathers. [At this point you can brine the meat for a few hours. It may make the finished product even better.] Pat breasts dry with paper towels. Rub each breast with oil (I use good olive oil) and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Wrap each breast with two strips of bacon; secure bacon with tooth picks for a neater pot. Place breasts in a slow cooker. Cover completely with apple cider (not juice). Cook on high for 4-5 hours. Remove breasts from liquid. Carefully remove bacon from breasts and cooking liquid. Place soft bacon on a foil-lined pan and bake for 5-8 minutes at 400 degrees. Watch closely to make sure the bacon doesn’t burn. Remove bacon to a cutting board and chop finely. Using two forks, shred the cooked goose breasts. Add the chopped bacon and just enough prepared barbeque sauce to moisten the shredded meat. (I used a mixture of Sticky Fingers and Sweet Baby Rays, but any of your favorites will work.) The barbeque sauce magically eliminates any lingering gaminess.
To serve, use a firm bread or roll such as Ciabatta. Toast bread, butter, and heap barbeque mixture on top. Cover with sliced Swiss cheese (or your favorite) and melt briefly in the microwave. I served the open-faced sandwiches with quinoa salad, but cole slaw and potato salad also work. Enjoy.
Wildrose International is proud to announce the launch of Wildrose Midwest. Al Klotsche and Wildrose International are in the process of creating another regional facility to support Wildrose clients across the Midwest.
Al has recently secured a partnership with Kohler Company’s River Wildlife – a private hunting, fishing and sportsman’s club. Located 45 minutes north of Milwaukee and 2 1/2 hours north of Chicago, River Wildlife offers over 600 acres of ponds, rivers, hunt fields, kayaking, canoeing, hiking trails, archery, horseback riding, trap shooting, 5-Stand shooting as well as 5-star dining in a relaxed and secluded log cabin in the woods. Wildrose clients who come for training will be able to enjoy full access to the property and all of its amenities.
Adjacent to River Wildlife, Kohler has multiple lodging options from the Inn at Woodlaketo the exclusive, 5-star American Club Resort available to our visitors and clients.
This summer and fall, Wildrose Midwest will be hosting two “Training The Wildrose Way” Workshops, seven “Adventure Dog” Workshops and four Training Expositions in conjunction with the 2021 Ryder Cup which is being hosted by Kohler.
Al has been training for years with Associate Trainer Craig Korff who lives very close to the River Wildlife property. Craig’s son, Chris, who also lives locally, has been training Wildrose Dogs for years and will be training with Wildrose Midwest.
Anyone interested in attending the Workshops or visiting Wildrose Midwest and River Wildlife should contact Al Klotsche at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News stories from our pandemic year have highlighted life-saving dogs at work in two ways. One new scent-specific work is detecting Covid-19—especially in asymptomatic people. Dogs trained for Covid-19-specific scenting are especially effective at checking travelers at airports and railway stations, saving authorities time and money for testing.
This article focuses on a second form of dogs’ work—avalanche search and rescue (SAR). While it has been practiced for years, SAR became more newsworthy this year because of the significantly increased number of avalanche deaths—36—in the American west during the 2020-2021 skiing season.
Two dogs’ stories connect avalanche search and rescue (SAR) with the Wildrose training method. The first story—about Tuka—comes from Jason O’Neill, Lead Advisor of the Teton County Idaho Search and Rescue volunteers. Last December, Jason posted on our training group page a picture of loading dogs on a medical helicopter. He added this note of tribute: “Dogs trained ‘the Wildrose way’ for search and rescue work. Steadiness matters, thanks to Mike Stewart. Staying safe in the Tetons with professional Dogs.”
Jason’s post prompted a number of responses, including Mike Stewart’s return tribute: “Outstanding. Your team provides a vital service in the mountains….The Nose Knows.” Jason responded with an explanatory comment: “It work[s] well. We teach your techniques in our American Avalanche Institute Winter K9 course and have had great results increasing drive and keeping the dog steady. These dogs work all over the country saving lives.”
Another response to Jason’s post came from Elizabeth Ward: “My husband Patrick Ward is a backcountry patroller in Tahoe. Our 9 month old pup is currently in training at WR Oxford, and our hope is next season we can put him through this course!” As you will see later in this article, Elizabeth’s comment relates to our second story about SAR and the Wildrose training method.
Jason O’Neill’s December post was not his first on our training group page. In fact, he has made a half dozen, including a picture of Tuka’s water retrieve in flooded timber. Moreover, Jason has responded to numerous others’ posts.
Back on the topic of SAR and the Wildrose Way, two other of Jason O’Neil’s posts on our training page are noteworthy.
First, on October 30, 2018, Jason posted a lengthy comment with a picture and illustrations from a search and rescue training activity with his dog Tuka. Here’s Jason’s comment: “I’m posting this here as a testament to Mike Stewart and Training The Wildrose Way. I do not have a wild rose dog. But Tuka has been trained the wild rose way for both birds and search and rescue. She is my 3rd SAR K9 and last Saturday we had the best search of my eighteen-year career even though we did not find our missing subject (she was not in the search area) had she been I am 100% sure we’d have found her. Tuka searched (out front hunting for scent) for 4 hours! It was a middle of the night call and we we’re the only k9 immediately available. She did the work of at least 20 searchers. We searched autos, buildings, pasture, 25′ high haystacks, creeks, ponds, sage brush, waist high grass field, heavy timber and brush cut willows in the dark and 20*F, clear skies and calm to no wind. I credit her ability to work in all of these different areas to training the wild rose way. Imprinting the search habit early with strong foundation work the way Roy Phyllis Fawcett Jay Pugh and the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association taught me, and training to the wild rose 5×5 rule to form a habit. Thanks Mike!”
Again, Jason’s post garnered a number of appreciative responses from our trainers and pack members. A final post, on February 6, features a video of Tuka at work: Here is Jason’s accompanying note: “TCISAR K9 Tuka doing basic avalanche ‘yard work.’ This dog has trained the Wildrose way since day one and is high drive and professionally steady.
This video and comment naturally produced a number of responses, applauding Tuka’s work.
The second story in this article comes from Patrick Ward, a resident of Sausalito, CA, and a member of Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol. Here’s how Patrick relates the story of WR Rory:
Rory is the third WR dog my family has had. My parents’ dog, WR Tanner, was the inspiration to get another Wildrose dog. Tanner is 11 now and has been a great companion, although he doesn’t feel that the rules apply to him anymore.
My wife, Elizabeth, and I decided to go ahead and get a puppy in early 2019, specifically a Fox Red, like Tanner. We got a call from Wildrose Kennels in March of 2020 that our number was up. We were very sad that we didn’t get to actually go to puppy picking in Oxford as COVID had locked everything down. Danielle at Wildrose sent us a bunch of videos and photos that we obsessed over before picking Rory. Elizabeth wanted a “chill” dog. Rory looked to be chill and reserved. That did not turn out to be the case. He is shy and sweet, but definitely not “chill.”
We arranged to get Rory in Dallas as travel to Mississippi was nearly impossible at that point. I flew to Dallas where I was handed Rory at the airport and I immediately flew home to San Francisco. I’ll always remember that flight. It was the middle of the pandemic, everyone was masked, and I had a three-month-old puppy. He quickly showed his true colors as an intelligent, willful, and dominant dog, much more so than Tanner. We realized that a lot of work would need to go into his training so he could reach his full potential. We are grateful to Wildrose Trainer Will Zizman and Wildrose for doing six months of foundational work with Rory, which he so desperately needed.
Our goal with Rory is for him to be an effective hunting dog and a certified avalanche rescue dog. I view avalanche work as a continuation of his training as a hunting dog. We also work a lot on steadiness. Rory needs to be capable of keeping calm in high intensity situations. But he does not lack enthusiasm for working, so we imagine he’ll embrace all of his jobs, present and future, with gusto.
Elizabeth and I are very active. We live in Sausalito, which is on the coast north of San Francisco and about four hours away from the mountains. We run and hike all across California and Nevada during the summer. We are also both avid skiers. Our first trip as a couple was to Mammoth Mountain to catch the end of the ski season in July. I’m on the Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol, an all-volunteer ski patrol and Search and Rescue organization. Elizabeth works in emergency management as a professional. She is a consultant for major companies and government entities and volunteers as a CERT trainer for our county.
We hike, run, hunt ducks, boat, and ski. We started hiking with Rory before he went back to Wildrose for training. We’ve had him back home since March, which has given him plenty of time to start going on runs with us. We’ve had him out on the snow a few times, which has been extremely exciting for him. We are working on steadiness in all environments, which is a challenge.
My interest in avalanche SAR began when I joined the Diamond Peak Ski Patrol in 2015 in Colorado, before I moved back to California. Diamond Peak is also a backcountry patrol. Avalanche rescue and SAR work is a foundational skill for winter emergency responders in mountainous terrain. But avalanche dogs have not traditionally been a part of the backcountry patrols — it’s more of a thing you see at the resorts. I’d like to see that change because dogs can be highly effective at avalanche rescue. They get the job done a lot faster than humans with beacons — the only delay is getting the dog to the scene fast enough to effect a rescue rather than a recovery.
As we continue Rory’s training, Elizabeth and I are working hard on steadiness, which given his enthusiasm is his biggest challenge. A lot of our training involves learning new environments and establishing a comfort level for him. We take every opportunity to show Rory something new that he might encounter in the field. We have checked out fire trucks, motorcycles, and police cars, worked on steadiness in crowds, and done longer retrieves on the snow. Competency in the field is a big issue, especially on snow. We work and play in uncontrolled, wild environments so Rory needs to be attentive and in control to a degree that other dogs might not.
I’m gradually transitioning more of Rory’s retrieves to buried or hidden objects. We work a lot with articles of clothing rather than just bumpers. Rory also gets regular work on foundational hunting skills as well.
We also try to make sure that Rory is exposed to his and our equipment. Learning to heel on skis is tough. He needs to stay a few feet from skis for safety’s sake. He is not a fan of booties, which he’ll need to get over. We also need to build steadiness on the snow. Most dogs love backcountry skiing. For many, it is pure playtime. It needs to be more work for Rory. To that end, the last few times we had him out this ski season we had him retrieve articles of clothing (especially hats). His job was to make sure that he went back for anything of ours that was “lost.”
I’ll be taking Rory to Jackson Hole next winter to do four days of avalanche dog training. I’m in contact with other local search and rescue dog trainers to make sure we are building to the correct skillset. We are working for Rory to become a SAR team member.
All of us in the Wildrose pack applaud the important work that Jason O’Neill and Patrick and Elizabeth Ward are doing. We wish them well as they train lifesaving dogs.
By Mike Stewart President of Wildrose International
Delivery day for a dog’s graduation from a Wildrose training program is always special. The reunion with their family is highly anticipated by the client, obviously, but the event can be a bittersweet moment for the trainer who has nurtured a bonding relationship with the student which will be missed but they also wish the best for the dog’s future success exceeding the clients’ expectations.
Our hopes are for an enjoyable transition for the dog from the structured life of the training facility back into the home with the family and for excellent field performance for their handler. Detailed instruction is always provided on the day of graduation to include animal care, establishing a home-life structure and appropriate field training exercises that the dog has mastered. Trainers also attempt to explain what behaviors and skills can be reasonably expected from their dog: social behaviors, appropriate training exercises and level of hunting performance given the dog’s maturity, age, experience and training exposure… in other words, to have reasonable expectations for behaviors and skills that are developmentally appropriate.
For the dog, going home does not mean “school is out” and it’s back to the carefree, boundaryless life of adolescents. Trainers are always concerned that skills entrenched through consistent repetition will erode once the student returns to the familiarity of the home, yard and too often, the inconsistent influences of family members.
The following is a summary of important considerations (dos and don’ts) to help in this transition without compromise to behavioral standards and the field abilities that have been learned. These suggestions are equally applicable to an older dog that is to be introduced to their new family for the first time after a formal training experience (i.e. started or finished dog).
Place gone bad– The dog’s unwillingness to stay on place (cushioned bed, platform, mat) or one that attempts to establish free roam of the home are not uncommon challenges we hear about from clients shortly after the dog departs training. The dog tests leadership and the boundaries of their limitations by slowly moving further from their established place. The dog’s thoughts: “Will my pack remain consistent?” “Now back in familiar territory, l’ll test the limits.”
The first challenges may be subtle, just a few steps off place. Without correcting the dog’s disobedience this infraction will become more frequent and bolder, repeatedly challenging the pack’s leadership and determination.
Be prompt by immediately returning the dog to place with a scolding communicating displeasure. Repeat as necessary.
If the dog leaves place and approaches anyone, do not reward this behavior with affection. Guests must be instructed. To do so they reward the undesirable behavior of leaving place.
Never call the dog to you off place from a distance. Always go to the dog, reward the desirable behavior with “good place” and instruct the dog on command to leave (“heel”, “out”, “let’s go,” etc).
If the dog, in an expression of affection, vacates place on your arrival after an absence, although I am sure you will be touched by the gesture, do not be tempted to reward their delight with affectionate. To do so reinforces a misbehavior. Rather, correct the dog with a “No, place” and return the dog to their bed. Repeat the re-entry, then go to the dog on place and celebrate success.
In a home, your dog may have several places in different locations to remain in close proximity to people, but they do not get free roam of the home. Place is a basic behavior important for any sporting dog that intends to travel, be comfortable at the lodge, office, campsite or remain steady in the blind on a hunt. Place is an essential behavior that one can ill afford to compromise.
Recalling from Stay – Recalling your dog to you from remote sit can foster problems if overutilized. There are occasions when a dog, during a training exercise, must be left remote then recalled such as pull/push or pull/cast. These are acceptable as long as the practice is not overdone. Otherwise, the “sit” command most of the time and always with the “stay” command are fixed… do not call the dog to you frequently or you will develop a CIT (creeper in training).
Sit is short-term where recall for a purpose may occasionally occur. For the most part, return to the dog, reward and release on command. No creeping allowed.
Stay is a permanent command. The dog is never to be recalled. If the dog chooses to relax and lie down at stay, all the better. Always return to the dog left on place with the “stay” command. Steadiness matters.
Indiscriminate throwing of objects for retrieving – Throwing multiple retrieves for an enthusiastic retriever is great fun and considered by some as a solution for exercise. Big mistake if steadiness and patience are important in your dog’s behavior.
Retrieves are one of the Wildrose Way training motivators. They are rewards that must be earned. With indiscriminate throwing, the dog gets rewarded for impatience, breaking, overexcitement, exactly the type of behavior we do not want on the hunt or on a pleasant hike.
For training and exercise, use memories. These retrieves involve delays between the placement of the objects and the rewarding retrieve. Memories reinforce patience and focused quiet behavior before the reward occurs.
Please stop repeatedly throwing meaningless retrieves for your dog whether on land or water.
Playing with other Dogs – Throughout basic training, dogs are conditioned to be calm and patient around the activities of other dogs. These behaviors take time to entrench but will be invaluable during community outings, on trail or honoring other dogs on the hunt. If a dog repeatedly enjoys opportunities to play with other dogs (chase, free running/swimming, scuffle), steadiness erodes quickly. One can then expect to see the same reaction when the dog encounters other canines in the field or in public. There is no on/off switch to behavioral standards. If a patient, steady, controllable dog is the desirable, then consistency is imperative.
A few more reminders from our Wildrose trainers that came from conversation with clients:
Will Zizmann, Trainer, Wildrose Mississippi
“Petting the dog when the dog leaves place.” When a dog voluntarily leaves place and approaches someone seeking their attention or affection, that is disregarding a command. Then, if the person responds with affection, that has unintentional consequences… the dog is rewarded for misbehavior, so the action is likely to be repeated.”
Alex Callahand, Health Care Specialist, Wildrose Mississippi
“When backgrounding a pup during the critical time period for development, 8 weeks to 6 months, the youngster is allowed free roam of the home and similarly when the dog returns home from training, the practice continues.” Dogs do not get free roam of the families’ home as territorial attitudes may develop into dysfunctional behaviors. Mischief may become a problem. Accidents can occur. The family pack structure is not maintained. Standards for boundaries and place must be established early and maintained throughout life.”
Danielle Drewrey, Office Manager/Adventure Dog Trainer, Wildrose Mississippi
“If a dog becomes uncertain or nervous during a thunderstorm, when encountering a new person or an unfamiliar situation, handlers should not unintentionally reinforce the fearful reaction of the dog by petting or coddling. Doing so could reinforce the uncertainty by rewarding the fearful behavior thereby further entrenching the dog’s fearful reaction. Redirect their concern by being a bold, pack leader.” Show no concern while redirecting the dog’s attention away from the circumstance by requiring the dog to perform a behavior that refocuses their attention: heelwork, power walk, climbing stairs, fun retrieves, hunt a hidden object, etc.
“Taking a dog to a public place with distractions before reestablishing a relationship of leadership and earning the dog’s respect.” The same may be said for taking the dog on a hunt too quickly after delivery before appropriate relationships and handling communication are achieved. Confidence and respect for the handler should be well established before venturing out on the hunt or visiting a public place.
“When the dog returns home from training, keep everything in the home with family and visitors very structured with consistent routines during the first couple of months so boundaries are established and expectations for behaviors are understood. Discipline and consistency on the front end will minimize the chances of problems which will require efforts to rectify later on.”
Erin Davis, Trainer, Wildrose Mississippi
“Generally, there will be a 30-day period of adjustment when your dog returns home from training, back in familiar territory. The dog may not understand the new rules of conduct and new expectations. Some may test the boundaries until they realize the leader’s determination for compliance and the consistent stability of the “pack” family” is achieved.”
Tom Smith, Owner, Wildrose Mississippi
“Don’t expose young dogs under 15 months of age to excessive, high-impact exercises or activities as joints and skeletal structure are still developing.” Also, be mindful of the effects of heat when working the dog in hot weather.”
Guy Billups, Owner, Wildrose Texas
“One common concern clients experience: ‘My dog was heeling great in training and started out well with me, but now is back to pulling on the lead or getting distracted when attempting off lead heel.’ Usually this has one of two causes. Typically, this can develop after a few weeks in the home where the consistency of training and the desirable behaviors are not maintained by the handlers and begin to fade.
Make sure to keep a loose lead. Many handlers tend to tense up and try to hold their dog in position with the lead. Any pressure here will cause the pup to lean into and feel for the lead while heeling. The lead should have a bit of slack and be slightly loose so the dog does not feel pressure and the lead can be popped for a quick, short correction, should the dog get distracted or out of position.
Too much off-lead heel. Early on, many people allow off lead heel too frequently. Off-lead heel is the behavior we are working toward but should only be practiced occasionally and when appropriate with minimal distractions. During training, the lead should be on the dog while working at heel.”
Steven Lucius, Owner, Wildrose Carolina
“Boredom in repetitious training activities can results in the dog’s disinterests in overly familiar drills, locations and routines. The intelligent dog then finds other opportunities of amusement. Result: Non retrieves, free running, unsteadiness, playing with the bumper, free swimming, ignoring commands, sniffing the ground. All sorts of distractions, inattention, and disobedience may occur when a dog becomes bored.” Some clients have difficulties at not switching training locations, time of day for training, running new exercises or providing more engaging, interesting challenges for the dog which can result in the intelligent dog becoming bored and finding other amusement.”
Final few notes after a dog returns home:
1. Don’t allow the dog to become overweight.
2. Develop exercise routines that provide physical conditioning (strength and agility) that are not counterproductive – free running, indiscriminately throwing things, playing at the park with other dogs, etc.
3. Keep field and hunting expectations reasonable for your rookie’s first hunting experiences. Nothing is learned through failure.
The Wildrose training objective is to deliver a retriever that becomes a complement to a family’s sporting lifestyle. As the dog returns home to the family, the new handlers become important partners in the process of adjustment for the dog’s journey to success.
In 2017 Field Trial Winner Silversnipe Reformer, “Kim,” left her life as a momma dog behind, and began her adventure as Nathan’s best friend.
She taught him so many things. She taught him that the best kind of friends have four legs. She taught him that the best kind of friends listen more than they speak. She taught him to be a better reader, when he wasn’t confident enough to read aloud to anyone else. She was with him on his first dove hunt when he was too little to even cock his own BB gun. She retrieved his first pigeon on the back fields at Wildrose. She retrieved his first dove in the fields behind his great grandfather’s home. She accompanied him on endless hikes and sat faithfully by his side as he reeled in fish after fish. She taught him responsibility as he was truly the one to make sure all of her needs were met. But, yesterday, our best girl had one more lesson to teach him. She taught him to say goodbye.
Oh, sweet Kim. There aren’t enough words to thank you for being my boy’s best friend. I only wish I could have given you both more time, and more memories.
I’m amazed at how many memories and adventures these two managed to pack into the years she was with us. They truly lived every day to the fullest.
As Nathan said as we drove home from the vet yesterday: ” I guess it’s a good thing it’s so hard to say goodbye. It means I really did love her, that much…..I’m sure I’ll have more friends and more dogs, but I’ll never have another one like Kim.”
By Alan Newton, Associate Trainer, Wildrose Carolinas
Last fall while training for hunting season, two concurrent events proved to be valuable learning experiences when training the more reserved Wildrose dog.
Harley (Archer x Kate) is an excellent Wildrose black female. She quietly gets the job done, while her calm nature often leads one to forget she is in the blind.
In September, following one month of hold conditioning at the age of 7 months, Harley began to drop the bumper when presenting the retrieve. This behavior now occurring at 10 months of age did not rest well with her handler.
That same month, I completed Mike’s Train the Trainer course at Wildrose Carolinas. First, I learned there was an issue with the relationship I had with Harley (which I certainly shuttered to hear). The quadrant where many problems find residence (relationship) was where I found myself. Second, I witnessed Mike employ animation tactics with several dogs during the course, including Harley, and quickly realized the value of animated reward in achieving training success.
Upon course completion, Harley and I headed home to the hold table. Once there, I made an intentional effort to correct Harley’s hold, but more importantly, to grow our relationship and build trust. I am pleased to share we experienced a high level of success. I learned hold conditioning is more about building your relationship with your dog than holding a dowel, bumper, or bird (although that too is a desired and important outcome).
Returning to retrieving following a second month of hold, I quickly employed animation when communicating with my dog. Lining Harley for a retrieve was preceded by an enthusiastic, “Let’s get this bird, dead bird,” followed by the release. I could visibly see the excitement building in Harley prior to her release. Rather than a simple “good” following a retrieve, I offered something more along the lines of, “That’s a good Harley dog, I like that!” followed by returning the bumper to her allowing Harley additional time to hold the “bird” and share in the retrieving experience. Doing so increased Harley’s desire to please and prey drive, eliminated some minor popping episodes, and solidified our relationship. While animation is not characteristic of my personality, I witnessed the positive results animation brings to training, and subsequently moved out of my comfort zone in an effort to deepen the relationship I share with Harley. In short, it worked!
Focusing on relationship building with your Wildrose companion while employing animation in rewarding success and a positive attitude during training may well prove to be instrumental tools for your bag of tricks!
Many dog lovers reside with both cats and dogs. We, at Wildrose, do as well. For instance, the Oxford facility has two felines and Wildrose Carolinas has one. We consider these kennel cats a value to our training programs. The on-premises cats have the personality and tolerance to discipline young dogs in the appropriate behaviors around cats they may encounter in the home or outdoors. The families that have both dogs and cats in the home appreciate this bit of desensitization.
In realizing that many of our subscribers do enjoy a cat’s company, the topic of human allergies to cats may arise. I, for one, can detect an unseen cat in a home within 30 minutes due to my allergic reaction… sneezing.
Purina Pro Plan may have a solution for this uncomfortable situation found in their new cat food, Purina Pro Plan LiveClear. Cat lovers, take note.
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A gloomy fog often envelopes the attitudes of the active wingshooting enthusiast with a sporting dog at the end of hunting season whether waterfowling or the final flush of upland birds. It is viewed as a time of closure with distant months to the next opportunity to take our gundogs back to the field and marshes.
But wait… nothing could be more incorrect. It’s not the end of season for the sporting dog enthusiasts… it’s preseason for the 2021 openings. It’s how you look at it… is the glass half-empty or half-full? It’s all a perspective.
For the Gentleman’s Gundog, the destination wingshooting companion, it is pre-game and there is no time to waste.
Refining skills that were perhaps compromised during the hunt
Correcting problems identified during the season
Keeping the dog active both mentally and physically with outside adventures
Perhaps developing new skills to become a dog of duality. The waterfowl retriever learns to quarter for upland birds.
Teaching the flushing retriever to work simultaneously with active pointing gundogs, becoming a quail “strike” dog
Experimenting with new activities like shed (antler) hunting. Spring is the season.
Broadening talents: training the duck dog to perform well in a goose-hunting situation with huge spreads of decoys while tucked in a dog hide or remaining under a gilley-cover motionless.
As you see, for gundogs it is not a time of closure after hunting season, it’s a beginning. Actually, we should be preparing for the fast-approaching future.
Balance in Training – Three Pre-season Refinement Exercises
Scenario I – Long Recovery past short falls.
Basically, this is a long bird/short bird situation commonly seen in waterfowling. The long bird down is likely at risk of being lost, but it is the short falls that hold our retriever’s attention.
Step 1: Set up an unseen pick: a scented bumper or cold game placed at a location that is new to the dog on land or water. This setup is for the experienced, finished retriever. If we have a rookie lacking handling experience, set this bird up as a Time-Delayed Memory (TDM) placed as a wide circle memory or even as a trailing memory.
Step 2: We are ready to make our long bird pick. I prefer to have a bit of cover or obstacles between the dog and the distant bird to offer a bit of challenge. A helper throws two or three scattered, short marks in front of the dog along the route to the long bird. These represent the short birds down and they will be denials. (Later the handler will walk out and pick up the scatter.)
Step 3: Line the dog directly for the unseens (long bird) and be prepared if the retriever stops on the shorter falls. The dog may figure the situation out quickly and continue on but less experienced retrievers may require handling.
Scenario II – Handling off Scent
Hopefully, you have retained a few birds taken during the season and frozen them for training. This tip requires cold game. First, thaw the bird and make sure it is dry. This lesson is to ensure our dogs will handle off a mark where a bird has fallen but does not remain in place… a runner.
Step 1: Take the bird and toss it into cover or at a water’s edge. Allow the dog a moment to recognize the placement. Turn and heel the dog away setting up a trailing or circle memory.
Step 2: An assistant runs in and picks up the bird, plucks a few feathers leaving them in the place of the fall and rubs the bird on the ground at the location to establish a good scent signature. Next, the assistant tosses the bird to another location, 15 yards or so.
Step 3: After the assistant leaves the area, turn and line the dog. Once on target, the retriever’s keen nose will take over. Don’t rush. Allow the dog a moment to hunt. Finally, stop and cast off the scent to the unseen.
This is a good exercise for a dog that needs to learn to handle off an old fall for an unseen or one that needs to move on to pick up a scent line for a runner.
Scenario III – Hunt back on water
Step 1: The dog and handler are placed 20 yards or more from a water’s edge. An assistant fires a launcher bumper so it will land some distance out on open water.
Step 2: With the exciting mark seen, send the dog. As the dog passes the assistant that made the initial shot and is in the water moving toward the mark, a bumper is thrown into the water behind the dog.
Step 3: As the dog drives toward the mark, stop and recall the dog directing him to hunt back toward you. If the retriever is compliant, the reward recovery is made.
Step 4: Once delivery of the unseen is completed, re-line the dog for the initial mark. The dog learns to trust the handler to put them on a bird.
Many tune-up exercises will likely be advisable after a busy hunting season where the dog’s performance and behaviors may be slightly compromised. Examples:
Response to whistle signals
Too many independent recoveries
Also, it’s always a good practice to keep our dogs in good physical shape and mentally stimulated off season.
Yes, this past hunting season is a wrap, but no worries. Next season is only months away and there is much to prepare for. For the active Gentleman’s Gundog, the sun never sets as there is always something new to learn and other adventures just over the horizon.
Quail hunting has been both aristocratic and egalitarian. It is a sport of Southern plantation gentry who ride walking horses with bespoke double guns in their scabbards and have pedigreed pointing dogs racing across the fields before them. It is also the sport of the farm kid armed with a dad’s old shotgun and a rangy mutt for a hunting companion. Both types of hunters have equally satisfying hunts, but these days social standing does not matter. Everyone is quail-poor. –James Card
Well, not everyone is destitute these days. While it may take quite some time to ramp up quail restoration to the degree necessary for the bobwhite population to rebound, many popular quail-hunting preserves afford the wing shooter abundant opportunities to adventure afield for fine bobwhite hunting experiences. We folks in and around Wildrose Mississippi have our own favorite upland preserve close by: Josh Quong’s “Little q Ranch,” occupies sixty acres near Thaxton, Mississippi, twenty miles east of Oxford. Outdoorsman Josh, a forty-something-year-old high school English teacher who was raised in the Delta, is well known for running a variety of upland hunts from October through April on his well-managed preserve. His wife, Sally, an assistant clinical professor in education at the University of Mississippi, serves hunters sumptuous meals. Their daughter, Nora, and son, Ray, help out as well.
Recently, a group of us Wildrose folks and dogs enjoyed a release quail hunt at Little q. Just after noon on the day of our hunt I load up two-year-old Knight (“Black Knight of Hopewell,” Barney x Scout) and our hunting gear in the truck, steal my wife, Susan, away from her work for a couple of hours and head east just across the Pontotoc County line. Mother Nature is on our minds.
This year’s weather in the south—as in every other region of the country—has been active and variable, to say the least. While winter seemed to take forever to arrive in the South, in mid-February an arctic air mass pushed down into the warm, moist Gulf air, creating an historic weeklong storm that paralyzed us with half a foot of snow and single-digit temperatures. Folks closer to the Gulf, to our south and west, suffered much more severely than we did. After the cold abated, March arrived with a sunny, false spring, sending amateur gardeners rushing to put blooming annuals and tender tomato plants in the ground. However, severe rain-and-wind-driven weather tore through the area on a couple of occasions and nighttime temps dropped into the thirties. Typically for most days moderate weather conditions prevail with several sunny days followed by a few with rain and thunderstorms and accompanying flash floods.
On this particular day the weather is trending from sunny to wet. As we drive through a section of the Holly Springs National Forest, a light rain shower splatters on the windshield, letting Susan and me know that the day’s best weather is behind us. Yet, we determine to make a go of it, so long as the conditions permit. In fact, having some moisture in the air with low wind during a hunt fixes the bird scent in the air, aiding the dogs’ task of locating the prey. Moreover, the cloudy afternoon is cooler for us all than yesterday’s sunny one.
As we pull up to Josh’s lodge, he, Blake Henderson, and Erin Davis are waiting on us, ready to head out before more rain sets in.
Blake, Wildrose’s veteran trainer and facilities supervisor, has Panzer, Wildrose’s German Shorthair Pointer, and the only experienced dog on the hunt. When Panzer came to Wildrose at one-and-a-half-years old, he knew how to point. Blake extended his training, teaching him to be steady to the flush and shot. Besides “Whoa” training Panzer, Blake also taught him to back other bird dogs, as well as to heel off lead and retrieve. Now nine-and-a-half years old, Panzer has hunted pheasant in South Dakota and serves as the main pointer for hunts at Bar W in Wilson, Arkansas. With Blake and Panzer in the lead, we will efficiently find the invisible coveys.
Erin, Wildrose’s senior trainer, has brought four young dogs for some hunting experience. On the first round she handles started dog, Ernie, Laura Barbour’s recent fox-red import, and finished dog, Henry, Bruce Hendricks’ recent black arrival from Ireland. Erin is rounding out both dogs’ versatile skills for adventure, upland, and waterfowl activity.
After brief greetings, Susan, Knight, and I head out with the group into Little q’s neatly mowed, but muddy, lanes between dense sage grass and briar hedgerows. Armed with her trusty iPhone, Susan makes the best shots of the day, saving the pictorial history of the hunt.
Just a moment ago at the lodge during our brief dog-and-people greeting, Knight was in pet-dog mode. Wagging his tail and whole body, he circled, sniffing dogs and looking up at us with his mouth happily open, long pink tongue swinging about. As we enter the field, he transforms into a hunter with a serious job to do. He stretches forward in heel, tail level with a bit of an upward curve at the end. With lifted head he stares ahead, eyes locked on the action: Panzer begins sweeping left and right, with Blake allowing him to range a bit before pulling him back to a close-in quartering. As Knight heels in this alert, hunt-dog carriage, he occasionally glances up at me, looking for a command. I return the gaze without saying anything. When he reads this neutral sign, Knight quickly returns his attention to the action ahead.
Knight recognizes this game. Even though this is his first official hunt as a game retriever, I introduced him to this scene during his gundog training days. More than a year earlier he honored at a weekend quail hunt in Wilson, Arkansas. With a gracious invitation from the Behnke’s, Susan, and I—along with Eve and Knight—attended the multiple-hunt event that Josh and Tom Smith hosted. While older dogs did the retrieving at those hunts, Knight honored, learning from it all. At the end of each hunt I gave him a reward retrieve, once as a trailing memory and once as a mark.
In addition, at Wildrose group training sessions Knight and I participated in simulated upland walk-ups, with thrown and launched bumpers, as well as with real birds. As a result, Knight is eager and attentive on this day’s hunt, familiar with the task through training before being asked to do it on today’s hunt.
With our over-and-under, twenty-gauge shotguns broken and slung over our shoulders we follow as Blake gives crisp commands, quartering Panzer in short back-and-forth swings through the hedgerows. In a flash Panzer freezes on point with his bobbed tail skyward and his nose aimed at the dense turf. Blake holds him steady with “Whoa,” while Josh and Blake position us guns in an even row. We are statues on high alert with guns cocked and pointed skyward. Our dogs are also statues at sit a few yards behind. The suspenseful thrill of this moment is common to all hunters, but it never gets old, is always exciting. Blake inches Panzer further into the brush and we inch closer to them. All of a sudden the covey bursts into the air. Birds sail right and left toward nearby hedgerows. A couple of shots drop two birds.
The shooters are pleased with the results, but the next action—sending our dogs on the retrieve—is the central purpose of the hunt. We are, first and foremost, dog handlers.
Knight marked a fall and I send him. He makes a long, but uncomplicated, pick and returns, sitting at my feet to deliver the lively bird. Erin comes to get the prey. Her first task with the young imports is to acquaint them with this new object of their hunt—a reddish hybrid of the American northern bobwhite. After giving the youngsters a healthy sniff of the bird, Erin tosses it into the cover, sending each dog on a short retrieve. She and they handle this introduction well and everyone—dogs, especially—appears very pleased.
The next retrieve makes us all aware that the natural world is a wondrous place—sometimes bafflingly so. We all saw a shot bird sail into a hedgerow at the base of a round bale of last summer’s hay. Erin sends Ernie for the pick. He crosses a lane and hunts nose deep into the cover, circling the hay bale. Even as he keeps returning to spot that we all had marked, he can’t find the bird. Erin finally calls him back and sends Henry. Same good nose work. Same result. No bird. After some time we all get into the act. Blake even sends Panzer tromping around the bale. The bird has seemingly disappeared. Accepting our humble limitations, we move on.
Soon enough Blake and Panzer put us onto another covey and, after shooting and retrieving, onto another and another. As we walk on, I see the weight of birds swinging at Josh’s knee from the loops of his leather holder. We’re well on our way to a good hunt, I think.
Then, suddenly, just as it seemed as if we would finish out this round in fine fashion, rain hits, falling suddenly and heavily. Stopped in our tracks, we are soon drenched. Blake and I exchange glances. We know that the birds cannot fly if they get too wet. I let him know that we can call it a day, if need be. We’ve already had a good hunt.
Our dogs made several good retrieves. Knight has worked well. Only once or twice did I need to handle him on a distant drop. Everyone knows that Erin is a creative and intense trainer, always seeking challenges for her dogs. She routinely heels her charges to the prey that carried the farthest, urging one and then the other to hunt close and deep. When we conclude the first round, we walk back in more rain to the lodge to relax and ready ourselves for the next round.
With a pause in the rain, we head out again. On the second round Josh brings Joker, his one-and-a-half-year-old pointer. Josh says that Joker did extremely well in this his first season of hunting in front of and for paying hunters all year. In fact, Josh had intended to keep him. However, some folks, who had bought finished bird dogs from Josh last August, referred a friend, who also wanted a trained dog for next season. So, Joker will go to his new owners at the end of the season and begin a new life leading hunts. During our afternoon time with Joker we enjoy his exuberance in the field.
We make a couple more coveys, and Erin is able to work two more dogs: Jeff Miller’s finished, waterfowl dog, Finn, and George Flowers’ started dog, Ollie. Unfortunately, shortly into our second round the rain gods visit us again. This time, the rains soak through the cover. When Joker points and Josh tries to flush a covey, nothing moves. Josh leans down, picks up a quail, and sets it on the palm of his hand. It looks around as Josh gently strokes its wet feathers.
We call it a day and walk back to the lodge in a downpour. We had covered a lot of ground. On a half-day hunt, pointers generally run 10 to 15 miles. We guns took a straighter line through the fields and sent our retrievers to fetch the prey. Even so, we walked several miles. Still, we had time to watch the dogs work and to talk. Susan’s favorite parts of quail hunting are watching the dogs carry out their assigned tasks and enjoying the camaraderie of the hunters. I agree and I also value the hunting experiences that our dogs and we gained that day.
Knight, Susan, and I say our goodbyes and head west for home in a steady rain. As we re-enter the Holly Springs National Forest, the rain stops, the clouds dissipate, and the sun shines brightly. However, the radio’s tornado warning informs us that this is just an interlude. In fact, later that evening heavy, wind-blown rain pelts our area. Our power goes out. Later, we learn that large trees were uprooted in Oxford, knocking power lines down and closing a major traffic artery, South Lamar Boulevard. City crews eventually restore the power and clear the road, but we go to bed with Mother Nature again on our minds.
Card, James. “Restoring Tradition of Quail Hunting,” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com › 2011/05/19 › sports
Thanks to Josh Quong, Bake Henderson, and Erin Davis for contributing information for this article.