Without question, the opportunity to hunt quail from a vehicle behind stylish Pointers is a wingshooter’s treat. Add in a couple of well-trained retrievers or a flashy spaniel and you have quite a team of gamefinders that will thrill any hunter. Pointers locate birds, flushing dogs “strike” to push birds from thick cover while retrievers, using keen noses and marking abilities, locate down birds quickly.
Before turning up on a quail hunt with your retriever or spaniel for their initial experience with “King Bird,” some specialized training is wise. Our goal will be to instill “wagon dog” skills – the ability to work from moving vehicles safely (trucks, jeeps, large quad ATVs, etc.) and to have the refined ability to locate small birds from thick cover quickly. Additionally, a good quail-truck retriever or spaniel will need to work well around the Pointers, that is to work independently ignoring other dogs running about and to remain steady while backing dogs on point.
Basic Skills to Refine:
- Steady to Flush – No chasing flushed birds
- Game Recovery – Refine scenting abilities in thick, often dry conditions. Willingness to penetrate tangled uncomfortable cover.
- On the whistle – Controllable
- Comfortable riding outside a moving vehicle possibly on a platform
- Excellent heel work – The hunter’s focus should be on the birds, dogs on point and other hunters without worrying as to the position of the retriever.
As with so many gundog skills, place training is an essential core behavior. Many vehicles have platforms either on the front of the truck or behind the vehicle’s operator. A proper wagon dog must remain still and quiet as the vehicle moves and only disembark on command, even if hunters dismount quickly. Dogs must remain remote steady in place despite activities afield unless otherwise instructed.
To prepare, we use a 4 x 4 ATV with an open rear bed. First, we want to insure our dog is comfortable with the ride with no chance of jumping out while moving. Occasionally we stop to exit quickly with guns and bumpers while expecting our dogs to remain steady on the ride. Once in the field, a few bumpers are tossed with an accompanying shot. We return to collect the dog, then it is back to the field to make the picks. In training, avoid calling the dog from the vehicle to your position in the field to reinforce steadiness.
A dynamic flush of a covey is heart-stopping excitement for hunters and dogs alike. This may prove to be the supreme test for a dog’s steadiness. It is one thing to steady a dog in a duck blind and quite another as they step into a multiple bird blast right in their face. Prepare for four types of flushes.
- Approaching a point with your dog at heel
- Flush of a single as the dog hunts for a downed bird
- Remote steady- backing dogs on point as hunters approach to make the flush
- Steady to flush, shot and fall while backing or “striking” to make the flush of birds from cover on command. (The unsteady dog becomes a safety issue.)
To prepare several specific training lessons are appropriate. Using a chuck-it tennis ball thrower, walk along through a field with your dog off lead at heel. When the dog’s attention drifts, shoot out the tennis ball quickly straight ahead simulating the startle of a flush. This, of course, is a denial. Another, with the dog sitting remote to your position as they would backing a point, toss several balls about to simulate a flush. Pick up a few yourself, then return to the steady dog offering praise and a couple of retrieves for the remaining balls.
Scatters work well in field conditions. Using feathered bumpers, with their throwing cords laced between your fingers, walk with the dog at heel through cover. Unexpectedly, throw 4 bumpers in all directions as a helper fires several shots. This is a flush simulation that is made even more realistic if a pointer is running about as you negotiate the field. Practice as you will play. Quail hunts are not only exciting for the dogs; they can be quite distracting, even confusing when the action heats up.
Similarly, when preparing your dog to recover game, try to add distractions as you teach your retriever or spaniel to ignore all the disruptions about and concentrate on the hunt. No pointer available? Get several other retrievers together with friends and practice, all hunting cover simultaneously. Add in a shot followed by a tossed bumper or a shot from a handheld launcher. Condition the dog to ignore the shot and fall and remain focused on the hunt. Quail hunts can become chaotic so practice chaos.
As a shooter and dog handler, be aware where birds fall and get to downed birds quickly for two reasons:
- Wounded birds run.
- Bird dogs, not conditioned well to deliver, often pick up birds only to drop them elsewhere. Keep an eye on their movements if a bird is picked up.
If these situations arise, close in on the general area of the bird and use the retriever/spaniel to “sweep” the area by quartering the cover. So here we have yet another skill to be refined.
A dog’s keen marking ability to pinpoint multiple falls will become quite important. Often waterfowl retrievers are conditioned to find birds long. When confronted with a quick flash of a quail that falls short into cover, the dog may over run. Before the quail hunt, practice short multiple marks into various types of cover. Make sure the dog is using its eyes to pinpoint the fall then quickly employ its nose to locate. As in most cases, these birds will be difficult to locate by sight.
Finally, consider your dog’s delivery skills. Quail are small and especially for the younger dog, may encourage more mouthing than one may see with ducks or pheasants. As with doves, quail need prior introduction before the excitement of the hunt further stimulates the dog.
While wild bird hunts are not as plentiful in the South as they once were, plenty of opportunities exist to experience a quail hunt with your dog. More put and take operations are opening across the country. This year wild quail populations are on the rise in Texas and quail remains plentiful in many Western states including Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
The Wildrose training methodology, “The Wildrose Way,” is designed to train versatile hunting companions. Quail are yet another sport to broaden the wingshooting experience. Don’t miss an opportunity on a quail truck or even a walking hunt for that matter. The excitement and challenge of a quail hunt rightfully earned the small, fast bird the title “King Bird.” Wildrose concurs.
Photos courtesy Carol Colbert at San Thomas Hunting Club, Encino, TX