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Hunting's Odd Couple
Oct 25, 2011
“Welcome Hunters, and Your Owners Too” the local vet’s marquee announced. If you are a hunter with hunting dogs, then you appreciate the reality that you feed them for ten months so you can play with them for two. But if you have ever been along on a pheasant hunt, you know that it’s the dog that makes the deal. No matter the claims made to fame, it’s not the warrior, it’s not his weapon, it’s his hunting dog that makes a good South Dakota pheasant hunt happen.
The requirements placed on a hunting dog, to be successful, is more than a little unusual. To fully appreciate it, get down on all fours. Not on your living room carpet, but in the nearest corn stubble field or slough. Now put your nose on the ground and run hard for ten yards, or until your nose falls off, whichever occurs first. Yet a good hunting dog will do that drill all day long, no matter what the weather. While you have your face down in that field, notice all the smells. A good hunting dog ignores the rabbits, the deer and whatever the cattle left, to focus on the apparently unique subtle scent of the wily ringneck. This hunting dog gig is no small feat.
At the other end of the equation, ask the hunter about his hunting dog and you will be surprised to learn how many South Dakota hunting dogs purport to speak the Queen’s English. The later in the evening you ask, at one of the local watering holes in Oacoma or Gregory or Gettysburg, the likelihood the hunter’s dog will be reported as capable of performing higher math increases exponentially.
Seriously, here are a few pointers if you are inclined to join the ranks of hunters with hunting dogs.
Don’t buy your dog on a whim at a DU banquet after too much refreshment. Owning and training a dog is no prefab program — it takes commitment.
Don’t overfeed your dog. The two cups a day of quality food is really all your dog needs, and your dog will hunt better and live healthier if you stick to recommended rations — even as small as they seem compared to the size of your dog.
Feed your dog a good brand of food. There is a direct relationship between the amount of cleaning you will do in the kennel, and the quality the food your dog consumes. It doesn’t need to be a designer brand, but a good one. I’m not sure if Bernie allows for commercial product placement plugs here — but if diamonds were good enough for your wife, then Diamond may be a good choice for your dog.
Control and training is everything in the hunter / dog relationship. If you have a hunter acquaintance that you never want to see again, take an untrained dog and a really loud whistle along on your next hunt with him. On the other hand, if you want to see your Facebook friend requests quadruple — train your dog. A good rule of thumb is ten minutes a day, twice a day, every day. For a half century the best books on dog training, they could be called Dog Training for Dummies, are those written by Richard Wolters in the 1960s — try Game Dog for starters.
Nothing wrong with a spare. My hunting buddy of many years lost his dog the week before “the opener” and moped through the fall dogless — half a hunting team — a shadow of his former self. The next year, I bought and trained a second dog. Who wants to be that poor dogless hunter schmuck? A few years later we relocated, and a new hunting buddy had three dogs. If two’s good, who am I to argue with three? Life doesn’t get much better than working birds over three dogs in heavy cover, and they never make you be a blocker (the guys that people are shooting towards).
Pick a breed that fits your hunting environment. If you pick up a Pheasants Forever magazine, you will see many articles promoting the attributes of dogs that have no apparent ability to survive hunting in sub-zero weather or snow over two feet deep. These are pretty dogs; they just aren’t South Dakota hunting dogs. The most versatile and practical hunting dog to own in the pheasant capitol of the world is a Labrador retriever. They can hunt in wind chills of 50 below (maybe more, but that’s the limit this hunter has tested), live in outdoor kennels year round, and love you like the woman of your dreams (that would be you, honey, if you happen to be reading this).
The relationship between a hunter and his dog is a special one. Taking a break on a sunny afternoon hunt, lying on a South Dakota hillside, with your best dog’s head resting on your lap, is about as peaceful as it gets. Dogs have a funny way about them. If you’re their hunter, they love you. They own you, they make you feed them and walk them twice a day, but for that you get unconditional love. The part about making you look good in the field is just an incidental benefit that man’s best friend provides for the hunter he owns.
Lee Schoenbeck resides near Watertown with his wife Donna, two of their four children and four dogs. He is certified as a Civil Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. His website is www.schoenbecklaw.com.