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.
A recent email from a bird dog enthusiast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula asked “Paul, what’s your training and hunting schedule throughout the year?” I responded that I would use his question as the topic for my next Journal column…so, our topic for this month is the annual schedule for working our dogs.
The dogs (German shorthaired pointers) at the Fuller household get exercise every single day if weather permits. That’s not necessarily training or exposure to birds, simply strenuous exercise. It helps keep your writer and his dogs healthy and conditioned. During these daily exercises, we frequently re-enforce basic commands such as come, whoa, heel and stay. We also ensure the dogs don’t potter and stay up-front.
March is a very important month for our dogs…it marks the return of the woodcock. Spring training on woodcock is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to train your dogs on wild birds. Also, since the birds are moving through our area, hitting the same cover day after day is not an issue…you see new birds each day. Where we live in Southern New Hampshire, the heart of the migration is usually about three weeks; however, we’ll have birds coming through for five to six weeks. If you have one dog, aim for 50 to 75 finds during the spring migration. Training on wild birds can cure many issues so take advantage of what nature offers in March.
April and May brings cool and comfortable training temperatures…but few wild birds in our area. Although your author has been a proponent of wild bird training, sometimes liberated birds are all that’s available…and we’ll order a few dozen quail for spring training. Be sure, however, to train with a purpose and a plan. Bad things can happen when you train with liberated birds; the number one issue being that they can easily be caught by the dog if they won’t fly. Having a check cord on your dog and making sure the dog fully understands “whoa” will help ensure liberated bird training goes smoothly. Don’t be afraid to use launchers; they lessen the stress when using liberated birds.
June and July are mostly exercise months. To avoid the mid-day heat, we exercise the dogs at 6:00 a.m. Even the biting flies and mosquitoes are less aggravating at this early hour.
Mid to late August is the earliest you should re-enter the woods for wild bird training. By late August, both the grouse and woodcock broods can fly and will not be caught by the dogs. Our encounters with wild birds in August are simply the result of the dogs locating a rare woodcock, snipe or grouse in our running grounds around our community.
Early September means we’re getting serious. This month blends wild bird training with wild bird hunting. For training, we rent a cabin in the North Country and spend a few days working wild birds. This is the tune-up your dogs require. If you’ve chosen your bird covers carefully, you should strive for five to ten finds per dog, per day. If you have well-trained dogs, two or three days of wild bird training in September should have the dogs ready to rumble. If you have a puppy, you’ll be very happy with the results of two or three days of wild bird training in the big woods. They will quickly learn that these birds cannot be caught and will become steady more easily.
For the Fuller family, both humans and dogs, September also means the beginning of hunting season. If we’re heading to the prairie states or provinces, we’ll be hunting in early September. If it’s grouse hunting, we’ll be, most likely, in Ontario, Canada in late September. We always try to get back to New England for the final two weeks of October. Although there may be more birds if one travels west, there is nothing to compare to the glory and spectacle of New England in October.
November means a few more New England outings and then we put up the guns for the winter. That’s the training/hunting schedule for the Fuller family. No matter how often you get out with your dog, enjoy the companionship…they grow old much too quickly.