For many of us, wild, free-ranging birds under wide-open skies is the upland-hunting dream, but put-and-take shooting preserves in heavily populated areas is the upland-hunting reality. Declining wild bird populations, disappearing habitat, decreasing access to private land and increasing crowds on public land and a demographic shift toward deer and turkey hunting on what land remains have all combined to fundamentally alter modern upland bird hunting in many parts of the country. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but it is what it is and it’s not going away.
So for those of us who hunt preserves, what are some key traits to train for (or look for) in a dog? Here are a few tips from Pennsylvania-based pro trainer and field-trialer Lisa Price (570-467-0450, if you’re interested in some pro training) who specializes in training close-working pointing dogs for the grouse woods, shooting dog trials and preserve hunts.
1. Control in the field:** “Shooting preserves, even the bigger ones, are fairly small places with a number of small defined hunting areas in close proximity,” says Price. “And they’re expensive. So if you have a dog that’s constantly “trespassing” into another party’s area and flushing other hunters’ birds, that’s a problem.” Price says a naturally close-working dog that handles well without a lot of whistles and yelling makes for a pleasant experience for all involved.
2. Training for gunfire, and lots of it: “You need to condition your dog to be steady to multiple gunshots, and lots of them,” says Price. “A shooting preserve party may have three, four or five guns, all shooting at once, which can confuse a dog.” Which also leads to something Price says you should avoid, especially with young dogs. “Even if your young dog has been introduced to gunfire and is steady to shot, you need to gradually introduce him to multiple gunshots before you just throw him headlong into a preserve hunt, because the sheer volume of gunshots he may be subjected to can cause problems.”
3. Working well with others: “Shooting preserves are social environments with lots of other people and dogs. Proper socialization is important, and when you’re in the field having a dog that will honor another dog’s point and a dog who will whoa consistently and not bust birds is very important, especially when you’re paying by the bird” says Price.
It’s great advice, and universal to all gundog owners, not just for those who run their dogs exclusively on preserves. How many readers do the majority of their bird hunting in a preserve environment? Any pointers (pun intended) to add to the discussion?