How do you train hunting dogs to woodcock hunting?
Woodcock hunting is among one of the most difficult and fascinating hunting activities that you can live and share with your hunting dogs.
There are sensations that a woodcock hunting enthusiast knows perfectly…
The magic in finding yourself in company of your dog in the silence of nature during the hunting season with only the soft sound of boots on the soft soil and wintering ground, while you breathe clean air and the scents of the forest, waiting for the queen that can appear between one moment and the next.
Between the game species the Scolopax rusticola is a bewitching wild animal and migratory bird, and it’s not for nothing that it’s called queen of the forest. For many migratory game birds hunters it was love at first sight, and from their first hunt, they were willing to take long, lonely walks even just to see it fly in the air while the woodcock migrates to the south. Tenacity, passion, and dedication are the keywords in order to be able to hunt this wild animal.
The flight of the woodcock is lightning and sudden, a consistently difficult yet electrifying challenge for both the hunter and his helper. Specialization is an important concept in this hunting activity, which remains among the most loved in our country.
Instruments and accessories are studied to maximize comfort and effectiveness. From clothes, light and comfortable, created for intense days hunting that the queen requires, to the cartridges, which must be effective both in close and long-range shots, usually from 30-35 m in thick forests.
There are many specialized shotguns dedicated to this wild animal, like the Feeling Woodcock and the Feeling Woodcock Select, over and under shotguns with light aluminum alloy receivers and short barrels of 62 cm and 66 cm according to the gauge, studied for insidious and complex shots, typical of this hunt.
Furthermore, both models are gifted with striped Paradox chokes, in 12 and 20 gauges, that widen the patterns for even more effective closeup shots. The shouldering ease and light weight, which varies from 2.3 to 2.6 kg, makes this over and under shotgun perfect for long and demanding days of woodcock hunting.
Specialization is also required for our faithful four-legged friends, whose job is fundamental to win the battle against the queen of the forest and is one of the aspects that any dog-loving hunter loves the most about this type of hunt.
Hunting the woodcock without a dog is a nonsense but training a dog to find woodcock is not a game for children, and a perfect recipe doesn’t exist nor does an ideal breed.
There are helpers that, despite being good hunting dogs, are not suitable to hunt woodcocks. Then there are those dogs that you could define as true “specialist”, thanks to their innate instinct and experience. Here are 10 tips for training a bird dog for woodcock hunting.
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1 · DILIGENCE AND CONSISTENCY
The first tip is for us and is the basis of any type of training, because without routine outings and patience, even the most promising pups will never become woodcock hunting dogs. The traps that it will have to learn to avoid are numerous: the woodcock is one of the most astute wild animals and will make flights 10-20 m to cover its tracks, remaining close, and, once it’s escaped danger, it will fly behind the dog and hunter; or carry out elusive trajectories and not straight lines, escaping to places only she knows. Here a specialized dog makes all the difference!
2 · TEST THE PUPPY’S HUNTING SKILLS
The average puppy’s ability to absorb starts already twenty or so days from its birth. This doesn’t mean having to overload the puppy, but it is important to gradually and correctly take advantage of the period of infancy to start to stimulate it and discover its predispositions. Attaching the wings of any wild animal to a stick with twine, you make it fly in front of the dog that, after a few attempts to catch it, will stop to observe it, as if to indicate the wild animal in front of it. It’s clear that our helper will have to get used to stopping by smell and not by sight, but this is the very first approach to the scent of the wild animal… and you’ve got to start somewhere!
3 · QUAIL, YES OR NO?
Contact with a real wild animal is important, and it might be an already captured woodcock. Tails wagging, curious attitude, and the usual approach, if the wild animal has already been hunted, they end with a triumphal bite. Some hunters use little aviary quail and bobwhite quail to get the puppies used to the smell. This, however, can make the puppy absorb a few vices, like searching with its head low and not toward the horizon or moving the tail, especially in search of English pointers.
4 · TAKE THE PUPPY TO THE BIRD HUNTING ENVIRONMENT
The first outings in the real hunting environment are important to get the pointing dog used to the smells of the forest and to get him to understand how to sniff the wind, come into contact with the wild animal, to stay the right distance from the hunter. Forest environments are different from what he’s used to, and for this reason, it’s important that the puppy is already well-trained.
It might be useful to take the dog out in the period before migration, around a month before and at least twice a week in order to allow him to become familiar with the various odors that he’ll come in contact within the real woodcock hunting.
5 · PLACE AN OLDER DOG BY THE PUPPY’S SIDE
The support of an expert dog in woodcock cover is very useful to consolidate the dressage. Between one stride and the next, this will instill courage and confidence in the puppy who will absorb good habits. In these outings, it’s important that the bird hunter simulate in every way the real hunting action. Silence, movements, rhythms must be the same as when you’re actually hunting woodcock.
6 · GET THE DOG USED TO OTHER WILD ANIMALS
The queen of the forest, as you know, is one of the most challenging sandpipers. For this reason, training a specialized dog is useful to also get him used to other wild animals. Many hunters will have already taken their helpers to hunt quail, partridge, or pheasant. Only sharpening their obedience and capacity to stay connected to their conductor, the dog will be ready for their first outings of woodcock hunting.
7 · EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE
How many times have we heard: “No one is born knowing everything!” It has never been more appropriate. Even the woodcock hunting dog needs time to “learn the ropes” to finf the woodcock. Experience is a fundamental element in training, and it’s for this reason that many woodcock hunters choose to send their dog to be trained abroad for about 10 months in order for the puppy to be trained in other wild animals.
8 · THE RIGHT DIET
A woodcock hunting dog’s diet must be simple, with non-excessive presence of fats and a good quantity of carbohydrates. A dog’s digestion is longer than ours, so it’s a good habit to move up a dog’s dinner a few hours so the dog can be lighter the morning of the hunt.
9 · PHYSICAL PREPARATION
Even our faithful helpers are athletes, and like us, they need to have good physical preparation, especially for a hunt as physically demanding as woodcock hunting. The recommendation is to non-exaggerate or overtrain the dog, but to organize the right training with sessions that start from 15-30 minutes 2 or 3 times a week until you get to 1-2.5 hours, in order to prepare the dog for all terrain. Could be of help to bring your dog in some sessions of upland hunting.
10 · HEALTHY FUN
Hunting is a pleasure and sharing it with our four legged friends makes it all the more magical. Harmony with your dog establishes itself in the little things that happen during a hunting trip, and for which the last, but not practical, piece of advice is… have fun with them!