by Gary Koehler
Many years ago, while living in northernmost Illinois, a friend and I would make an annual pilgrimage to a public hunting area with the intent of chasing put-and-take pheasants provided by the state.
I had a German shorthaired pointer at the time. And Nick doubled as my duck hunting companion, except on the coldest of days. Without fail, on each pheasant hunting trip we'd come across a couple of guys trailing behind a Chesapeake Bay retriever. Somehow I thought that odd.
But even though there was no water to contend with, I should not have been surprised at the number of Labs and golden retrievers pressed into service. Just as I relied on my shorthair to occasionally retrieve ducks, these other hunters got double duty by employing their dogs in the uplands.
WATERFOWL MIGRATION ALERTS!
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Then, and now, the majority of active hunters live in either a city or suburb. And few have the space or the time to maintain a large kennel with numerous dogs. Retrievers that adapt to hunting different types of birds double their value.
John Pease, who has raised and trained retrievers (hilltopkenneliowa.com) for more than 30 years in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says that only a little additional training time is required to transition your dog from waterfowl to upland game. "I have always hunted my dogs for both ducks and pheasants," Pease says. "My retrievers were all adaptable to upland game hunting."
"For most people," he continues, "it makes a lot more sense to have one dog—if they do it right. The more dogs you have, the less time you spend with each one of them."
Assuming that your retriever has undergone basic obedience training, there is not a lot more to add before turning it loose in the pheasant fields. "A little preparation helps a lot," Pease says. "You know, work on things that you are going to encounter in the field before you take the dog into the field.
"It's the same with a duck dog, where you get it used to getting in and out of the boat, retrieving bumpers ... that kind of stuff. To prepare your dog for upland birds, you have to first get it ready. Otherwise, you can expect the worst."
Steadiness is one consideration. Anyone who has ever hunted upland game likely has a horror story about a dog who took off on a dead run and didn't stop until every bird in the field flushed—hundreds of yards ahead of the hunters. "I get that phone call every year the night before the pheasant opener," Pease says. "People will call and ask me how to keep their dog under control. It's too late at that point. The dog probably isn't going to be under control the next day."