Pigeon Power

One of the major pluses of living here in the North Country is that I get to work dogs in the summer on native grouse and woodcock.  There is no better teaching tool then to get young dogs out in the woods and have them come in contact with and learn to hunt for and eventually handle wild birds. It’s what makes great hunting dogs and great cover dog field trial dogs.  All the puppies we started last summer had pointed birds killed for them last fall.

Tim Ks dog Wild Apple Calvados with a limit of woodcock she pointed and I killed last October.  She was also Runner-up in the Miss Leslie Anderson Derby Classic last fall with a nice woodcock find in a callback. 

Woodcock Limited President Joe Faux with his first true double on grouse pointed by Wild Apple Moon Glow  in early October when she was seven months old.

Wild Apple Samantha was turning into a veritable grouse finding machine near the end of the season when Tim K and Frank Illianic killed three grouse out six flushed on two points in one cover in mid-November.  Fortunately for us, she also dug one of the downed birds out of the tall grass for us when we were having trouble finding it.  Ruby, Glows sister, and Birdy, Sam’s sister, also had birds shot for them last season.  All of them are a testament to effectiveness of getting puppies out on wild birds in the spring and summer.  This year, Dottie, Molly, and the Bud Bros have all seen wild birds in fact we had two broods today on the 30 minute loop here at the kennel.

But that is not always enough.  You need to be able to supplement the wild bird experience with controlled work in the bird field especially early in the summer when the woodcock and grouse are still bunched up in family groups and broods.  Once those family groups start spreading out later this summer it will give the dogs more opportunities to find wild birds.  In the meantime, they are learning to run in the woods, are getting in shape, learning to handle, and finding a few birds or being called in to back a more experienced dog.  But really, that is not enough for them.  They need to go through the whoa breaking and experience pointing.  The best way to do that is to use pigeons especially for puppies either from this winter and spring or those that will be derbies in the fall but didn’t get much opportunity last year.

I have been using pigeons for a long time.  In fact one of the first dog related articles I sold was about Tony and I using pigeons and a belly band to break dogs.  I still use both, although I don’t automatically turn to the belly band or use it on every dog anymore.  This year I was down South and saw Harold Banks using his Dogtra pigeon launchers and decided it was time to upgrade.  My two old Innotek ones still work but I wanted more.  and really like the Dogtras.  As it turned out, Will Sanborn whose Lucy dog came from here and came back last summer, had four launchers and a remote that he was willing to swap me for some future considerations.  The launchers work great.  they’re quiet and launch a pigeon high enough to get it out of the dog’s reach quickly.  To start out, I put them in a covey or two and work the dogs into them on a spiked collar and a retractable 30′ lead.  I used a check cord for years and still do on occasion, but the heavy duty retractable can easily be operated with one hand and rarely gets wrapped around a dog’s legs.

A “covey” of pigeons planted along the edge of the mowed bird field.
Hattie, a French Brittany, has some experience in the woods but busted a lot more birds then she pointed.  Learning to stand for longer and longer times before the flush of a pigeon will help transfer her pointing instincts to wild birds.
Spiggy, a really nice GSP, is just a year old and pointed the first pigeon she scented.  She’s going to make the owner a nice gun dog.
Tee, along with the other two Bud Bros. — Spot and Tick, are all pointing pigeons from a distance and standing steady to wing and shot.
Once the pups are reliably pointing on the lead, I’ll let them hunt the bird field just dragging a rope.  Molly and Dottie haven’t had any pigeons yet as they are still running the home loop and finding wild birds.  Mollie no longer gets quail put out for her as she’s decided they make a pretty good snack.
Our newest camper is Willow who is a more traditional-type orange belton English setter (her sire weighs 85 pounds) and with her we are using the pigeons in a different way.  To fire her up I throw pigeons in front of her as we walk around the field with her.  She drags a little rope so we can grab it when she comes across one of the planted birds.  If she stops on her own — great.  If she smells the bird and moves in I pop it.  It’s up to her to learn that the bird only stays if she does.  She’s making progress.  And thanks to the pigeon coop which you can see in the background of Tee’s picture, All the dogs we’re working are going to get a jumpstart on their wild bird work.
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