March for Training Dogs on Wild Birds

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

March 2013

March is wonderful. It provides pointing dog owners with a unique opportunity to train our dogs on mature wild birds. Woodcock are returning from the South after a leisure winter rest. If you live in a woodcock migration route, this unique training opportunity simply may be available out your back door.

You will find this fine feathered friend in both your traditional covers and covers you never expected would hold wild game birds. A mistake often made is waiting for all the snow to melt. If you do this, you may miss the entire migration. If snow is still on the ground, you’ll find birds in roadside ditches, small seeps and fairly open areas where the sun has reached the ground and melted the snow. Seeps are typically the best. The ground is usually somewhat thawed and allows for the birds to feed.

Please don’t follow-up flushes; these birds are stressed after traveling hundreds of miles. If you find a place with birds, there will be enough for several points without chasing one bird looking for two or three points.

The spring woodcock migration is an outstanding opportunity to expose puppies to wild birds. They can’t catch these birds and will get a snoot full of bird scent. Use your training pistol to reward your dog if he delivers good dog work.


With respect to the woodcock, please pick-up your dogs around April 1st. Once the birds begin nesting, respect their privacy; we want a nice clutch and brood to come from a peaceful nesting period.

One additional piece of advice. Check your state laws. In many states, you need to carry a permit to train on wild birds. Don’t get caught short here. Have fun!

Speaking of nesting and allowing the brood rearing to take place in piece, I feel strongly about a subject that has concerned me for 50 years. I beg my editor’s pardon for venturing into what may appear to be a separate subject; however, I feel a close connection to the above matter of the woodcock migration and the subject I will discuss below.

For 50 years, I’ve been deeply concerned about the house cat/feral cat predation on our bird population…both game birds and song birds. As a small boy, I watched our neighbor’s cat kill song birds almost on a daily basis. Their cat was put out in the morning and stayed outside all day long. Once I was old enough to go into the fields with our English setters, I would see that cat and other cats prowling the fields and the small wood lots. House cats that are allowed outside, and feral cats, have a devastating effect on our song and game bird populations.

US Fish & Wildlife recently reported that cats kill 3.7 billion birds per year. Since 1967, there has been a 68% decline in our common bird population. These numbers are huge and very alarming. House cats need to be kept inside and stray feral cats need to be euthanized. Neutering is of no assistance with this pressing issue. Ground nesting birds such as woodcock and grouse are prime candidates for cat predation.

Corey Ford, a very famous author, outdoor writer and enthusiastic upland bird hunter, brought this issue to public attention many years ago. He was a strong advocate of shooting every cat seen in fields or woods. I’ll leave that action up to an individual’s personal judgment. Cat owners need to be more responsible and understand what’s happening to God’s fine feathered friends at the paws of their housecat. The decline of our bird populations is very serious.