William McClure was a friend and mentor to me starting when I first spoke to him in 1987 until his death in 2013. Bill was a Brittany enthusiast and former breeder of the breed. He helped me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first dog, Christie, and shared his experience in training Brittanies for hunting with me when I trained Brittanies of my own. As this hunting season progresses and I take to the field with Hera, my fourth Brittany, I hear Bill’s voice, his warning against taking my dogs to hunting preserves to shoot pen raised chukar and pheasant. Bill warned me that pen raised birds are often not strong fliers and easy for the dog to catch. This, he warned, gives them the idea that they can catch wild birds too which is the last thing you want. I chose not to heed his warning at the time as I knew that hunters commonly visit hunting preserves with their dogs without issue. I took my first three Brittanies, Christie, Maggie and Juno to hunting preserves and never had a problem. In fact the photo at the head of this blog features me with my beloved Juno at the end of her first hunt on a preserve. Still, I wonder now if I should have heeded his warning, given that Hera is breaking point on woodcock, bumping the birds rather than waiting for me to walk up the point.
This is Hera’s fifth season and aside from her second season when she was in the thick of the “terrible twos” she has always remained staunch on point. She was exceptional in her third and fourth seasons in finding and pointing grouse and woodcock for me. Coincidentally, the hunting preserve I used with my previous dogs had temporarily suspended its operations during her third and fourth seasons. I took Hera to the preserve once during her troubled second season in an effort to condition her to remain staunch on point. The results of this effort are questionable as is shown in the video below, but Hera came into her own as a pointing dog in her next season.
I learned that the hunting preserve is back in business this year and saw no harm in reviving the tradition I had with my previous dogs. I liked taking them to the preserve for a shoot just ahead of the opening of grouse and woodcock seasons. So taking Hera out for a preseason shoot this year seemed harmless. I took a couple of friends with me for the shoot and we had a mix of chukar and pheasant released. I caught most of the action on my GoPro camera and in reviewing it Bill’s warning against taking my dogs to a hunting preserve is ringing in my ears. Hera remained staunch on a number of points that morning, I shot two pheasants and a chukar over her on point. There is, however, one troubling video in which she succeeded in catching a flushing pheasant in her jaws fleetingly. The bird broke free and made its escape. I am left wondering now if this somehow contributed to the problem I have with her in the field. Regardless, I will not take Hera to the preserve again.
I planned on taking her into the field tomorrow with my friend Jason and his dog Nos. We thought we would take the dogs hunting in the early morning on the property where we hunt deer, then move one of the ladder stands afterward. However, with Hera’s poor performance in the field this morning, she pointed and bumped three woodcock, and inclement weather forecast for tomorrow we will leave the dogs at home. Getting ready for deer season will be a nice diversion for me. I will be back in the field with Hera the day after. This time taking her with Mike, a new hunting buddy, and his young German Shorthaired Pointer, Maggie. I hope Hera will be back in form. If not, I will have to take steps to get her back on track. I find consolation in this in looking back on my friendship with Bill McClure. He recommended this book as a text on training a hunting dog and I found it invaluable.
A key premise stressed in this book is you are going to make mistakes, but this does not mean you will ruin your dog. Hera is keen little huntress and until this recent bout of breaking points a top notch hunting dog. With patience and perseverance on my part she will be again.
Posted by Geoffrey