Twenty Days At Bird Camp

After twenty long days (well, for us anyway) our 16-month-old Weimaraner Stuka officially graduated from “Bird Camp” today and our pack is reunited. The additional week of training was beneficial and we noticed a marked evolution in his hunting skills. After the experience, one conclusion was clear; Stuka is developing his own unique style of hunting game birds.

A clear difference between himself and my German Shorthaired Pointer (Elsa) is Stuka’s penchant for stalking his prey. But we’ll need to refine this trait and find balance between stalking and creeping too close to force a flush. Through the use of bird launchers, and experience on wild birds, he will begin to understand when to remain steady. But Stuka’s stalking prowess should prove useful when tracking wild pheasants who try run rather than flush.

This past week brought on another distinct change in his hunting style. He’s gone from almost entirely nose down to hunting with his head up. He’s testing the wind, not just following a trail. While his nose will always be his strongest asset, he’s learning to add other tools to his hunting arsenal and with experience, he’ll figure out what works best, and when.

I was pleased to see his progress in honoring other dogs’ points, even if the dog happened to be fake. In the coming season Stuka and Elsa will have some controlled, simultaneous experiences in the field. Elsa’s stronger prey drive, larger area of ranging, and overall bird-finding experience may result in Stuka choosing to simply follow Elsa around. Stuka will spend time with her in the field, but we’ll watch that he doesn’t get lazy and let her find all the birds. He must also find his strengths and refine his own methodology.

In the images below, Stuka can be seen honoring the remote backing dog. He remained steady as a training pigeon was released as seen in the upper left corner…

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…the bird veers off to the right, and Stuka continues to hold steady.

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A memorable part of the day was seeing Stuka nail a solid point on a loose chukkar. Although the bird flushed weakly, only flying a few feet, fluttering in the grasses right in front of him, Stuka didn’t charge the bird. His point remained steady.

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The shotgun report didn’t faze Stuka, and he made a beautiful retrieve.

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With the bird in his mouth, he trotted right past Justin and I and headed straight for mom (who was operating the camera) and brought the bird to her hand. After seeing this, I suggested that perhaps Kay should start carrying a shotgun this fall, to which Justin commented that perhaps just a game vest will do.

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Bird Camp: Weimaraner Edition

In May 2009 Elsa went off to Bird Camp at Pine Hill Kennel & Sportsman’s Club for four weeks. Today, I dropped off Stuka for the same program. This time we are trying two weeks in the spring and two weeks in the late summer/early fall. While I was reluctant to part with Elsa for a month, she left only two weeks after Stuka joined our family.  Although we certainly missed Elsa, we were somewhat occupied with an eight week old puppy in the house.

Stuka is gregarious, animated, and possesses a ready-for-anything attitude. His absence will be noticeable in our home, even if it’s only for 14 days. In the meantime, I remind myself that 1) I don’t have easy access to birds for training, and 2) putting a dog on birds several days in a row is far better than only on the weekends. Nonetheless, it will take some getting used to, but I know he will be a better bird dog for the experience.

 Above: This past April we started putting Stuka out on planted Chukars.

Above: This past April we started putting Stuka out on planted Chukars.

Afield: American Writers On Bird Dogs

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Just pre-ordered what appears to be a terrific read… “This collection features stories from some of America’s finest and most respected writers about every outdoorsman’s favorite and most loyal hunting partner: his dog. For the first time, the stories of acclaimed writers such as Richard Ford, Tom Brokaw, Howell Raines, Rick Bass, Sydney Lea, Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, Phil Caputo, and Chris Camuto, come together in one collection.

Glamour Shots

Good friend and professional photographer Tom Gennara was kind enough to recently invite Stuka and I to his warehouse studio. Stuka seemed rather comfortable in front of the camera while posing for a number of shots. Below are a few of the results… certainly not the usual field-oriented photographs we normally capture. More like “doggie glamour” shots, eh? Don’t worry, we’ll eventually get back to posting pictures of dogs with birds in their mouths…

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Field & Stream Covers 1930s - 1960s

I have always been impressed by those with a talent for painting. In this day of high resolution, photo-retouched, airbrushed, hyper-realistic imagery, it’s great to see magazines like Pointing Dog Journal and Gray’s Sporting Journal maintaining a more traditional, artistic approach to their covers. Original art on magazine covers is reminiscent of an ideal, it’s not perfection… it’s like a memory of a scene or event from one’s past.

Spring Training

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It was Stuka’s turn today to get out for a run in the woods, and perform some ground work. We started with a short walk in the woods to help expend some energy. The temperatures were a bit warmer than yesterday, however it was more overcast. Stuka was very active…and frequently found sticks to carry. Interestingly, he is a very “nose down” kind of dog. Continuously sniffing the ground, whereas Elsa tends to be a little more “heads up”, even looking in the trees at times. The exercise worked out well as it allowed him to focus on training exercises later in the day. A few hours later we drove Stuka over to a local high school practice field that was entirely fenced-in. This provided a good environment for him to simply drag a 12′ check cord with limited distractions. We focused on drills involving 1) quartering, 2) whoaing, and 3) retrieving.

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When quartering, Stuka was worked left-to-right on the check cord and instructed to turn at a single blast of the whistle. This exercise was eventually done hands-free. If Stuka did not comply, he received mild stimulation from the collar. The moment he turned properly the stimulation ended. This provides him an impression that he turned off the stimulation, and reinforces the conditioning.

Stuka’s been whoaing very well since a puppy, so I focused on increasing the distance and duration of his whoas. To do this, he was put into a whoa, then I walked in large circles around him occasionally changing direction or approaching him, then walking away again. During this exercise, I tried not to pay too much attention to him, and if he took a step he received a mild “nick” from the collar.

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Retrieves were done with a wing covered canvas bumper. The retrieves were kept short…the distance does not matter at this stage. The focus here was on returning the bumper versus running away or simply chewing on it. Keeping the retrieves short also lets me grab hold of the check cord if necessary and reel him in.

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All the exercises we performed during the training session were mixed up and kept relatively short to ensure boredom did not become an issue. The point was to keep each task fun…and why shouldn’t they be? These basic exercises will eventually build upon each other and come together in “real world” hunting situations. One more important step…when Stuka did something incorrectly, we calmly repeated the task. Getting angry, frustrated, or yelling only enforces negative conditioning and does not support the teamwork that will be necessary later when presented with unplanned events in the field. Of course, when things went well, Stuka received ample praise.

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