For pheasant hunters who also moonlight as deer hunters, the biggest drawback to pursuing the ungulates is the absence of perhaps the most appealing aspect of bird hunting – the dog. Enter shed hunting, an activity blending bird dogs and bucks, which may be just the ticket to get your bird dog out of its offseason training rut.
What Bird Dog Breeds Can Be Shed Dogs?
According to Tom Dokken, legendary dog trainer and owner of Dokken's Dog Supply, current shed dogs are mainly Labrador Retrievers. "The strongest breeds are the ones that are going to pick something up," Dokken says, alluding to Labs and Golden Retrievers.
But Dokken says most bird dogs can become well suited to shed hunting. "Really any dog that likes to play fetch can be a shed dog," he says. "Even pointing breeds, especially those with natural retrieving instincts like German shorthaired pointers and German wirehaired pointers, can find success."
Hunting Season Just Got Longer
When pheasant dogs go bad, the most likely culprit is a shortage or complete lack of an offseason training regimen. "Quite frankly, a lot of people just drop the ball after pheasant hunting season," Dokken says, "Shed hunting is another way to get offseason activity, and one that's definitely different than what most bird dogs are used to."
Bird dogs can easily pick up shed hunting, and in short order, Dokken points out. "Think of it as an upland hunt, but for antlers," he says, "The dogs are using their hunting drive, their noses and working on retrieves, so it's really a way to extend the hunting season." That goes for the trainer, too. "It really feels like I'm going on a hunting trip," he said as he and his dogs prepared to head west to
Fortunately, quality shed hunting can be had almost anywhere these days, including suburbia, and isn't exclusive to just whitetail deer antlers – bird dogs can also retrieve mule deer, elk and moose sheds.
Will Shed Hunting Ruin My Pheasant Dog?
In a word, "No," Dokken says. "Hunting for sheds doesn't mess up a pheasant dog, there just isn't that competition between birds and sheds," Dokken adds, "The antler can never take the place of a living, breathing, good-smelling and exciting live bird." As easily as bird dogs can pick up shed hunting, the transition back to doing what they do best, hunting birds, is just as seamless.
While places to hunt abound, the most important element is, as with all things dog training, finding the time. "It's not something you need to train your dog for years to do," Dokken says, "It's simple stuff you can do at home." While Dokken runs a 12-16 week shed dog training course (www.dokkensoakridgekennels.com), he's seen dogs pick it up in a matter of weeks.
Dokken recommends starting with a simple game of fetch, tossing the antler around the house, then the backyard, letting the dog have fun picking it up and brining it back to you. "Take a command word and work it in, but make sure it's not a word you emphasize for other commands," he says. His preferred command is "find the bone."
To a bird dog, a hard shed antler, unlike a soft, well-scented pheasant, typically takes some warming to. Dokken, who doesn't use treats when training dogs for upland birds or waterfowl, does use them for shed training. "A treat let's the dog know it's worth picking up," he says.
One caveat as you increase the number of sheds you're hiding around the house or backyard is the scent from your own hands. "At first, dogs will key on to sheds because of the scent from your hands. You'll eventually need to eliminate that scent using rubber gloves and boots when you place the sheds."
Fast Growing Dog Sport
Dokken recently hosted the first ever World Shed Dog Hunting championship at his Oak Ridge Kennels in
With arguably the two most popular outdoor personalities – Lee and his wife Tiffany Lakosky – into shed hunting dogs, the profile of the sport continues to grow. Dokken has started the North American Shed Hunting Dog Association, and a special shed dog trainer website (www.sheddogtrainer.com) devoted to the sport. He fully expects more shed dogs and their owners out in March and April in coming years as bird dog owners see the value of having a different kind of dual purpose dog. "For bird dogs, there really isn't a downside to shed hunting, it's all upside."
- Anthony Hauck is Pheasants Forever's Online Editor