The purchase of a bird dog is planned to meet the opening of hunting season. Can’t purchase a dog in January, it would interfere with the end of duck season. Can’t purchase a dog in June, it wouldn’t be ready to hunt on the October opener for ducks.
That leaves, February, March and April as the prime months to purchase a lab pup. At least that’s the way I looked at it. Decision time? That’s during the summer or early fall when you know you’d better get in line with the breeders to and find out what’s coming. The sooner you pick a bitch and litter the better your chances of having an early pick.
Early pick is good, but not great. If you don’t know what to look for, being first has no value. The rookie dog buyer will probably pick the wrong dog anyway. Linda, my wife, and I had a tough time picking out Lola Diogi, our 2007 lab pup. The breeder believed the largest female was the best dog. I tended to agree with her but Linda was stuck on one of the smaller pups.
In the end, Linda was probably on target. Lola (the small dog) is even tempered, easy to handle, loves to please and she loves to hunt. Now all I have to do is get the point across.
She spent a month and a half at the trainers last summer, but we couldn’t bear to leave her there longer. We were eager to assimilate her into our household and continue her training ourselves. It’s worked out, but I know she’d be more advanced, hunting wise, if I’d left her with the trainer for a couple more months. On the other hand she’d probably be socially stunted – so it’s a double-edged sword thing.
The opener of duck season was a let down as Lola was completely confused and dazed by the activity and the other dogs. She was left in their wake. Basically she was a companion. I tried to accept that situation and remain patient, but it was trying.
As pheasant season approached, I had hopes that Lola would show signs of the bird-dog greatness I knew she could have, but I didn’t want to build up expectations. She was familiar with the property as I’d taken her on many walks and she had raised one rooster – right under her nose – a couple weeks earlier.
Getting a bird up under hunting conditions is a different story and to make matters worse, it appeared that our pheasant population was at an historic low.
Opening day started slow. Lola was looking good, but producing no results. As expected she was distracted by the other dogs, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it so I let her do her thing and called her back occasionally when she strayed too far away or took too long to return.
I could see the instincts in her.
I thought to myself, “Will she do something to show me her true potential before the end of the weekend? Or, will I go home continuing to wonder where we were heading?”
Lola’s predecessor, Valentine, (currently 14 and retired) was a slow learner on pheasants. She used her eyes and ears to hunt, but not her nose. That made her quick to retrieve, but slow to track. Lola seems to be the reverse, slower to retrieve, but quick to hunt and track.
By the end of day one, I had a bird in the bag, but Lola hadn’t been very involved. Half way through the last field of the day, with light fading and clouds overhead, Fred dropped a cockbird near the center of the field. With three other dogs in the vicinity, I continued to watch Lola as she was showing signs that a bird might be in my area.
A few minutes passed and Lola cooled off while the others were still searching for Fred’s bird and it was beginning to look like it might be lost. I reversed course and called to Lola with the intent of helping find the lost bird. Lola immediately began to work back towards Fred and the others. Unexpectedly a rooster shot out of the grass in front of me and Lola. My first shot missed and the second came at a long range. I threw the barrel out in front of the bird as it canted and turned to the right at 45 yards.
When I pulled the trigger, the rooster dropped as if dead, but that seemed unlikely. Lola ran and I walked quickly to my mark. Dropping my hat near the spot where the bird hit, I began to follow Lola. It appeared that she was following scent. She dug into a bush pressing forward as bird dogs do when they know there’s something there. The rooster popped out the far side of the bush and Lola and I pounced on it at the same time. What a rush.
At that point I was satisfied that we were on our way. The next day she caught a scent trail and tracked down a rooster in heavy cover, getting it airborne in range, but leaving me without a shot as the smart rooster managed to put a tule patch between him and I. Despite not getting a shot, the event confirmed what I thought I knew already. Lola has the right stuff. I can hardly wait for her to develop.
P.S. I wrote this entry after the first weekend of pheasant season, but didn’t post it because the web log wasn’t ready. Since that time Lola has proven her skill as a pheasant tracker, both in finding birds before and after the shot. I expect big things from her next season.