Getting Ready is Half the Fun and Essential!!!
By Tom Hayes


Jason Gooding teaching Lady, a young lab the "come around" command.

Along about the time the walleyes stop biting in the spring, or if not stop biting, they stop biting in the places where I can locate them, my thoughts begin to wander into the coming summer and fall. While I love to fish, I love to hunt even more so at the first excuse I will start to plan and prepare for fall.

From the first of September to the end of March I am able to keep my two yellow Labradors in the field working birds between hunting wild birds and by frequent trips to Good Go Ing. One thing that set Gooding’s operation off from other game farm / hunting preserves is that they allow members the full use of the facility for working dogs in the off season and from mid-summer on, have birds available to plant for the added dimension of training flush to wing to shot and to hand. 

In the heat of the summer days, of course, this is not something that a dog owner can do without extreme caution. Dogs don’t seem to have their heat overload sensor switch set low enough to self regulate, so it is up to their handler to make sure they do not get overheated and stressed. Going out during the cooler parts of the day really helps as does a dip in the pond behind Errol’s house before and after the session. At least that is effective with the water lovers. 

Most of the summer outings I just work on reinforcing the basics with a little obedience work and some quartering practice with arm signals. You might note that I did not say “hand” signals as I am a full believer in using large motion signals for directing my dogs. There is nothing subtle for my two girls. We don’t add birds to the practice sessions until the late summer, just before the Game Farm Season opens on September 1st. 

Around the second week of August I might plant a young pheasant or two for the dogs to find and for me to shoot and to try a retrieve. Labs do not need any help with their instinct for retrieving, but in the excitement of the early season, my younger one does show the need to be reminded that the retrieve stops at my side when the bird is given to hand. She likes to just lay the bird down somewhere in my vicinity and get back out there in the brush to look for the next one. You want to talk about desire to hunt.

If my session happens to fall during a day and hour when the weather is just not good for field work, we will do dummies in the pond for a dozen retrieves or so at most. Since I mostly hunt upland, my two are not all that great at sitting on stay to the shot so I have to work on it a lot. And normally, in the excitement of an incoming flock of mallards, I will wish I had spent a lot more time on steadiness!

Enough cannot be said for making sure dogs (and their owners for that matter) are in good physical shape, especially during the warmer days of the early openers. Long walks are good, sessions in the field at hunting pace are even better. Just start slow and keep the sessions short. A dog will cover ten times as much ground as the hunter so we must be diligent and alert to the possibility that our dogs will need to be stopped by US.

Simple marking drills with dummies are a great way to start teaching steadiness.

The other thing that has to start along about the time the walleyes forsake me is that I dig out the calendar and start noting the various dates when hunting seasons will be opening around Wisconsin as well as Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. If my bunch is going to do a waterfowl / pheasant combo in South Dakota, it is also important to note when the application period for Non Resident Waterfowl opens and closes. There is no excuse for not getting it done early as everything is now available on line. Just have a credit card handy and go for it.

Normally, I am a public land hunter but once in a while, my friends and I might decide to do a day or two on a private land hunt. If that is the case, it pays to nail down dates for the trip as early as possible and have a back up date or two in mind, then start getting on the internet and / or phone to get the trip booked. Good sources for private land hunts are #1 friends who will recommend someone, #2 the internet, and #3 the classifieds section of regional magazines. 

This year we are doing a combo hunt in South Dakota. We will hunt two days for prairie chicken and sharptail grouse west of the Missouri River, then two days on the east side of the Missouri on a private land pheasant hunt, then wrap up with one day of public land hunting before heading home. 

Before finalizing the plans, it’s always a good idea, too, to get some information on how the bird populations are doing after the winter and spring weather challenges. But you have to do it and the sooner the better. Motel rooms in pheasant country during the first three to four weekends of the South Dakota (and presumably other states as well) season can be tight as there are not all that many towns nor rooms so make plans early and get the rooms booked early! 

One overlooked opportunity in South Dakota, and possibly North Dakota as well, is hunting on tribal lands. The Indian tribes manage their lands for hunting and sell their own licenses. It is not necessary to get a State issued license in South Dakota, anyway, to hunt tribal only lands. Also, it is important to realize that hunters MUST have a tribal license to hunt tribal lands whether they possess a State issue license or not. I just looked a few days ago and the Tribes of South Dakota have a webpage with links to each of the Reservation Offices so shopping for a hunting spot and the needed licenses is as simple as clicking or calling.

Assembling a good first aid kit for man and beast and gaining the knowledge and confidence to take on the field emergencies are essential. Along that line one thing almost no one does but all of us who hunt with dogs should do ahead of time, is to make a reference list of the names and phone numbers, and AFTER HOURS numbers, too, of veterinarians in the area where your hunt will lead. All it takes is one catastrophe to not only end an outing, but to possible end a relationship literally years before its time if your trusted dog gets into trouble. 

Make your Plans, Prepare, and then go out and Do It!