Members Q&A about Dogs, Guns, Birds, and Gear

Q: Dan,  a while back we discussed 20 gauge ammo for pheasants. Do you also use a 16 gauge?

A:  "I have used #6 steel (Federals @ 1425 fps) for several years with skeet 2 choke for the first shot and skeet for the 2nd and rarely wounded or lost birds.  This year I started reloading lead shells and made some 1 oz #6 shot, thinking they will be great.  Unfortunately, I wounded and lost a couple birds this fall and had a other runners that Kacie had to save for me.  I have used some 7.5 shot with success but restrict its use for the first shot.  My preferred load for 16 ga shotguns was 1 1/8 oz 7.5 shot (improved cylinder choke), but I'm not confident it is the best shot for 20 ga -- don't know why.

"I am thinking I need go back to the faster steel loads.  Switching between 1250 fps and 1425 fps shells was not wise on my part.  I am an instinctive shooter and am afraid the faster speed is imbedded in my muscle memory."  (Dan Herrig)

Q:  George, what made you select an American Water Spaniel?

A:  There were multiple reasons I chose an AWS. Previously, I had been a Labrador Retriever person until my late wife dragged me to the pound to look at a litter of half Lab, half English Springer Spaniel pups. Needless to say, one of the pups came home with us. Training this dog was a revelation compared togeorge_layla_sm.jpg training a Lab: she was very biddable and anxious to please and convinced me a spaniel was in my future.

I probably would have gone with an ESS, but since I'm on the downhill side of 60, decided to go with a dog that hunted slower and closer so I wouldn't have to run to keep up. Besides a passion for upland bird hunting, I also love to jump shoot ducks off small waters. The AWS seemed to be custom made for both pursuits. Although I've seen some great water work by both ESS and ECS, they are classified as early season duck dogs because of their coats. The AWS on the other hand has a coat that allows it to retrieve in icy late season waters.

AWS were originally bred by market hunters to hunt ducks from a canoe in the upper Midwest. They were a very popular utilitarian hunting dog up until WWII when the returning GI's came back with a fascination for the exotic continental breeds such as GSP's, GWP's and Weimaraners.  (George Bennett)

Q: Chad, I've seen a picture of your son and Rudy with some forest grouse. Care to comment on using a spaniel on grouse?

A:  "Kevin, we have hunted and harvested all the grouse species in Idaho.  In the forest we walk the fire and logging roads looking for seeps and berries.  Our spaniel will get wind of a bird or foot scent, follow and flush..oh and we shoot as fast as we can.  The shooting is between the trees-very few open shots which adds to the excitement. The retrieves are usually short and easy."  (Chad Ward)

brandon_pup_t.jpgQ:  Brandon Dallas. asks: "I know I have been reading a lot about training time lines etc.--more or less what to expect from your dog/pup and when to see development in skills. Do you think it would be useful to put something similar to this on the site? I know I have read several different opinions but if I were able to find something for Spaniel folks by Spaniel folks and not just bird hunters who trade off breeds every year or two, I would take their advice more seriously."

A: Kevin Holcomb replies: "First off Brandon, I think most of what you have read was written by pros. They tend to have timelines because customers don't want to pay for 2 years worth of training. You may want to breakdown training into several large categories such as:

  • Obedience
  • Field
    • Introduction to cover, gun fire, water, etc...
    • Advanced. Marking, trailing, steady to flush/shot/fall."

A: Rob Aravich replies:  "I agree with Kevin's comments relative to listing the key "outcomes" one may wish to have in their dog's skill set.  Suggesting timelines,however, is a real big can of worms.  Not only does Kevin make a good pointthat pros have to show something to a client to earn their pay, they, more importantly, have all day, every day to work on those skills.  A one year old dog trained by a pro for a year probably has more experiences, drills, birds etc than a 4 year old dog not trained by a pro."

A:  Dan Herrig replies: "Brandon, I have owned two springers.  My first dog, Cedar, was a mix of hunting, trail and bench pedigree and my current, Kacie, (now 3+ years old) has hunting and a strong field trail background.  As you will see below, I never planned to field trial my dogs.  If is that your desire, I may not be the source of good information.

"My philosophy is teach the dog the basics starting at seven weeks (come, heel, sit/stay, hup -- all using voice and whistle commands) and then expose the dog to lots and lots of hunting conditions and wild birds.  Some of the basic commands "take" quickly and others more slowly.  While hunting I work on quartering by using the dog's desire to be with and stay ahead of me. I can explain more of the that if you wish.   A couple of other comments:  I urge the use of a dummy launcher to train for long retrieves and an e-collar can be helpful if used properly (i.e. as a "tap on the shoulder" -- not a punishment).

"Other than the basic commands, I haven't worried about controlling my dogs (e.g. steady to wing and shot) until they've had significant hunting experience.  It is my observation that some dogs become tentative to pursuit and flush if they are controlled too much early in their career and are only exposed to lethargic (and boring) pigeons.  

"Cedar was trained to be steady to wing and shot after a full season of hunting.  She received her Senior Hunt certificate and could have been a Master Hunter, had I taken the time to enter tests.  Although I never required her to be steady while hunting, she understood that hunt tests were different and that she was expected to sit upon flushing and to retrieve on command.  I do not plan to steady Kacie as I will not be hunt testing her.  

"I want my dogs to be agressive in pursuing and flushing, to immediately HUP on the "tweet" of my whistle (so I can get stay with them) if a bird is running, to take a line on blind retrieves, to trail wounded birds, to understand hand signals, to check on/look at me while they are hunting/quartering, and to retrieve.  Because Kacie is so wired to hunt (that strong field trial pedigree) and was given squeaky toys as a pup (my mistake), she is a poor retriever to hand.  Other than that she's bulletproof and tireless hunter.

"I found the book "HUP" by J. Spencer to be very helpful.  From the above, you can probably tell that I don't worry about the time line when training.  Some dogs take longer than others.  Be patient and keep at it.