Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Hunting Hen Pheasants.
All dogs are best at what they do the most. As puppies I will expose them to bird wings, quail, pigeons,and mallards. When they are a little older and display good mouth habits I expose them to pheasants. Pheasants are much more delicate a bird than a pigeon or mallard duck. Often times pheasants can be more expensive to train with since they do not hold up long when freezing and thawing. The skin is thinner and the feathers are softer. Sometimes retrievers will fumble when carrying a pheasant due to the feathers sticking to their tongue like glue. If your retriever doesn’t have good mouth habits they will most likely chomp or tear into the breast of the bird with little effort, an occurrence hunters and retriever enthusiast want to avoid.
Along with their delicate nature pheasants, especially hens are harder to scent than other game. Nature has also made Hen pheasants near impossible to spot with the naked-eye given their natural camouflage. For a young inexperienced hunting or competitive retriever it is difficult for them to differentiate between scents such as wounded game, mixed bags, and the ever illusive “Hen” pheasant. If you have hunted on a game preserve or been in a field trial where a hen pheasant has been nestled in cover the retrievers will practically stand on top of the bird before catching the scent.
If Hen Pheasants are going to be part of the bag your retriever is seeking then they will need lots of practice. Exposure to hunting Hens in many conditions will help, a wet pheasant gives off the least amount of scent while a fresh shot Hen flyer on a warm day with little wind can pose another challenge. So the question is as we travel in our journey of training our retrievers, “How can we manufacture these conditions for training?”
When young pups or adolescents we at Bay Blue Kennels like to develop a retriever’s hunt. Relying on my background as a Professional Pheasant Hunting Guide and Pointer Trainer I’ve came up with a drill to teach dogs how to use the wind and find game quickly. We refer to this drill as the “Hunt’em Up Drill”. It begins by planting objects in a field that have been scented such as paint rolls, bumpers, toys, and eventually birds. Then the handler takes the retriever for a walk giving one command at the beginning of the drill to: “Hunt it up”. Walking the retriever into the wind or around the object in order to catch the scent never talking to the retriever other than praise when the object is found. The goal of this drill is to teach the retriever to work independently but in relation to the handler. Excessive interaction from the handler or talking to the retriever will only distract them from concentrating on scents. Once the retriever finds the object or bird, praise them lavishly. Carry a bag to put the object or bird into so the retriever is not scenting or hunting the handler and game previously found. This drill becomes an enjoyable, quiet, productive game that many retrievers look forward to, encouraging them to dart off into cover when commanded to “Hunt it up”.