Duck search without birds or water

It may sound counter intuitive, but it depends on what you want to accomplish. First, I wanted to give the guys a little mental stimulation. During these months between the end of hunting season and when we begin training, they need something more than daily walks. Second, I wanted Doc to work on stretching his search distance beyond a couple hundred feet.

Doc and Elvis have a lot of room to run and sniff.

We didn’t do any training last year, partly because I had to get rid of my birds when we moved into town and I haven’t found a good place to train. Mia came down with a serious GI infection and then was hit with an aggressive cancer that took her life, so training was the last thing on my mind. I wasn’t even motivated to go hunting but owed it to Doc and Elvis, and in the end was thankful I did.

Doc hits the scent cone and quickly finds the bumper

But back to training, I used a technique suggested by another trainer. While walking the guys, I would toss a bumper with a duck wing zip-tied to it. We’d continue on for several hundred feet then I’d stop and cast Doc back towards the bumper. He quickly found them, but this exercise was just to get him comfortable with going long distances for a bird.

Doc retrieving a bumper

I’ll increase the difficulty as we go on, eventually adding a blind to the routine so he should be ready for water work by the time the ice leaves the ponds.

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Doc’s retrieve and duck search

I’ve attached a video of Friday’s duck hunt.

Doc had just returned with the duck I had shot when a wounded duck went scrambling through the brush. I sent Doc after it, but after nearly half-an-hour of searching, he went up the hillside and I was finally able to recall him at 120 yards. I made my way into the brush to help him search, and believe the duck crawled under some heavy brush that was impenetrable.

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Afternoon hunt with the boys

Doc honoring Elvis, about 50 feet ahead of him

Doc and Elvis braced well on Monday’s Pheasant hunt, and I had a lot of fun watching the (half) brothers work together.

Elvis on point. The Pheasant is about 20 feet ahead of him, and can be seen next to his ear

Elvis got the first point with Doc honoring, but Doc got the retrieve. The birds were holding tight in the stiff wind, but they were also running and sticking to the sage brush rather than the cattails.

Doc retrieving the Pheasant

With the second rooster, Doc went on point with Elvis honoring, but they were pointing a hot spot. After snapping a picture of the guys, I moved in but the pheasant flushed downwind and behind me. Aided by a 20-mph tailwind, it was a long shot that I took and missed.

Doc on point with Elvis honoring

I missed the next rooster as well, as they were flying erratically in the heavy wind. We flushed it once more but I was unable to get a shot as it disappeared in a grove of Russian Olive trees.

Doc and Elvis with their Pheasant. The boys hunted hard.

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Afternoon hunt with Doc

Doc pauses to test the wind

If you follow my blog, you know that Doc’s hunting has suffered from lack of training this year. I believe that dogs – at least mine – can work some issues out for themselves and in doing so, learn better than having the problems “trained” out.

Doc working the reeds

So I wasn’t too concerned about Doc because having trained him, I can tell when he’s rusty and when he’s regressed. In training your own dog, you can either make or break the relationship and with Doc, I knew he would work them out for himself.

The ability to climb a fence ladder is an important hunting skill.

He has improved with each hunt and today, I was very pleased with his steadiness and the way he extended his range. This is an indication that he’s gaining confidence in hunting without brace mate, Mia.

Doc on a nice point

It was just a short 2-hour hunt in heavy wind, which held the birds tight but made scenting a real problem. However I did get a shot at a teal which I missed, and we kicked up several Pheasants. Unfortunately they were all hens, which are illegal to shoot in Idaho.

Doc on another nice point

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Opening day duck hunt with Doc and Elettra

Saturday was opening day of the waterfowl hunting season for this region of the state, so I took Doc and Elettra. There are still times when it hits us that Mia is no longer with us and hunting season is one of those times for me.

Elettra and Doc hunt the brush as we approach a pond

My original plan was to take Elettra but where she hasn’t trained in several years, I took Doc along to make sure I didn’t lose any birds. As I’ve said before, Doc didn’t get any training this last year so his hunting skills have suffered.
Minutes after starting our hunt, Elettra locked up in a beautiful point. Moments later, a hen Pheasant flushed right under her nose and from that point on, she was hunting Pheasants while I hunted duck.
A flock of teal zoomed in and I dropped a Greenwing Teal. The dogs had to do a little searching, but Doc found and retrieved it. Another flock of teal landed in the slough and I dropped a Bluewing. This time Doc made a nice water retrieve and took his casting very well.
A little while later a lone Mallard swung overhead and I dropped it, and once again Doc made the retrieve. While he does a good job with water retrieves, he needs work on his land retrieves. Its nothing serious and I think he’ll work them out as we get into Pheasant season, but it’s something we’ll have to work on after hunting season ends.

Doc’s third retrieve of the day, a hen Mallard

Doc and Elettra with the ducks.

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Ecotherapy

Wolverine Canyon trees in fall colors

Ecotherapy (a.k.a. Green Therapy, Nature Therapy, Earth-Centered Therapy) is a new buzzword to me, but the term was coined by pastoral counselor Howard Clinebell in 1996. However its something I and perhaps most outdoor enthusiasts already know – nature is good for the soul.

Fall foliage

According to Psychology Today, this communing with nature is just as effective in combating depression as psychotherapy and drugs. It can boost energy, improve mental health, and reduce stress. Whether taking a walk in the park, testing and training your dog, or hunting, fishing and camping, the benefits are more than just physical exercise.
Maybe that’s why I enjoy taking lunchtime walks or hunting with my dogs as much as I do. Sure, I hunt hard and sometimes go places other hunters fear to tread, because my goal is to come home with birds. But coming home empty-handed doesn’t diminish the enjoyment that I get from being outdoors watching my dogs hunt. For me, it’s not about filling my daily limit.

Elvis searching the brush where we would later flush two ruffed grouse

Last week I took Doc hunting and dropped a sage grouse which he retrieved with difficulty. I didn’t do any training this past year and he suffered from it in every area of hunting. However that’s entirely my fault not his, and he will probably work those problems for himself as we hunt more this year.

Doc retrieving a sage grouse

Friday I took Elvis grouse hunting and he did a nice job of working the heavy brush. It was fun to watch the intensity he displayed. Returning to the truck, we flushed two Ruffed Grouse, one I never saw and one that disappeared into brush before I could get a bead on it. Still, it was a very nice cold and quiet stroll through the canyons with the trees all in color.

Doc with the sage grouse he retrieved

Yeah, I can attest to the benefits of ecotherapy.
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Meatballs for your hunting dogs

I don’t recall if it was Bill Tarrant or Delmar Smith who came up with the idea, but for the past few years we’ve made the honey-filled snacks to take out in the field with me.
This is the Parmesan version – we replaced bread crumbs with grated Parmesan cheese for the binder. The following recipe makes approximately 20 golf ball-size meatballs.

A batch of meatballs ready for baking

2 lbs hamburger
approximately 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
Mix the ingredients and then form the meatballs. We bake the meatballs on a cookie tray.

Parmesan meatballs hot out of the oven

Bake at 375 (f) for about 30 minutes, using a meat thermometer to test doneness.

00 gel capsules to be filled with honey

Using a medical dropper to fill the capsules

Using 00 size gel capsules, fill the capsule with honey using a syringe (eye dropper or medical dropper), poke a hole in the meatball, then insert the honey-filled capsule. Warm honey works better.

inserting a honey-filled capsule into a meatball

We make up a batch of the meatballs, package and freeze them, then I take one meatball per dog on our bird hunts. My hunts are often hunt from 4-6 hours in the field and usually in harsh terrain, so the guys love these little pick-me-ups.

A batch of meatballs ready for the freezer

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