Shed antler hunting keeps bird dogs sharp and helps with conditioning during the off-season. Plus it’s fun for you and dog alike!
Winter isn’t the time to undo all your bird dog’s training and conditioning by letting him or her become a couch potato. Training your dog for shed antler hunting can pay dividends during the off-season.
WHY SHED HUNTING
“Shed antler hunting is a growing sport offering year-round physical conditioning for gun dogs,” says North American Shed Hunting Dog Association (NASHDA) president and pro trainer Tom Dokken of Oak Ridge Kennels in Northfield, Minnesota. “It is also a good way to enhance a dog’s upland bird hunting skills.”
Shed hunting gets a dog out of the house and into the field with the chance to use his or her eyes and nose. This helps keep the dog physically and mentally sharp during the off-season.
Some hunters worry that hunting sheds might interfere with their dog’s upland bird hunting ability. That’s a myth. Rather, hunting shed antlers can help strengthen a bird dog’s scenting, quartering, ranging, and retrieving abilities. Result? A better-rounded hunting dog.
Shed hunting also adds another season to the calendar you didn’t have before, giving you the enjoyment of spending more time outdoors with your dog. Although there’s no predetermined shed hunting season, late winter and early spring are peak times for finding antlers.
What’s more, this easily accessible sport doesn’t require a license or permit. And it can be done in suburban areas, not just the countryside, though you’ll want to be sure to first check local regulations and obtain permission before stepping foot on private land.
TRAINING TIPS FOR SHED HUNTING
Whether you have a retrieving, pointing or spaniel breed, any sporting dog with a natural instinct and retrieving ability can be taught to efficiently hunt for shed antlers. Training a dog for shed hunting involves time and patience. But don’t forget that your dog is more capable than you may give him or her credit for. When trained correctly, he or she will enthusiastically take on these new tasks.
To get started, five-time NASHDA World Shed Dog Champion and pro trainer Josh Miller of River Stone Kennels in New Richmond, Wisconsin, recommends starting at square one to create drive.
“Use a set of antlers to play a fun game of fetch with your dog,” Miller says. “Once he or she develops a newfound desire for the antlers, you can advance to teaching the scent and a specific phrase, such as ‘find the bone,’ for your dog to associate with the antlers.”
During training, reward your dog with verbal praise plus a favorite treat or a few kibbles of Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula
for each successful antler retrieve. Be sure to compensate for the added calories by adjusting the total daily amount fed to maintain ideal body condition. For example, if your dog begins to gain weight, it’s best to subtract the amount fed in small incremental changes, such as one-fourth or one-half cup amounts, every few days.
Shed hunting is a fun hobby and a great way to get the entire family involved. By introducing your dog to new, exciting activities, you can help prevent stagnation, ultimately helping him or her transition back to his or her regular training and conditioning for the upland bird hunting season with vigor.