Photo Gallery: English Setter Puppy's Pheasant Hunting Season

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

Bird Hunting with a Puppy

First Hunting Season

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1 | First Hunting Season

Some say you sacrifice a hunting season when bringing a bird dog pup along.

I respectfully disagree.

That's when you build the bond, inside and outdoors. And, with kindness, love, daily attention, consistent training commands and hunting time in birdy covers, they slowly and surely begin to get it.

And truth be told, bird dog pups will teach you plenty, too. It's in the blood, the breeding, the heart's desire . . .

It's in the love you give them. And the joy of it is when you and that little dog begin to truly hunt together.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

 

 

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Alphie the Pup

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2 | Alphie the Pup

Alphie came to us from Jornada Setters in New Mexico. His call name – a mashup of the names of his dam "Jamie" and sire "Ralph" – surely suits him.

But wait . . .

On first hearing his name, older folks sometimes mention Dionne Warwick singing "Alfie" (different spelling), while younger types think of that TV show ALF (all caps, mind you) starring an "alien life form" debuting back in the late 80s.

Hmm. Alphie doesn't care. He just wants to hang out with us and hunt.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Covering Ground

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3 | Covering Ground

You build the hunting bond by covering ground with your pup, both proven birdy covers and of course new territory to keep things fresh. This connection grows strong. 

When all goes well, the young dog begins to move confidently through the fields and woods, looking to find birds – "making game," as those of us who hunt with dogs say. That pup also keeps track of you, checking back, then casting ahead, over and over.

It's easily my favorite part of both training and hunting: watching the pup and grown dog work the ground ahead of me.

Nobody can ever tell me they don't flat-out love it, too.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Loads, Guns, for Pups

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4 | Loads, Guns, for Pups

In his first month of hunting, October 2017, I went afield with a 28-gauge "pop gun" and those lipstick-sized upland loads in my pocket. Just 2-3/4 inch shells, with 3/4 ounces of no. 6 shot if we were pheasant hunting.

That's how we started. 

This first introduction to the shotgun, made only after he was truly showing strong prey drive on birds, came at just a little over five months old. And I killed the flushed bird (whew). 

He charged in after to where it fell. I strongly encouraged him to enjoy it. Then I hid it. And he started looking and looking until he found it again.

Eventually, I gravitated to big-boy loads with my 12 gauge(s). I killed these two roosters in my photo with Federal Premium's new Hi-Bird load.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Pheasants Forever

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5 | Pheasants Forever

My truck bumper carries a gravel-dinged Pheasants Forever sticker. Does yours, too?

Read more about Realtree's partnership with this national habitat conservation group.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Older Dogs

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6 | Older Dogs

Our older English setter Luna has plenty of prey drive (and then some). She loves getting a noseful of pheasant scent, too.

While wild turkeys in the fall are her weakness (bigger, better to her?), she surely loves all the game birds.

And yard rodents had better watch out, too.

Her breeder? We have no idea. She came to us from ACES, a California rescue dog who looks (and acts) so much like our late, great Midge it was surely destiny to have her.

She's taught our boy setter Alphie plenty.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Busting Cover

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7 | Busting Cover

To find and move pheasants, you've got to bust some cover (and shed a little blood).

In October, Alphie pretty much kept to my boot heels in the thick stuff, casting farther and wider but in range, in the shorter grass and cover. That's typical of bird dog pups. It's all good.

Patience. Perseverance. Fun.

Got gun? SXP Waterfowl Hunter in Realtree MAX-5

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Pheasant Feathers

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8 | Pheasant Feathers

Holding a pheasant in hand is a visual pleasure.

Wild turkey feathers are also truly beautiful.

So are the beautiful brown earth tones of a ruffed grouse or woodcock, in addition to the many kinds of quail.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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9 | Prairie Storm

I've also been chambering this load recently, as I've moved on to the 12 gauge with my setter boy Alphie.

It's all about habitat, folks. When game birds decline, as well as hunter numbers, it's often the loss of land that's to blame. Period.

Check out this important royalty program between Federal Premium and Pheasants Forever . . .

Go here: 50 Million Shotgun Rounds to Support Pheasants Forever Conservation

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Dog Bell

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10 | Dog Bell

Our dog (and puppy) collars have been recycled or replaced over the years.

The dog bell in my photo, among others, has been worn by all my English setters over the past 20-plus years.

Now Alphie goes afield with it on.

And the merry tinkling, almost a Christmas sleigh-bell sound, reminds me of all my other English setters. And bird hunting.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Dog Bonding

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11 | Dog Bonding

Older dogs teach pups a lot, including napping between hunts.

How to Introduce Your Older Hunting Dog to a Puppy

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Pheasant Spurs

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12 | Pheasant Spurs

We turkey hunters love our spurs. It's also one of the first things pheasant chasers check on after killing a rooster.

Not the biggest I've brought home, but always worth a look.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

 

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New England Upland

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13 | New England Upland

Scott Rouleau owns and operates New England Upland.

As with those others who maintain food plots on their own personal properties and hunting leases, Rouleau is active in managing habitat to hold both released birds, and also wild grouse and woodcock in edge cover.

For a New England guy like me with a gun pup, it's a great option for training and getting your young dog on birds.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Alphie, on Point

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14 | Alphie, on Point

When a six-month-old setter pup points a game bird, released or wild, it pretty much thrills you to no end.

Unless you brag on another dog breed, and that's cool too . . .

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

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Stepping Up

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15 | Stepping Up

It's sort of like an MLB ball player stepping up to home plate for his time at bat.

You have to get yourself composed, as the moment of truth is immediate.

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

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Get Ready

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16 | Get Ready

Alphie, my setter pup, sometimes points with the classic high setter tail, while other times he curls up like a snake.

This is one of those times. I'm good with all of it.

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

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Runners

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17 | Runners

And other times, as pheasant hunters well know, you get a runner.

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

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Flush!

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18 | Flush!

Check your dog's location. Now watch the bird. Then the dog. In an instant.

Head down, aim steady and take your best shot.

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

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Bird in Hand

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19 | Bird in Hand

This little rascal's enthusiasm puts a big grin on my face.

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

 

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Guidance

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20 | Guidance

Your pup looks to you for instruction and guidance. Give it to that young dog.

Every day.

(© Scott Rouleau photo)

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Road Trips

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21 | Road Trips

Yes, you'll have to put on some road miles to get your pup into birds. That's part of the fun.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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First bird

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22 | First Bird

Alphie has come a long way since that first bird only a little over a month ago.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Hunt Hard, Eat Well

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23 | Hunt Hard, Eat Well

Eating wild game extends the hunt and keeps those good memories going.

Pictured here, a Pheasant Tikka Masala dish my wife and I cooked to celebrate the season.

Check out Michael Pendley's Timber2Table recipes on Realtree.com.

(© Steve Hickoff photo)

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Our bird dogs are with us from their puppy days and into their last years. We love them and live with them every step of the way.

The midnight trips outside. And then again at daybreak. The chewed, prized possessions. The tiny squeakers from every other plush toy they disembowel (which would likely make darn good predator hunting calls in a pinch).

But there's nothing like that first season to put a smile on your face. 

Please check out this photo gallery.

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