“Birds Up!”

By Mike Stewart
Wildrose Kennels

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Increasingly, we see the resurgence of the popularity of hunting quail.  Decades ago quail populations dwindled in the wild which, in turn, led to a decreased opportunity for the wingshooter to experience the excitement of “king bird.”  The situation is slowly changing.

  • Oklahoma and Kansas have increased wild quail populations even on public lands.
  • The Southwest has had good results over the years with expanded beneficial habitat and gradual quail population increases.
  • “Put-and-Take” quail operations specializing in quail hunts are ever increasing throughout the Southeast.
  • More farmers are providing “set-aside” lands specifically for game management including quail.
  • Western states have good populations of wild Scale and Gambel’s Quail.

Overall, the interest in quail hunting is on the upswing further promoted by excellent publications such as Covey Rise, Garden & Gun, Project Upland, the Upland Almanac, and of course The WildroseJournal, now in its 17thyear of publication.

Wildrose specializes in dogs of duality. We continue to call upon our roots as quail hunters and trainers of pointing breeds in the development of our versatile Labradors.  The result has been the Gentleman’s Gundog capable of multi-tasking.  A waterfowl-upland destination companion prepared to go anywhere including quail hunting… let’s review the “job openings” for sporting dogs on a typical quail hunt.

Our book, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way, in addition to our Upland Hunting DVD addresses the process of training retrievers and flushing breeds as upland gundogs. We are talking:

  • Game locator – point or flush game birdsIMG_5443
  • Recovery – locate and retrieve downed birds
  • Strike – Flush birds from cover that have been pointed or holding tight.

We will leave the discussion of pointing and quartering for another time while concentrating on the trainable skills required of our retrievers and spaniels to perform in support roles (to recover and strike) alongside pointing game locators.

The Essentials

Steadiness:

  1. To the flush
  2. To other dogs working the field
  3. Backing pointers (remote stay)

Whether you are working a retriever or a spaniel, chasing birds is unacceptable, dangerous and rude.

When a flush or strike is required to achieve a “rise,” the striker should boldly address the cover to pressure the birds airborne, then remain steady.  Obviously, steady to flush and shot is a stylish complement to any dog’s trainability but moreover it’s a safety issue.  A dog chasing and leaping for birds in flight may inadvertently fall within the pattern of an inappropriately low shot.  Secondly, the frolic may result in the untimely flush of remaining birds holding tight or even another covey.

Training Points for Steadiness:

Early Starts:

Give your dog the hunt command in cover.  Allow a brief search then toss a bumper or cold game wide to the side with a shot.  Use whistle or voice command to stop the dog.  Correct or reward as appropriate.  75% of these flushes are denials.  For the other 25% optimize the five-option drill as described in our training book and DVD. The dog never predicts your intention:

  1. Deny
  2. Honor the recovery by another dog
  3. Recall to the handler then line for the pick
  4. Cast for the retrieve
  5. Go to the dog and line for the pick

Always reward steadiness!

pointer with 2 labs

Photo by Katie Behnke

The Flyer

Practice the live flush situation where there is a shot but the bird escapes. As the dog hunts cover, fire a shot as a live bird is tossed or released. With the bird in flight, shoot again allowing the bird to fly away.  Not all shots result in a fall and the bird escaping is a very attractive prey for any dog to ignore.

Similarly, the flush of a pre-placed live bird that is shot in flight is obviously important. Practice the live flush, shot and fall situation in training while utilizing the 5-Option Drill to reinforce steadiness, marking, recall, and honoring.

While approaching dogs on point, your dog should heel quietly and slowly while remaining steady to the flush and shot, only striking or retrieving on command. Utilize group work training opportunities employing hand launchers, hand-held clay throwers or a chuck-it with tennis balls to duplicate the excitement of a flush in training.

Backing the Point

As the hunter approaches dog on point making ready for the flush, the support dog IMG_5453should back if not to approach with the hunter.  The command to sit, stay, or whoa is given as the hunter walks away.  As the backing dog remains steady to flush and shot without creeping or vocalization, do not call the dog off back unless an immediate retrieve is required.  Rather, return to the dog to reward their patience, then heel away or make the recovery.

Refinements

Finally, strikers and retrievers need to practice the basic skills of a proper Gentleman’s Quail dog:

  • Understanding the game. Before the hunt, be sure to introduce your dog to working with active pointers afield and to become familiar with quail scent. Make sure your dog understands what they are searching for. Put and Take domestically-raised quail have a much different scent signature than a wild quail.
  • Remain quiet and steady on moving vehicles (the wagon dog)
  • Heel quietly in proper position off lead as they walk afield with their hunting
    mike with pointer and dogs

    Photo by Katie Behnke

    partner.

  • Ignore distractions: livestock, off game such as deer or rabbits, other hunters and their dogs.

The possibilities for a talented sporting dog with appropriate training for multi-tasking are boundless. A quail hunt should be high on any sporting dog enthusiast’s list. Just add a bit of training refinement for your experienced gamedog and book that hunt.

Enjoy the upland experience – “Birds up!”

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