Bird hunting dog demonstration at the Texas Farm Ranch Wildlife Expo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
The excitement of a child on Christmas morning pales in comparison to the palpable anticipation of a sporting dog during a field trial, even if itâs only for practice.
The English setter, Montanaâs Majestic Skye, simply called Skye by her owner Larry Barghultz of Great Falls, was one of the eager participants during her first fun hunt in late August hosted by the Golden Triangle Sporting Dog Club. Itâs all part of the gratifying process of teaching her to do what she does best, finding and pointing upland game birds.
During this first outing, Skye practically vibrated with excitement, every fiber in her being focused on finding the birds hiding in the grass. As soon as Larry Barghultz let her go, she flew through the tall grass, zig-zagging as she looked for the chukars placed by the organizers.
On her first bird, she chased it instead of standing at point, much to Barghultzâs chagrin. Chalk it up to first-hunt excitement. Even though itâs not what Barghultz wanted to see, heâll adjust her training so she understands chasing the birds is counterproductive.
Even with the initial slip, it didnât take her long to figure out what they needed to do, and she pointed beautifully on her second bird. The third one was a little tougher with the bird moving without her noticing, but when she found it, she pointed, and would have retrieved it if Barghultz could have shot the bird as itÂ flew away. (ThisÂ writer ducked when the bird flew her direction, but Barghultz wasnât going to shoot over her head.) Skye is well on her way on becoming another exceptional partner in the field.
Although the fun hunt was Skyeâs first outing, field trials are old hat for Barghultz. The sport caught his eye nearly threeÂ decades ago after watching one on television. But he didnât pick up a puppy that weekend. It took Barghultz twoÂ years of research, including talking with many experts in the field, before deciding to raise English setters.
Dogs took over Mitchell Pool for the annual Drool in the Pool Kristen Inbody, firstname.lastname@example.org
âThere are a lot of different pointing dogs. Itâs what a guy likes,â he said. âI got a little female I named Sage.â
He was hooked from the get-go. âThe dogs want to learn. They want to please. Sage sure proved that way. She was unreal.â
Barghultz said she was so focused, a rabbit could jump out in front of her, and she wouldnât twitch to step after it when she was on point. She was an excellent example of what outstanding genetics and training can do.
Although he stepped away from the sport for a decade, he jokingly said he made the mistake of attending a field trial and was bitten by the bug once again. Skye is his fifth English setter, and he enjoys having a young one in training again. Itâs not a quick process to teach her to properly hunt and point, but itâs a journey he loves.
âThe first year I let them be a puppy,â he said. âI take them out and turn them loose. I get them on as many wild birds as I can find (since theyâll never catch them), and let them have fun, have a ball.â
âWhen theyâre a year old, I start training them,â he said.
Cristin Quade Murray from Glen Rock calls her hunting dog Remmel her “soul dog.” Remmel is also a family dog and has helped Quade Murray through hard times. Maddie Crocenzi
During this early training, he keeps them off the birds as they learn basic commands such as âwhoaâ and how to respond to the whistle, checking in to the handlerâs location and direction.
âIâll teach them to stay until I release them (by touching them),â he said. âWhen theyâre fully trained, they wonât break point.â
Part of the reason theyâre taught to hold it for so long is because of the distances, particularly in this region, where a bird may be 300 to 400 yards from the hunter. The dog may relocate the bird if it moves, but it will remain absolutely focused, not flushing the bird, only indicating where it sits.
When a dog sets point, Barghultz said you can whistle all you want, but the dogs will not release its position until it is touched. While this is a highly desirable trait, itâs difficult when the dogs arenât easily spotted.
Years ago, Quill, one of Barghultzâs previous setters, was so intent on her task, he said they had to search the field to find her in order to release her from point. This was before GPS collars, and since the grass was so tall, they couldnât see her. After a half-hour of searching his wife, Linda, found her and released her from her steadfast position.
Skye is quickly stepping into her predecessorsâ footsteps, taking to this training as if itâs her favorite activity in the world, which in reality, it is.
âShe loves to train. When I take the check cord (the long lead-like rope) with her collar, she goes crazy,â he said.
Linda Barghultz said, âSometimes it takes twoÂ of us to put it on her.â
With the check cord, Barghultz works her in the backyard to teach her to âwhoa,â to stop when he wants her to, as well as paying attention to his commands. Another tool to help her learn the whoa command is by setting her on top of a barrel. This also helps him position her to have the proper form, which is an important function in the field.
Retrieving is another one of her favorite routines, as itâs all one big game for her. She dashes out to snatch up the dummy, receiving ample praise upon its quick return.
Barghultz keeps the training sessions short, and immediately corrects behavior to remain consistent. He said itâs all about repetition, but not to the point where the dog tires of the practice.
âI donât train for very long so they donât get bored,â he said. Itâs better to be out for 15 minutes, than try to cram an entire weekâs worth of training into a single session.
Setters are renowned for their speed and stamina, which is needed in big country like Montana. It’s why Barghultz focuses on training her in a harness.
âOne hour of the road harness is worth threeÂ hours of running,â he said. With the harness, she pulls against resistance (him) building her muscles and lung capacity.
âShe just flies,â he said. âSheâs got a lot of stamina.â
It is an obvious joy bringing up another bird dog for Barghultz. With daily walks and practice sessions in the backyard, Skye is developing a solid foundation when it all just seems like fun to her. And with that start of the upland game bird season, the memories are just starting to be made.
For more information on upcoming field trials and training seminars, visit the Golden Triangle Sporting Dog Clubâs Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/134379359916985/.
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