Tucking the head of the pheasant underneath its wing will put the bird to sleep - and allow it to be planted
If I could use only one bird for training, my choice would be pigeons. Almost all of my field work for any breed can be accomplished with pigeons. By locking the wings of a pigeon with a harness, I have a bird that will be where I put it for point drills. I can dizzy a pigeon by spinning its head and plant it where I want for flushing drills. By planting a dizzied pigeon, I have a bird that will get up and fly strongly for training either pointing breeds or flushing dogs. By using a pigeon with its primary feathers rubber-banded, I have a bird that will fly only 20 yards or so. Pigeons are also great for putting in remote launchers to develop marking skills for retrieving.
I use wing-clipped pigeons for introducing dogs to the gun. I do this by tossing a clip-wing, and while the dog is in full pursuit I fire a .22-crimp pistol. I never "miss," as the bird always comes down, and the dog has a guaranteed retrieve.
For many of these drills I use regular barn pigeons, which can be trapped or are available through commercial suppliers. For drills where birds won't be "damaged", either by shooting or retrieving, I use homing pigeons. By using homers and building a coop with bobbed doors for birds to re-enter, I have a constant source of birds that can be used repeatedly. Homers can be found through local pigeon-racing clubs or livestock auctions, and it's important to buy "eggheads", four to five-week-old birds, that will imprint to your coop and not fly back to the seller's.
If we are training a dog for pheasant hunting, we have to use pheasants. A dog can't learn to track pheasants on planted pigeons. A pheasant can be planted by tucking its head under its wing. The pheasant will go to sleep-really. Place the pheasant in some heavy cover and then run your dog in the field. When the dog gets close, the noise from the crashing through cover will usually get the bird moving and….voila! You are teaching the dog to take moving birds.
Guinea fowl also work well for this. In addition, guineas tend not to re-flush. Therefore, once a bird has gotten airborne you can fire your gun. The guinea naturally has a short flight and will go down within a reasonable distance. We then send the dog for the retrieve, and the dog gains an experience that simulates retrieving a crippled bird.
This pheasant is asleep and ready to be planted
We also use Huns, chukar and ducks. The Huns and chukar work well when using bird launchers for pointing drills, training dogs to back or teaching youngsters to hunt. Ducks are great for teaching tracking. We take a wing-clipped duck out at night, command the dog to stay or keep it on a lead. Then toss the duck into the grass about 10 yards in front of the dog, allowing the dog to see the bird. Then we shine a flashlight in the dog's eyes. The dog is thus unable to see the duck waddle off, dragging its oily derriere through the grass. The duck leaves a scent trail strong enough to allow the dog to track it successfully, which is the key. After the duck has had a few minutes' head start, we release the dog. The dog will run to the spot where it saw the duck land and start using its nose, not its eyes, to track down the bird. For obvious reasons, this drill should not be done at the water's edge.
Just because you have a dog doesn't mean you have a bird-finding machine. You have to nurture the dog's talent and build its desire to quest for and find birds. As I'm fond of saying: "No birds, no bird dog." Only through training with live birds will you help your partner develop into a first-class hunting dog. Not only that, but training will extend your season year-round, as well.