It's hard to believe that hunting season begins in two months, of course when you don't have much of a summer things like that will tend to sneak up on you.
For me, that means it is time to start getting my young pointer ready for the upcoming season. Brandy had a good year last year, I shot ten birds over her points, but toward the end of the season started to develop some bad habits such as breaking point and chasing birds when flushed and ranging a little bigger than I would like. Brandy is now a little over two years and, although she has been testing me, is starting to develop into a fine young dog despite my inexperience as a trainer.
Now that we are well into August, I have been taking her to some of my favorite coverts to let her hunt wild birds and get excited by the smells of grouse and woodcock when we can find them. Brandy was getting bored with all the yard work and having to stay around the house while we took a break from the woods to allow the young birds to mature little and develop their ability to fly, the last thing you want a pointing dog to do is catch a bird. She was so bored and her drive to hunt so intense she started hunting water snakes along the river, pointing and barking at them so I knew she needed to get into some cover and let her natural instincts guide her to hunt what she is bred for, game birds.
We went to a favorite covert of mine the other day, one where I could usually count on finding a few grouse in the past; at one time, I would flush six to ten grouse out of this small, but very thick patch of old pasture land a day. It has many different types of food for birds, berries, apples, grapes, nuts, this place has it all and is a great place for the dog to learn to work thick cover and encounter a few wild birds.
I mainly just let her work the cover, as she wanted, letting her run and just enjoy being out in the woods doing what she loves to do, hunt birds. Fortunately, there were birds there, not the grouse that I thought would be there but woodcock and lots of them. The first few birds she found she bumped and chased and I could tell she felt bad and was confused after the long layoff on wild birds. But after the birds flew off leaving her to chase through the thick brush and briars she started to let her instincts take over and realize that there is no way she is going to catch a wild bird so she started holding point much better.
Woodcock hold much better for a dog than grouse do and she learned another lesson when she went on point in a grape tangle and I could hear her beeper announcing that she was on point. As I circled around to flush the bird I heard the beeper quit and knew she was creeping, and sure enough, the grouse she had pinned would have no part of that and erupted through the canopy. She chased a short way and then came back to where the bird flushed, this time I picked her up and repositioned her where she first went on point telling her to whoa, reinforcing that I want her to hold point until released.
After that, she settled down some, pointed three more woodcock, and started hunting close working the thick cover thoroughly using her nose to locate the birds in the dense foliage. The last bird she handled very well so as a reward I took the blank pistol I carry out as I flushed another woodcock and when she did not chase the bird and held staunch, I fired the pistol and threw a dead quail into the brush for her to retrieve. This is the ultimate reward for the dog, a real bird in her mouth and she just loved it, I let her carry it around for a few minutes and she was proud as a peacock prancing around holding her head high showing off her prize.
There is nothing better for a bird dog than wild birds, they teach the young dogs how close they can get and that creeping or even taking a step or two will flush the bird leaving no shot for the hunter. We got lucky that day, grouse have been hard to find the last few years and trying to train on wild birds difficult because of the scarcity of grouse in the area. However, it seems to me that more woodcock are nesting in the area; we flushed eight woodcock and two grouse in the couple of hours we spent fighting the briars and tangles, which was great experience for Brandy. These encounters helped her understand what all the commands we have been working on this summer are for, when she does things right she is rewarded with a bird, but when she doesn't she gets no bird.
I know where Brandy and I will be when woodcock season opens and some migratory woodcock join with the local birds as they head south for the winter. If Brandy continues to make progress and I avoid making some kind of stupid mistake in her training we should have some good hunting this fall. Now if I can just find a few places where the grouse are plentiful it should be a good season providing, of course, that I can hit some of the speedy little birds.