While in the field earlier this morning with Acea, Eriks’ Golden and Snap, my Britt the topic above dawned on me.  As the dogs worked back and forth in the dew-covered grass I actually smiled as I walked ‘n watched!  Too often in the past I’ve taken these athletes for granted so let’s dive a bit deeper into the experience along with the what’s and why’s!

First we’ve got to make some assumptions.  Let’s assume you’ve done your breed homework and chosen the one best suiting you.  Either pointer or retriever.  I’m not a fan of mixed breeds although there may be some good hunters out there chances are the instincts won’t be as strong as one with good blood lines.  Which brings us to assumption number 2 and that is your pup has a good pedigree from a breeder you can trust.  It’s not a 100% guarantee of a great dog but it certainly ups your odds.  Now next assumption before the fun multiplies.  You’ve worked on obedience along with some yard work on trailing, retrieves along with a proper gun introduction.  Oh yea and finally the pup has become your buddy and enjoys pleasing you, his or her master.  Now let the fun begin!

OK now we’re into the pre-season.  With weather getting cooler and mornings with dew-covered fields it’s time for you and pup to head afield.  What I’ve done with each of my dogs now (keep in mind too that I’m certainly not a pro trainer and want my dogs to hunt having little or no interest in testing or trialing) is to take them for gunless hunts.   When walking I change directions often to get them watching me.  If they get out too far I’ll whistle them back until they get the hang of what I want.  I doesn’t take too long.  Sometimes too we’ll head toward a slough and find a nice spot to sit quietly and rest awhile.  A little like duck hunting.  I don’t spend much time hunting from a boat anymore but if you do include that in your routine.  Over the years I’ve developed a habit of watching the dog or dogs constantly.  It’s also been my experience that each dog responds to bird scent differently.  Some get really excited, some have a different tail wag, others drop low to the ground following the trail so however your dog reacts learn what it is.  As the dogs quartered in front this morning I thought how much of the experience hunters miss by hunting without that canine buddy.   Waterfowling is certainly possible without a dog as is grouse hunting but pheasant hunts, my favorite are almost impossible.  Perhaps if a person has never been afield with a dog you wouldn’t be able to appreciate the experience but it’s not for me.  I’d recommend repeating these field trips as often as possible prior to opening day.  When the day warms be sure to slow down or even call it a day.  Remember pup is down in the grass where it’s a lot warmer than where you are.  Also be sure to carry water afield all the time for your buddy.  Recently on Fan Outdoors Tom Dokken talked about how to teach a dog to drink from a bottle using peanut butter.  (If you didn’t catch it check it out on the Thursday, Aug 1 show from the On Demand portion of www.kfan.com .)

When the opener rolls around most times I prefer to hunt with no more than 2 companions avoiding large group hunts.  Actually I prefer to hunt alone or with 1 other person and dog.  If the pup is young most times even with others I break off and do my own thing allowing the pup to develop her own confidence.  Be patient because the learning curve is steep early on with mistakes made on both ends, human and dog.  Believe me I’ve made plenty and often my dog has made me look like a rock star in spite of my blunders!  If you own dogs you’ll know what I mean and if you’re new to this part of the hunt just wait.

Whatever the case the early investment of your time will pay dividends in the years to come!  You’ll also know you’ve arrived the moment you find your eyes following the dog 99% of your time afield.  Now when she makes a point alerting you to a hiding bird just prior to a roosters’ flush or when she emerges from the grass or cattails with a very much alive bird in her mouth bringing it to you appreciate being the most important person in her world!

Next imagine what it would be like to be afield without that 4-legged critter.  How very boring would that be?  Isn’t it double, triple or even more fun?  I know my answer but what’s yours?