Shooting preserves give you and your dog quality hunting

Developing a good bird dog is a serious commitment. It takes time, for sure. And a fair amount of money; don’t think that initial outlay to purchase a quality pup is the end of it. It’s only the beginning.

But what it takes most of all is birds. Lots of them. Early and often. As many as possible.
For our Lab pup Finn, who is now 16 months old and retrieved her first pheasant last month, it simply meant a lot of fun. For her and for Paula and me. Finn readily pursued anything that flew or hopped, relishing the chase and always looking for more action.
 
And we gave it to her. Living along the Pennsylvania-New York border, we took advantage of the Keystone State’s dove hunting season to give Finn a chance to retrieve – or simply pounce on – downed doves. It also gave her additional time with guns; regular trips to the local sportsmen’s club to skeet and trap ranges also helps.
 
Pigeons that frequent area farms are also options. The farmer is usually more than happy to have you trim their numbers, and they’re bigger than doves and offer more in-field training.
 
Now, with pheasant season in full swing, Finn has shown some promise, snorting her way through heavy cover and returning home with enough nicks and scratches to show she’s out there working. She has also flushed and retrieved, although the retrieve was her typical playful pounce and claim-staking effort. We can work on that.
 
But birds are the cornerstone, the foundation of her training. Thankfully, our time at the skeet and trap ranges this summer, in addition to being just plain fun, has boosted our shooting percentages dramatically. The last thing you want is to have an up-and-coming hunting dog do its job by flushing the bird, only to have it glide away unscathed. After a couple of those scenarios, trust me, your dog will give you The Look.
 
So right now Finn is at that stage where she just needs more reps. And it’s the pheasants that are the best teachers.
 
That can be a problem for many hunters in New York – and for us, too, in neighboring Pennsylvania, since we hunt both sides of the border. Pheasant hunting is a put-and-take game thanks to the stocking efforts of New York’s DEC and Pennsylvania’s Game Commission. Wild birds are pretty much non-existent, thanks to habitat loss over the years and an abundance of predators on the ground and in the air.
 
That’s why Paula and I regularly take Finn to a shooting preserve, where she can flush and, hopefully, retrieve many birds and we can accelerate her learning curve by getting more birds out in front of her. She deserves it, we rationalize, and hey, we deserve it, too. We’ve spent too much time – and yes, money – on developing Finn (Sayre Hill’s Flying Finn, those registration papers say) and spent too much time at the trap and skeet ranges to have it all go for naught.
 
Shooting preserves offer the kind of controlled setting where you can work with your dog, and your canine companion can get more flushes in a day than they’ll likely get in an entire season. If you’re serious about developing your dog or just want to have an enjoyable outing with an already proven hunting dog, a shooting preserve is the answer.
 
Too, you can have fun pursuing birds you wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to hunt – quail and chukars, for example. It’s always fun to see how your dog reacts to that new smell and flush.
 
Shooting preserves, since they are managed for bird hunting, provide the kind of habitat that lends itself to quality wingshooting. You’ll often get those classic, tight pheasant flushes where a cockbird explodes, cackling, from cover.
 
New York is fortunate to have numerous shooting preserves across the state, so chances are you won’t have to look far to find a good preserve that will fill your – and your dog’s – needs.
 
Sure, there’s an expense involved. But you’ve come this far with your hunting dog to let it all unravel by a lack of birds. Shooting preserves – where the season can be extended on either end – are the answer.
 
Your dog will thank you for it, probably with a retrieve to hand.
Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Hunting News, New York – Steve Piatt

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