Monday, March 8, 2010

spring training on wild birds

This has been a perfect transition into spring period this year. The snows have been few and the days have warmed, melting the snow. With the melting of the snow there is a lot of water, so I don't have to pack water for the dogs. I'm not packing a gun either. It's almost like walking the hills without weights. The mountains are not frozen anymore and the dirt is soft, giving me better traction than I had the last two months of the season. The soft dirt almost feels like a cushion coming down hill, not jarring every bone in the body with each step. So there is no excuse for getting the dog out for some spring training and staying in shape myself.
The winter was kind to the birds and there seem to be plenty left for breeding later this spring. All the huns seem to be paired up and the chukars are starting, although I still see coveys of ten to twenty occasionally. These birds are great for training, especially the paired up huns. They seem to hold pretty tight. I've already got Riley back to good form as far as holding point until I fire the blank pistol, so it would seem that training may not be so necessary, but every minute in the chukar hills together is training for both of us. I learn a little more about him each time just as he figures out how to use the wind better and places the chukars tend to congregate. Being out together three times a week not only is good training, it is also great conditioning as well as helping us learn to work as a team together. It is a team sport. I wouldn't be able to find the birds if it wasn't for the dogs and they wouldn't get to retrieve if it wasn't for me and the gun.
Which brings up two more parts of the hunting equation that I feel necessary for my success. I always pack a frozen chukar along in my pack for retrieving. Two or three times during our hikes, I flush the pointed birds and shoot the blank pistol. I'll throw the bird in a direction where the dog is not watching and then call his name and try and give him hand signals towards the bird. Once again, this helps the dog to know we are a team. If he doesn't see the bird and there is one down, he can count on me to help him find that bird.
The last point is shooting. Although it may not be considered conditioning it is. As you get older the reflexes slow. So once a week I take my trap thrower out (without the dogs) and shoot a box or two of clay pigeons. I have an automatic thrower that throws the clays randomly so I don't know whether they are going to be high, low left, right, or straight, thus helping to keep my reflexes honed. I have to be able to do my part in this team relationship.
When the dogs and I go on these training jaunts I usually try to treat the walk just as a hunt. I go at least four miles and 1500 feet of elevation. We go to many different locations, keeping both the dogs and me guessing. It's also a good way to scout. There are times when we only see a few birds and times when we are constantly on them. I have a few places I could go where the dogs would constantly find quail to point, but that's not what we do. We hunt chukars when there are times when you might go a couple of hours before finding the birds. Riley is now three years old and Dakota eleven so I don't need to keep them on birds to keep them interested. The quail are perfect for young pups.
Although I've managed to put a few pounds on Riley, I think his ribs will always show as much as we go out. He and Dakota love it, and I love taking them. Because of this spring training I'm keeping in decent shape. As you get older, this is very important. Once you get out of the habit, it becomes hard to get back into the rhythm of walking those steep hills.

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