“We better take anything we can get this afternoon. The farmer wants us to shoot a few, and you can see why.” Said Cameron squinting at a large area of chewed up turnips and deer marks from the night before.
“Yea man. The wind will be better heading around this way.” I said nodding towards a massive bush terrace. “Should get onto something in there”.
We climbed back over the fence and back into the native bush. There was a nice cool breeze rolling down the steep faces and across the bush flat. We had only gone 20 meters when Fly started quartering the wind as she picked up on something faint. She cut out diagonally to our right for 50 meters then back around to our left. We made our way further into the bush in a big zig zag at first, as the young dog worked the vague wind. Then we sidled back around to our left and up a gut. Fly started stalking for another 100 meters and eventually locked up, staring into a huge tangle of supple jack. The snap of a stick and a rattle of vines told us roughly where the animal was. The bush was a real mess – about as bad as it gets, but the animal was right there and it would only take 10 minutes to try. So I pulled out my secateurs and started snipping my way in as quietly as possible. It was a very quiet day and impossible to go silently. I knew whatever was up there was listening to us coming so I gave the occasional mew to imitate a cycling hind calling a stag and moved very slowly. I left Fly in front to guide us in and tell us when we got close. After a few minutes of snipping and wriggling through the tangle, Fly locked up and stared up into the shadows, so we waited. I could hear something moving around just out of sight. I gave another quiet mew, and it started coming our way. I had visions of a stag, but a young hind came around the corner and stopped behind the tangle of supplejack only 10 or 15 meters away. I could clearly see the whole deer, but she was overlaid with a huge web of vines with only a small section of her neck offering a good shot. Thinking about the poor farmers shredded crops, I carefully lined up and pulled the trigger. She was a perfect animal for the freezer. Young and solid and in good condition. We dragged her into the open and set her up for a photo and the butchery. Then half an hour later we had her laying in the shade right by the paddock, to be picked up later. 20 minutes after that Fly was leading us back across the bench on another wind. It was Cameron’s turn this time and he soon had another hind and her yearling laying on the deck. So we took more photos, cleaned them up and carried them out. A couple of hours later we were hanging them in the chiller and talking about the stags that had got away. We decided that the stags could wait till next year and they would only be bigger then, so it didn’t really matter. It had been another good day hunting over a good dog. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hunting Deer With Dogs – Last time I went over Fly’s formal training, using a long line and getting the basic commands in place. This time I will go over what I did to get her hunting off to the best start possible. At this stage, Fly was responding very well to all of the commands I talked about last issue. I had introduced her to gun fire properly and she was steady to the shot. She had also been well introduced to traveling in the truck, taking short walks in the bush, and river crossings. I had intended to go over the final training at home, and Fly’s first hunts in this article, but as I have started to write I have found that these two subjects are whole articles in them selves even if I keep it as simple a possible. So this time I will just go over the final training at home. These are the finishing touches.
Hunting Deer With Dogs – Scent Training at home.
Hunting Deer With Dogs – I’m not huge on this type of training, but it can only help if you do it right. I done a small amount of this with Fly just to reinforce what we were hunting and to act as a small stepping stone to the real thing. For ground tracking, I used a piece of deer skin and a fishing rod. I tied the skin on the end of the line and walked in a big half circle down wind so my scent wouldn’t be spread across the training area. Then I wound in the line pulling the skin across the paddock, leaving a nice clean scent trail on the ground for Fly to track. I done all of this without Fly seeing. Then I went and got her and let her track the scent and lead me to skin. I kept her close, by using the quiet whistle I had set up as a stop command if she tried to pull too far away. Fly was naturally very keen on the scent and tracked well. However she did lose interest after only 3 or 4 skin drags. Once she realised it was only a piece of skin, it lost it’s appeal for her. She would still track it, and take me to it, but she was just going through the motions and once she found it she would disinterestedly sit down about a meter away from the skin. It didn’t matter how much praise I gave her, she just found the whole thing very boring.
I also got her to take me to the skin on the wind, by hanging it up in a tree and then taking the dog around down wind and getting her to lead me in. She also done this easily, and lost interest quickly, so I only done it a couple of times.
Remember this type of training is a stepping stone to the real thing, and we are building habits and patterns when we train. It is very important to keep the dog close and in-front while doing this scent training, as this is where we will want the dog when we are stalking deer later on. The pressure we apply to get the dog to stay close can be part of the reason a dog looses interest in a menial task such as this. But don’t be tempted to hype the dog up, and let it run off too far in front just to run a few more of these drills. Trust that when your dog gets a real animal in-front of it, it will hunt well, even if you have to apply pressure to keep it close. It has been my experience that this is always the case, if everything else is done right. I will go over balancing pressure to maintain drive, and how to keep a dog close without a long line or negative reinforcement in my next article.
Hunting Deer With Dogs – Non target species aversion training and stock proofing.
Hunting Deer With Dogs – Because Fly would only be indicating for the first few months, she would always be right in front of me so I could watch her every move. Also, because I had all my commands set up, and I had good control, I knew I could deal with any situation that might arise out in the field. If a hare jumped up in front of her I could give her stop command and direct her away from the hare with her turn command. Or if she led me to a hollow log that might have a possum or a rat in it I only had to quietly say leave it, and direct her away again. I have my control and commands set up, and I use those tools to only hunt what I want to hunt. Everything else is ignored. There is no reward for the dog when it takes me to a non target species so it looses interest very quickly. Very little negative reinforcement is needed. This keeps my relationship with the dog in good shape, with no knocks to it’s confidence.
The only non target aversion training I do at home is a very brief session on possums. Because possums are the most common non target species to have a problem with in New Zealand, I think it’s best to guide the dog in the right direction in a controlled environment. And it is very easy. You could do this with rats, and rabbits, and basically anything you like. I find that if I do this using the following technique with one species, (which in this case is possums) this introduces the dog to the idea that we don’t hunt everything that is on offer. This makes managing and identifying non target species much easier.
I take a freshly killed possum (the night before is fine) and throw it out in the paddock or on the lawn with out the dog seeing me do it. Then I put the dog on a long line and hold the long line in my hand. Then I walk the dog right past the possum, with in a meter or two. It is very important to completely ignore the possum, and walk past it as if you have somewhere to go, and the possum doesn’t even exist. Watch the dog out of the corner of your eye and if it even turns to look at it give it a good correction with the long line and carry on. You don’t even need to say anything. Keep walking and eventually loop back around past the possum and repeat the process. Very few dogs will even look at the possum a third time. As soon as you have walked past it twice in a row and the dog ignores it, then finish the session there. You can repeat this on different days to further reinforce the lesson.
I use the exact same method for stock proofing. I start with the stock on the other side of a fence, completely ignore them and I correct the dog with the long line if they even look at the stock. I start from a good distance, and get closer and closer until we are in the same paddock. This is done over several sessions spread out over a few days. Using this method, Fly was showing little interest in stock and possums within a few days.
Now we’re ready to go hunting. I’ll go over that next time.
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