With the calendar page turning to September, hunting season has officially begun! While many bow seasons kicked off, as well as early teal and resident geese, it’s dove that will reign supreme throughout much of the country this weekend.
Part hunt and part social occasion, dove hunting brings friends, family and neighbors together like no other. With folks ringing around and hiding in sunflower patches and other seed-rich crops, shooting can be fast – not to mention humbling for some of us.
While we wash the staleness of summer from our mouths and dirty the bores of our shotguns, take a moment to stop and think about how you’re planning to run your retriever during these hunts.
Here are few suggestions:
Maintain standards: The excitement of dove season can wind up young and old dogs alike. You have to be disciplined enough to enforce your obedience: sit, stay, heel and here; steadiness in the dove field is a true test. Exert the control you’ve worked on and don’t lower your standards just because you’re hunting with friends and family.
Beginner dogs: Doves put out little scent and in combination with the heat of September and the excitement of the situation, can challenge, if not completely destroy, a young dog’s mental capacities and confidence.
Don’t send your pup for every bird. Instead, walk out with him and work on heel to pick up cripples, long retrieves and those that land in heavy cover and pick them up yourself. Keeping things simple will go a long way to building and maintaining your dog’s confidence as well as trust in you.
While sending your young dog for the short and easy marks, don’t sacrifice steadiness for the retrieve. After the bird goes down in plain sight, wait several seconds, and vary that time, before sending your dog. Praise his effort and reward him for a speedy retrieve and delivery.
Keep your eye on the bird, however, as you’ll be amazed at how much trouble dogs can have picking up their scent. Stop and handle the dog if he’s having too much trouble. Don’t be afraid to cut the distance between the two of you to maintain control and even help pull him into the area of the fall.
Advanced dogs: The same issues that undermine a young dog’s confidence can help you exercise control over an older dog. An experienced dog will watch birds fall, but with little scent and warm temperatures, finding those birds, especially if they’re doubles, can prove a challenge.
Work on your control and enforce your standards. Steadiness, whistle sits, casting, hunt-dead commands and the ability to keep a dog in the area of the fall under these exciting circumstances will go a long way later in the season and even during competition events like hunt tests.
Safety: Summer’s heat still lingers and it can be deadly. Take a few precautions with you when entering the field.
Find a shady spot for your dog to sit; if you can camp out near a pond that’s even better. Bring water with you. A gallon of water can be used to fill a portable water bowl or wet your dog down. Consider freezing the container so that it slowly melts in the daytime heat but remains refreshingly cool when drank. Bring a squirt bottle to rinse feathers out of your dog’s mouth after retrieves.
Make your dog sit at heel and remain steady during the hunt. This exercise itself can be exciting for a dog with nearby shooting taking place. Make sure he’s staying cool by letting him take a dip in a pond, staying in the shade and drinking; bait his water with hamburger blood, a handful of food or a Rehydrate capsule if you must.
Work your dog on the retrieves and handle them if you have to, but if they’re working hard and not coming up with the bird, walk out and help them or pick it up yourself. An ounce of breast meat isn’t worth a good dog’s life.