After a bit of an extended hiatus on the blog, Hartley and I are back with a spring update! First off, I wanted to mention that over the last year, the number of subscribers to our blog has grown significantly which has been awesome! On the flip side of that, I often feel bad not delivering more regular updates, but we do our best to keep in touch via other social media outlets. My full-time gig with the Ruffed Grouse Society has definitely kept me busy during the spring banquet season which will continue into the month of May. I’ve already met many followers of Northwoodsr at my events and I hope to meet many more!
While I’ve certainly been busy the last couple months, my young English Setter, Hartley and I have done our best to take advantage of the spring bird season. I estimate we’ve probably hit bird cover close to 10 times, usually for an hour or more. To me the spring season is still one of the most fun times of year. As the days get longer and the temps rise, the forest begins to take on a similar appearance. Before anything begins to turn green, I’m often reminded of those late season days of November when everything is gray and still as all of the leaves have fallen and the foliage has wilted. The spring woods deliver that same feeling for a brief period of time and it is one of the best times of the year to be in the woods with your bird dog.
After two seasons in the grouse woods, Hartley has continually shown constant development and improvement. That being said we are still early in his career and after an extended period of time not seeing wild birds during the winter months I expected he would have some rust to knock off. The first time we hit the woods this spring transpired about exactly as I expected. Hartley hit the ground and not 40 yards from the truck he was on point. I walked in, flushed a woodcock and smiled thinking, this should be fun! I don’t think he had a steady point for the next hour and a half. The fresh scent of birds was simply too much for him and he tore up the woods searching for more. Between a friend’s pair of dogs and mine, we flushed 14 woodcock and 3 grouse that day, not a bad start to the spring season!
Over the next few weeks I continued to run Hartley on my own each chance we had. My young setter quickly found his game again and has been showing some of his best work to date lately. Our biggest goal this off-season is to improve steadiness on point and to wing. Hartley’s ability to find birds and his drive to hunt all day is at a level that I’m happy with and any improvement in his handling and manners is going to make a big difference in our hunting success this fall. As some of you know from reading the blog Hartley is the first bird dog I have ever owned and/or trained so I do my best to keep my expectations in check. I certainly have high hopes but I realize that my inexperience as a trainer needs to be kept in consideration. I can honestly say that most of Hartley’s training has come from me giving him the opportunity to run in wild bird cover, letting his intelligence and natural instinct shine through.
Hartley will be two years old in June and approaching his third season in the grouse woods this fall. This summer our training will become a bit more structured as we work on steadiness. We’ll be doing some more pigeon work and setting up training situations in which we have a bit more control than the wild bird work he’s become accustomed to. I’m really looking forward to advancing not only my dog’s ability but also my own skills as a trainer. Although Hartley is my first bird dog, I can guarantee you he won’t be my last as long as I have anything to say about it.
They say a dog’s life is too short and anyone that’s ever owned one knows that to be the truth. Every day with them is special and not something to be taken for granted. We all have dreams about the perfect bird dog that demonstrates relentless drive, uncanny ability to find and pin birds, with impeccable manners to boot. It’s important to dream big, you and your bird dog deserve that, but just remember it doesn’t happen overnight. You get what you put into it, unless you’re lucky!
The most important thing I’ve learned two years into the process of developing a bird dog is patience. Number one without a doubt is that you have to be patient, and on top of that don’t freak out when you see your dog do the unexpected whether it’s good or bad. No matter how many books, blogs, or articles you read nothing can prepare you for the daily ups and downs of training your own bird dog. When you’re caught off guard by something, stay focused on your dog, pay close attention and if you’re not quite sure what to do, just be quiet and observe. This simple strategy has helped me greatly. It’s minimized the amount of times I have over-corrected and/or over-praised the dog and it’s also given me a better understanding of my dog’s behavior including how he thinks and how he learns, which has ultimately led to a better relationship for both of us.
As we are now on the other side of April 15th, most states in the Great Lakes region have leash laws kicking in and we need to keep our bird dog’s out of the woods so the birds can nest. Hartley and I will transition back to yard work with the exception of a weekend in May when we’ll be heading to Pineridge Grouse Camp to attend their annual woodcock banding clinic which warrants a blog post in itself so we’ll save that for a later date. I’m really looking forward to the event and I hope to see some of you there, for more information click here.
Thanks again to all the loyal subscribers and if you’re enjoying what we do here at Northwoodsr, please let us know! Subscribe to the blog, leave a comment and let us know what you’d like to see more or less of. Thanks for reading and have a great day!