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Doves, pigeons & pups: don't overlook early-season dove and pigeon opportunities when it comes to jump-starting your dog's hunting career.

Perched atop a rolling hillside of short, yellow grass, I sat with Echo by my side. Echo, my seven-month-old pudel-pointer, was excited, taking in all the sights and sounds of this unfamiliar place.

We were hoping to intercept mourning doves as they flew by, leaving their roost in the timbered mountains behind us en route to grass seeds in the surrounding hills and valley floor, below. It didn't take long for doves to show.

The first bird of the morning sped by, and I missed. It was my first shot on our first official hunt and Echo didn't know what to do. I got her under control and the next bird soon passed. That one didn't get away.

Echo took off down the hill in the direction I shot, having no idea what she was looking for other than a bird. I'd failed to account for the fact these speedsters of the sky would be hard for her to mark, especially amid the rolling hills and surrounding trees.

I reached for my whistle. I gave it one sharp blow and Echo immediately stopped and looked at me, just as I'd trained her to do. She was 75 yards away, ears perked, looking for guidance. That's when I gave her an open hand signal, directing her to go right.

She went right... right past the dove. Again I blew the whistle and again she stopped for guidance. I directed her left and she went left but this time before she sped by the dove, it flapped a wing. That was all it took.

As soon as Echo picked up the bird, I gave two sharp blasts on the whistle. She sprinted right to me, delivering the bird to hand. It was a moment I'll never forget.

Was it perfect? No. Was it quiet and peaceful? No. But it was a start. Echo had her first official gamebird retrieve, and I, my first experience with my own gun dog that I also trained.

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Growing up, I hunted a lot. Today, I'm blessed to make my living by way of hunting. I'm also fortunate that I've finally reached a point in my life where I have time to properly devote to getting, training and hunting with a dog.

Many hunters and dog trainers warned me not to take Echo dove hunting, not on her first hunt. "Dove feathers fall out to easily, will get matted in her mouth and she won't want to pick them or any bird up, after that," was the consensus I got. That didn't stop me, for I figured that was easily remedied.

When Echo brought the first dove to hand, she sat on command. Quickly I picked the feathers from her mouth, gave her a drink, and promptly shot another dove, then another.

We repeated the feather picking from the mouth, followed by a quick drink, after each bird. Though I've never raised a dog, I am a father of two teenage boys, and a former high school teacher. I know how to read kids, and teaching Echo carried many similarities, minus the parent-teacher conferences.

Even before the hunt I felt confident Echo would retrieve a dove, no matter how many feathers came out. She was taught to retrieve multiple objects, early, and had never questioned my direction. Why would doves be different?

The next big test came a few minutes later, when a string of doves flew by. I connected on a double, with the first bird falling in short grass. Echo marked it and was off. She didn't see the second bird which fell in waist-high dry grass. 1 eventually directed Echo to that bird by using whistles and hand signals, which wasn't easy when she had her head down in the tall grass. But soon Echo found the bird and brought it to me. It was her first official double retrieve.

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We would leave the hills with a limit of doves and band-tailed pigeons. It was a good start to not only the season, but my new life hunting with my dog.

I've hunted around the world behind many dogs. I always loved the experience, and the dogs. The fact my first gamebird, taken at age 12, was a dove, and now Echo's first gamebird was also a dove, gave even deeper meaning to the hunt.

The next day we were in a different area. Still in the Cascade foothills of western Oregon, this time we were in big timber, a place I'd hunted band-tailed pigeons as a kid. The mineral spring still flows, and it attracts pigeons from miles.

Knock a band-tail from the sky, and the feather trail that slowly trickles to earth makes it easy for a dog to mark, even a pup. Though the limit is only two birds, the effort was more than worth it. Echo marked one bird that fell through a gap between two towering Douglas fir trees, and promptly brought it to hand without my saying a word or blowing the whistle. The second bird took more work, as it fell in thick brush.

By the end of September Echo had retrieved over 60 doves and several limits of band-tails for both myself and some buddies. Progressing to grouse, ducks and geese came easy that fall.

Two years later, and a multitude of birds to Echo's credit, my wife and I decided to get another pudelpointer. This time we got a male, a black male. Only about four percent of pudelpointers are black, and after seeing the demeanor of this pup's mom--who was also black--I knew I had to have one. Her drive, aggressive nature and fun-loving ways sold me.

We picked up the pup in mid-August from Steve Waller of Tall Timber Pudelpointers and training progressed nicely. We named him Kona, and right away he was fearless and had an eye for the sky.

Kona was never gunshy. So at 12 weeks of age I took him dove hunting. It was the last week of the season, mid-October, and the field we hunted was flat with short grass, perfect for the pup's first hunt. With Kona by my side, he watched swallows and song birds flutter by. We saw one dove that evening and lucked out and hit it. The bird folded and landed five paces from us.

Kona ran right to it, feathers still billowing down from the close-range shot. He sniffed the bird, mouthed it, grabbed it and ran to me, tail wagging all the while. It was a short retrieve, but a confidence builder for both of us. Kona couldn't have cared less about the shot, was eager to retrieve, didn't chew on the dove and brought it to hand. The fact he was so close allowed me to verbally guide and praise him.

Two days later Kona and I were back at it, on the final day of the season. This time we hunted the bottom edge of a rolling hill, with a short grass field in front of us. Again, the goal was to intercept cloves as they flew from roosting to feeding grounds. While bird numbers weren't as high in this area as others I hunt, the goal was to create a situation where Kona could see the birds, mark them and not have to retrieve in grass so tall he couldn't see me. This setting would also allow me to offer guidance to the pup as needed.

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Before the morning was over, seven doves were on the ground. Kona retrieved six of them. The doves that fluttered on the ground after being shot were easy for Kona to mark and fetch. A couple retrieves saw me standing, issuing and re-issuing hand signals, whistles and verbal commands to get Kona in position. It all happened no more than 20 yards from where we sat, which helped make the hunt a big success.

Not once did Kona drop a bird or hesitate to pick one up. Of course, after every retrieve I praised him, picked feathers from his lips and gave him water. It worked as he couldn't get back to hunting fast enough. Later that fall Kona would retrieve valley quail, blue and ruffed grouse, ducks and geese.

Personally, I believe I have dove and pigeon hunting to thank for the success my dogs showed at an early age. Both Kona and Echo had the genetics and the drive, and I, fortunately, was able to bring it out of them through consistent training and exposing them to multiple bird hunts.

By teaching both dogs hand signals--which I began doing at nine weeks of age--and introducing bird wings and bird skins tied to small bumpers, the dogs quickly learned. They learned to fetch and they learned restraint. They connected the dots, knowing that if they listened to whistle signals and followed hand commands, the reward would come. Early in their training the reward was food and praise; in the field the reward was birds.

I often reflect on my first dove hunt as a boy. Sitting on a gravel bar with my father and grandfather by my side, every dove we shot I retrieved, including ones that fell in the water. The only-thing missing on those hunts was a dog.

Last fall, Kona was too young to take part in Oregon's brief band-tailed pigeon season, but the extended dove season offered him just the opportunity he needed to start hunting. Echo, on the other hand, retrieved dozens of pigeons and doves, on multiple hunts, in that, her second year.

With this September comes another dove and band-tail pigeon season. I used to revel in September being the time I grabbed my bow and headed to multiple western states in pursuit of bugling bull elk. This September, I don't have a single elk hunt planned. Instead, you'll find me hunting with both dogs by my side, pass shooting doves and pigeons.

Pigeons, doves and dogs... what more could a hunter ask for?
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Author:Haugen, Scott
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Jul 26, 2017
Words:1666
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