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Did this hunting dog have what it takes? Woods & Waters by Tom Shank

Posted 2/21/18

The time had come to see if Nelson had it or not.

His basic training was complete. His physical endurance and willingness to please wasn’t in question. The times we practiced retrieving, …

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Did this hunting dog have what it takes? Woods & Waters by Tom Shank

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The time had come to see if Nelson had it or not.

His basic training was complete. His physical endurance and willingness to please wasn’t in question. The times we practiced retrieving, Nelson brought back the thrown item on command. He learned to obey the most important command — come. I didn’t want to lose my dog on his maiden journey.

The whistle either verbally or from a handheld would be trained over and over until Nelson would sprint back to me and make a release. A welcome food treat would be his reward along with encouraging words upon any successful training retrieve no matter if it was a ball or a plastic replica of a pheasant. He mastered the artificial stuff. Real bird with feathers, spurs and a beak, might be a different story.

Nelson, our 1-year-old Golden Retriever, became part of our family after the passing of Murphy, our beloved Golden of 15 years.

I decided to attempt to hunt Nelson. I’m a novice at dog training. I love pheasant hunting and was able to hunt with Jim Blockus of Middletown with his Springer several times at a hunting preserve. I enjoyed his dog as much as the hunt — to watch a hunting dog become “birdy,” full of excitement, with his tail wagging a mile a minute, at the smell of a pheasant. I yearned and missed this for so many years. I wanted to get back to see again the magnificent exploding flushes of a pheasant from its cover and to witness a bird dog at work.

The biggest drawback with training a hunting dog is finding a place where they can be in contact with pheasants. The days are gone when access to a field or woodlot would result in seeing and hunting pheasants. Pennsylvania pheasants wild and native are scarce like an endangered species. Attempts have been made for reintroduction of wild pheasants in the commonwealth.

These efforts haven’t increased the population; the pheasant hunting that is done is on state game lands and farm cooperatives where stocking of birds is done by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Basically, that is what you have if you want to hunt pheasants and train your dog. Your options are limited.

I believe if I would ask the majority of hunters about our present status of pheasants, it would be almost entirely negative. Thankfully, to the rescue of folks like me and their hunting dogs, there are places such as Wing and Shot Hunting Preserve. Owned and operated by Kirk Hartlaub, I was fortunate to have recently hunted his 109-acre hunting preserve along Camp Hebron Road in Halifax.

After finding his information on the Internet, I scheduled a hunt with Kirk. We discussed Nelson and his first time afield. Kirk was helpful and welcomed the challenge of a new dog. I was surprised of the interest he showed to Nelson. If first impressions meant anything, I was at the right place for Nelson and me.

We arrived at Wing and Shot Hunting Preserve around 10 in the morning. We drove up a dirt road and immediately the fields of sorghum, tall grass and corn, caught my eye. The habitant was excellent, a perfect natural cover for pheasants.

Kirk greeted us with a pleasant demeanor. I was getting more and more comfortable with my choice of hunting preserves.

For Nelson’s first hunt, the party consisted of me and Gerald Staub, my good friend and hunting buddy from Middletown. Kirk monitored the hunt for safety and for recommendations. Kirk’s presence was welcomed. He provided helpful hints concerning my dog and would give suggestions for improvements. I was getting personal lessons on dog training from a professional who breeds and trains German Shorthair Pointers. I didn’t expect that.

One very interesting note he told us is that a dog smells the breath of the pheasant as it exhales air. I never knew that and the air that emits is what the dog smells as it works a field. I just assumed that the dog smelled the pheasant feathers, etc. It only shows that you can always learn something.

Pheasants would be strategically placed out by Kirk and marked. This allowed me to observe Nelson as he got close to a pheasant. I watched Nelson as he got excited with his tail wagging. Finally, Nelson smelled a pheasant and after some coaxing, it flushed where we didn’t expect it. Two shots from my shotgun never touched it. I didn’t fulfill my obligation. It was Nelson’s first and I missed cleanly.

Well, after that, things got a lot better with more pheasants being located, flushed and shot. Nelson did as well as expected. He kept close to us. He worked the fields with his nose and became “birdy.” His retrieves were sporadic, but he did perform some with flying colors. The highlight of the day was when a pheasant was shot that Nelson ran down after a lengthy pursuit. Without Nelson, this pheasant would have escaped. Nelson did his job.

Our hunt ended with six out of eight pheasants harvested. Our shooting got better as the morning wore on. The pheasants were of excellent quality with long tail feathers and brilliant plumage. They acted as wild as any native pheasant. I finally found a place where I could safely take my dog, hunt pheasants and enjoy my Nelson doing what a retriever can do.

My work and training with Nelson is only beginning. He proved to me he has the basics and with that I can work more with him at Wing and Shot to perfect his hunting prowess.

A very important note about hunting preserves is that no hunting license is required. Their season is very long, which allows pheasant hunting well past the state game commission season.

If any of my readers are in the same looking for a hunting preserve where they can expand their hunting opportunities on pheasants and chukar and be treated with the upmost kindness and sincerity, contact Kirk Hartlaub at 717-896-9077. Nelson and I are glad we did.

Tom Shank has been writing Woods and Waters for the Press & Journal for about 10 years. His expertise has been gained through 50 years plus hunting, fishing, trapping and exploring the full gamut of nature. The Susquehanna River and his cabin in Lycoming County are his true loves. Woods and Waters is his playground in life, and to write about it for the Press & Journal is a dream come true.