Accomplished trainer: “Do you know what it takes to make a good bird dog?”
Neophyte response: “What?”
Accomplished trainer: “About 500 birds.”
The question is certainly a loaded one and the answer somewhat flip, but the takeaway from this good-natured exchange is to underscore the importance of bird contacts in developing a pointing dog. The more birds a dog encounters, the more it figures out the nuances that steer it toward good performance and away from making mistakes. This often makes the difference in turning a so-so dog into a good one—or, better yet, a good dog into a great one.
One of the best examples on the commercial level is Flying B Ranch, in Kamiah, Idaho, where dogwork is the most critical component of the premium five-species wingshoots for which the lodge is famous. “We knew from the outset that having impeccably trained, highly experienced pointing dogs was going to be crucial to the success of our business,” said Manager Karen Syron. “World-class dogwork is a sight to behold and results in more birds bagged by our hunters. It also shows guests that their outfitter is highly organized and detail oriented, because you cannot fake your way to a 50-dog kennel of top-flight bird dogs.”
Flying B’s dogs come from good stock and are trained by highly skilled dog folk—something that can be said of most good gundogs. However, The B can provide an upstart pointer with something unique. Because the lodge specializes in multi-species, no-limit wingshoots conducted over a seven-month season, its dogs receive a mind-blowing number of bird contacts.
Take, for example, an 18-month-old pointer we’ll call Sam. The average daily bag for a two-person hunting party at The B is 30 birds per day, and it typically takes about 60 bird contacts to achieve this. Of course, Sam does not handle all the work himself, as he shares the field with a bracemate; but between pointing and backing he will experience the vast majority of those contacts. So let’s conservatively say that Sam hunts five days a week, for a total of 100 days during the season. Sixty contacts per day times 100 days equates to a jaw-dropping 6,000 bird contacts! And this doesn’t include the hundreds of contacts experienced while training in the off-season.
When such an incredible amount of bird exposure is coupled with superior genetics and high-level training, the result is a fleet of gundogs that are true masters of their craft. “We derive a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from the way our dogs perform,” Syron said. “But our guests are the real beneficiaries, because most of them would never otherwise get to witness this level of dogwork. Some of our guests have their own dogs, too, and we let them know that even though it is virtually impossible for their dogs to encounter thousands of birds per season, anything they can do to increase the number of encounters likely will have a positive effect.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY TERRY ALLEN.