Pigeons are disgusting and other surprises not disclosed when you get your first gun dog
I was stalking through the garage, wielding a fishing net over my head. The pigeon smirked at me from his perch above the workbench—and I muttered a string of unsavory words under my breath. He took another lap around the garage and settled on a new spot, flipping me a middle feather as he landed. After a few more leaps and swipes, I finally netted the little beast and stuffed him back into the crate from which he’d escaped. I exhaled in relief and wondered at what point my expectations stopped being realistic.
I’d started this gun dog adventure with a vision: strolling through wide-open prairie, my Deutsch Langhaar bounding ahead to happily point birds, the pair of us bagging a limit, and returning home for a hot cocoa by the fireplace. Instead, here I was wiping pigeon excrement off my car and sorting the flying rats into field bags. It’s not that I didn’t know about the training necessary for a dog, it’s just that there’s a difference between acknowledging the concept and living it firsthand. The books said I’d need pigeons, but the reality didn’t sink in until they were stinking up my garage.
On the plus side, the quest for birds helped to build some connections with the local dog training world. It started with a sketchy online classified ad proclaiming simply: Live Pigeons—$5. Having no idea what to expect, I showed up at the address prepared to make a hasty retreat. Much to my relief, a pair of wirehairs greeted me at the door. My pigeon dealer probably had similar purposes as I did. Sure enough, we knew many of the same people and chatted about our dogs while catching birds out of his pigeon loft.
Our first outing with that set of pigeons was a bit of a comedy act. We’d read about what to do. But somehow, that preparation flew out the window (pun intended). There were so many moving parts: the puppy, the birds, the handler, the assistant…how were we supposed to remember all the right things to do at the right times?
The puppy was ready for the game, though. The first bird was regrettably dispatched by the pup when her enthusiasm outpaced our reaction time. The second bird flew right out of the cage, did three taunting laps of the field, and departed. By the third bird, we’d gotten the hang of handling them, but it took another two before we could reliably plant the birds in the grass. Believe me, dizzying a bird is more of an art than a science. I’m not sure how much the pup got out of that first training session. As for the humans, we definitely got schooled by the birds.
Through our growing contact list, we started receiving “gifts” of frozen birds for our young puppy. Before long, an assortment of feathered training aids was filling up our freezer. A weekend at a local NAVHDA test resulted in a cooler full of generous donations for the puppy: a chukar, a couple ducks, and pheasants. We welcomed the kindness of our new friends. At the same time, it was a little startling for a newcomer. I lived in fear that an unsuspecting guest would open my freezer drawers.
There was a further social challenge. What was I supposed to say on Monday morning when coworkers inquired about my weekend? They were getting used to the idea that I routinely spent chilly sunrises behind decoys in the salt marsh. This, though, this was a more delicate subject. How do you politely say, “I bought pigeons off a stranger on the internet and hid them in a field for my dog to find” without sounding like you’ve completely lost it? Until I find the answer, I’ll just shrug and say, “Not much, just a little dog training.”
Jennifer Wapenski is the managing editor of Hunting Dog Confidential Magazine and co-host of the Hunting Dog Confidential podcast. She has a lifelong passion for the outdoors, dogs, and wildlife; as an adult, she discovered that upland bird and waterfowl hunting were natural extensions of these pursuits. Jennifer lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two Deutsch Langhaars.