Andy Duffy has been shooting competitively for over 23 years. He’s a 12 time Sporting Clays National Champion and an avid bird hunter. Today, he details 6 ways to ensure a happy hunt early this fall.
1. Proper Footwear
For anything you do in the outdoors, what you wear on your feet makes a huge difference in the amount of enjoyment you can get out of the day. The best thing is to have your new pair of hunting boots a month before the season and wear them at every opportunity. Dew on the grass makes leather wet and a poorly made boot will expand. This causes your foot to move around and the next thing you know you’re stuck with a blister. Good gear costs more, but ultimately is a better value.
2. The Whistle
The human voice is one of the most disturbing things to wildlife. If you are someone who feels the need to handle your dog constantly by voice, know that you are alerting every pheasant or grouse for a 100 yards or more. It’s much better to teach your dog to turn to a 2-toot whistle note. When I train my dogs (springers and labs mainly) one toot on the whistle means “sit.” Two toots means “turn” and a series of toots (4 or more) means “come here.” If your dog is getting a little farther out than you want him, one toot will sit him and allow you time to catch up. If he’s too far out to the side, two toots will turn him back your way. By using the whistle and not your voice you will be able to get much closer to gamebirds. Thus, getting much better (and closer) shots.
3. Pay Attention to Scenting Conditions
Scenting conditions can make your dog look like a hero or a zero. Understanding this can go a long way toward smoothing dog/human relationships. The best conditions for a dog are on overcast, drizzly days. The damp keeps birds from moving around as much and also preserves scent (a downpour washes it away but who wants to hunt then anyway?). The worst conditions are dry, sunny, low humidity, breezy days. Scent evaporates and blows away. The best dog in the world will struggle on a day like this. On these occasions, it pays to remember that sometimes your shooting isn’t all it should be, so it’s time to give your dog the same forgiveness he gave you…
4. Inside vs. Outside
My dogs are my family so I have them with me all the time. That doesn’t mean that they never see time in an outside kennel. When serious training starts often I’ll let them live in the kennel instead of being in the house. This creates an atmosphere of anticipation, and the dog begins to really look forward to working. The first eight months of life is all about bonding, socialization with low pressure obedience and conditioning (introduction to gunfire primarily). Then in to the kennel for the real work.
5. Mark the Spot
If you hit a bird and can’t find it, mark the spot (a small roll of surveyors tape works well for this and doesn’t take up much room in the game bag). On the return trip, take your dog back to the spot and just let him hunt for a bit. Sometimes, birds killed instantly at the shot will hit the ground without emitting any scent. The old timers I hunted with called it “air washed.” By coming back later you allow some time for scent to disperse a bit and this can be the difference between you enjoying that grouse on your dinner table or a coyote getting away with it.
6. Don’t Leave Trash in the Woods
By this I mean shooting trash. I wouldn’t imagine that most folks would just dump the remains of their lunch in their favorite bird cover but leaving empty shells on the ground just advertises how good your hunting area is. You would be surprised how fast they pile up and they take forever to break down. If you pack it in, pack it out.