As of last Friday, my English Setter pup, Hartley is now twelve weeks of age, and Garrett’s GSP, Surly, is fifteen weeks of age. With only a week to go before Minnesota’s grouse season opens up, Garrett and I set out on Saturday to take the ever-so-important step in puppy training, introduction to guns. Both of our pups had successfully been introduced to birds at this point so we devised a plan for the day and set out to accomplish it, as long as the pups handled themselves accordingly. In no way were we going to jeopardize our pups’ futures by pushing them too far too fast. Long story short, the Northwoods’R crew had a fantastic day in the training field on Saturday and it’s safe to say that both pups exceeded our expectations!
To begin the day, we met up with a professional trainer who happens to be a friend of the Northwoods’R crew with access to some beautiful training grounds north of the Twin Cities metro. After some initial catching up and enjoying the beautiful September day, we set out to get our young pups on some birds. We loaded up two launchers with homing pigeons and hooked Garrett’s GSP, Surly, to the check cord. On the first bird, Surly worked in close before evidencing he scented the bird as he worked into a tentative point, we launched the bird and Surly gave chase to his heart’s content. As Garrett guided Surly downwind of the second bird he developed into form, this time easing into a solid point a respectable five yards from the bird. Again we launched the pigeon and again Surly chased, so far, so good! Next up was my English Setter, Hartley, and his run at the two pigeons was much the same as Surly’s. He tentatively pointed the first pigeon, leading us to believe we didn’t set the pups up for success as much as we would have liked with the first launcher. Again the second bird resulted in a much better point and Hartley bounded through the tall grass chasing the pigeon as if he’d never had so much fun.
With the excitement-for-birds seed planted once again in our pups’ minds we loaded them up in the boxes to let them rest while we worked a couple of the more seasoned dogs. This time we ran Garrett’s four and a half-year old GSP Stella, along with another nice GSP through a preseason tune-up routine. We planted four pigeons and followed the dogs through the field as they put on a solid display, each pointing a couple of birds and backing the other dog’s point. Pigeons were launched, shots were fired and dead birds were retrieved. It was a preseason tune-up and a necessary one but when all was said and done it was clear, these two GSP’s can hunt and it won’t take much for them to get into top form this season.
After the veterans took their turn it was time for our pup’s to take the stage again. We put Surly on the ground first and with a clipped-wing pigeon in Garrett’s bird bag, we stationed a shooter off in the distance. Garrett caught Surly’s attention with the bird, gave it a good toss and with Surly in full chase the shooter popped off a shot. The result was exactly what we were looking for, Surly never took his eyes off the bird and chased it all the way down into the grass at which point he pounced on his prize. With a bit of encouragement on the check cord, Surly strutted back to his handler proud as could be. We repeated the exercise four or five more times with the shooter moving closer each time until we reached a hunting scenario with the shooter no more than five yards from the dog. All went according to plan as Surly paid no attention to the shooter, gun introduction, complete! Next up was Hartley and I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little nervous about my twelve week old Setter and how he would handle the gun. Having no prior experience with bird dog training, I was certainly happy to have a couple of experienced trainers in the field with me. They assured me that the most important thing is to go at the pace your pup will allow. If you start slow and observe the pup carefully it will be clear if and when the gun needs to be put away for another day. With that in mind we repeated the process and to my complete satisfaction, Hartley passed gun introduction 101 with flying colors, never once acknowledging the shooter or the gunfire, just as Surly had done before him.
With both Northwoods’R pups handling the gun intros so well, we decided to take the training one step further and attempt to shoot a bird for each of the pups. We loaded up the launchers and again worked each pup separately. Surly’s turn came first and he was up to the task. Garrett worked him downwind nicely and Surly locked up hard into a beautiful point. We launched the bird and our gunner put it down as Surly charged through the grass to find his prize. Then, much like he had done all day, Hartley followed in Surly’s footsteps, again easing into a solid point. The pigeon launched, another shot rang out, and another young gun dog claimed his prize, the first bird shot over his point. If it was possible for anyone to be more proud of these pups than their owners, which would have been hard to do, I think Surly and Hartley were that day.
Needless to say, the Northwoods’R crew had a fantastic day in the field with both pups demonstrating a natural ability to handle themselves in the field and on birds. Garrett and I celebrated the successful training day of course, with a couple of ice-cold beverages. Meanwhile the pups, who are now best buds by the way, wrestled and chased each other around the yard. It was a fine way to end the day and to start of the month of September. One thing is for sure, the Northwoods’R crew is looking forward to the good times and memories the next few months will bring us all. Fall is here everyone so let’s get out there enjoy it!
Until next time…