Now I know that everyone says this and we are bombarded with setting goals at work, at home, financially, physically and more. However, this should be fun because it involves dogs, guns and hunting!
Think back to last season and I am sure you will recall items you vowed to improve on for this season. If not, then I may be alone and you can disregard this article. If you are like me, then you fell short for a multitude of reasons and your season was filled with situations that you wish you were better prepared for. Well, now is the time to start planning for next season.
I am a long way from being an expert regarding shooting or shooting instruction. However, I do shoot my fair share of birds during the wild-bird hunting season and in training our English Springer spaniels and other flushing dogs. I have learned the value of shooting at clay targets and it certainly can help with proper mounting of your gun and with getting your eyes to stay up with the target. However, it seems to lack the footwork that is needed when walking through cover and the adrenaline associated with the unknown of a flushing bird.
The only way to better prepare is to shoot at birds while walking. If possible, set your target launcher in a field and have a partner release it (wireless is best) while you walk at it, or away from it at various angles and distances. If you can do this a couple of times each month, it will significantly improve your shooting. If you mix it in with practice on the skeet field, you will be more than ready for next season.
Remember, the goal is not to shoot targets. The goal is to PRACTICE so do not keep score. Most of the clubs have times that are slow and if you are a member in good standing, you should be able to work with the club to practice as compared to just shooting a round.
Your goals for hunting are likely going to be tied to your commitment at completing other tasks throughout the year. Obviously, if you do not accomplish enough work, family responsibilities or house work during the year then you will not have as much freedom to hunt in the fall. Professional guides are dealing with their schedule, your schedule, others’ schedules, lodging availability and season dates. If you are looking to book a bird hunt someplace (with any professional guide), then I suggest you start planning. It will have the added incentive for you to plan other portions of your life to assure you are ready for the trip.
Other hunting goals should include an effort to get out and hunt over a gun dog more often. If you hunted six times last year, then set a goal to get out maybe eight or ten times next year. If you went to two local clubs last year, then try a new club this year. If you took three Clients out last year, then take five Clients out this year.
The most important goal I think everyone should make regarding hunting is to take a kid hunting with you. The rewards of seeing someone experience their first hunt or shoot their first bird over a dog are beyond words. Do you remember how exciting it was when it was your first bird? Trust me, when you bring a kid, you will remember! Also, a “kid” is a relative term and as you enter your 40’s, a “kid” could now be in his/her 20’s. There is a young man from New Jersey that purchased an English Springer spaniel puppy from us and he came out to hunt in Iowa with another Client/friend of mine. We hunted for three days and I cannot explain the joy I had when I could see the wide-eyed young exuberance on Russ’s face…and he is about 27 years old!
Bring your daughter, your wife or anyone else. There is safety in numbers and the more people we have that hunt, or more importantly are pro-hunting; the more favorable laws will be regarding hunting. A Client of ours came out a couple of weeks ago to look at his dog and take it back over the holidays. He brought his daughter with him and I was promptly told that she didn’t hunt and was an animal lover. Instead of eliminating his daughter from the activities, this gentlemen had his daughter walk with us as we ran a couple of flushing dogs and as we walked, he would stop and show her different grasses and seeds, different animal tracks and the direction they were going. I heard him talk to her about wind direction and how that impacted the dogs. He talked about the snow and ice. She did not walk for all of the dogs and the truth is she was probably somewhat bored. However, she spent time in the field with her dad, had a small period of education and was not in her room playing video games. I was quite impressed with her dad’s patience, understanding of exposing his daughter but not expecting her to be him and planting a seed so she does not grow up to be anti-hunting.
The last goals should revolve around your dog. It always seems that when the season ends, it becomes out of site/out of mind and any dog training and/or conditioning is set aside until the next season. Aside from physical conditioning, your dog will not listen at the beginning of the season if it sits on the couch all summer. Craney Hill Kennel trains throughout the year and we understand that it is our business and it is your hobby. However, your hobby should not be set aside from March to November. There are a number of ways to work with your dog throughout the year.
At the end of this season, write down some notes on what your dog did well and what he did not do well. Of the items he did not do well, cross off the ones that are not an issue for you. Now look at the remaining issues and decide if you can fix them. If you can, then put a plan together of how often you can devote the time so it is fixed for next season. If you cannot fix the issues yourself, or you cannot devote the required time to do it, you will need to seek help. If you are going to use a trainer, talk to a couple of them. Have them assess your dog and your expectations so the two of you can formulate a plan.
If you want to learn how to train the dog, and reap the reward of the doing it yourself, seek a training seminar. These seminars come in all shapes and sizes. For example, ours are generally for three days and it includes lunch and birds and you work with your dog. Other seminars are one or two days or longer. Some you bring your dog and others you do not bring a dog. Do some research and this may be an option that works for you.
In summary, practice your shooting throughout the year. Plan a trip to hunt wild birds and increase your time in the field locally and most important, bring a “kid” with you. Get your dog out on a regular basis or develop a plan to have someone work with your dog in the off-season. Increase your knowledge and experience by going to a dog training seminar. The bottom line is to start preparing now for next year. All of us are surprised at where each year has gone!
Todd has been training field bred spaniels since 1997. He participates in spaniel field trials and hunt tests in both the United States and Canada, has guided hunters for wild gamebirds, and is a professional dog trainer that firmly believes in the value of exposing hunting dogs to wild game-birds.
Todd has won and placed in numerous spaniel field trials, including the 2018 National Open Championship and the 2017 National Open High Point Trophy. More importantly, he has developed numerous dogs and their owners that have won and placed in spaniel field trials, including the 2019 Canada Amateur Championship.
Todd develops and sells started and finished English Springer spaniels and English Cocker spaniels for upland hunting out of Craney Hill Kennel in Mitchell, Georgia. He often has young field trial prospects in development throughout the year.