Introducing quail to your pup may sound like a fairly simple step. Plant a quail in the field, bring your pup in and let him find it. Unfortunately, like most pointing dog training, it is often more complicated than it first appears. Quail introduction is one of the most important steps in your pup’s development and when you develop his desire to hunt. This step needs to be done correctly. The age and attitude of your pup determine how to work him. A three-month old pup is introduced differently than a five-month old, and a one-year old may require some creative thinking. Also the availability of good flying birds influences when you introduce him.
Last fall I acquired a twelve-week old female pup. She had already caught a couple of wing-clipped quail and was ready for some good flying quail. I could hardly wait to get going, but before introducing her to birds in the training field, she had to be confident on the ground. It took a week of running her through bush-hogged stubble and briars, and once she was ignoring the cover, I planted several quail and took her for a run. I already knew she would go with me so it was easy to lead her in the direction of the first bird. She found it and tried to catch it. Over the next week, she began to stalk the bird, and while she continued to dive in and chased, her pointing instinct was starting to develop. She had a new sense of purpose and was focused on finding birds.
This spring I kept a male from one of my litters. He was four-and-a-half months old before I had any good flying quail. He and his littermates had chewed on a couple of leftover birds from last year, but I had to wait for September for good flying birds. While I waited, I ran him in the field to get him confident on the ground. At four-months old, I snapped a light check-cord to his ID collar to get him accustomed to dragging it. He was becoming more independent and less concerned where I was even though he had no clue why he was out there.
This pup had no experience hunting for quail, and his lack of experience combined with a newly found independence presented a problem on how to introduce him to quail. I needed a way to lead him to the bird and decided to use the check-cord. He was already used to dragging it, but he was not ready to learn the e-collar or here command. I tossed down two lightly dizzied quail and walked with him on the check-cord to the first bird. As soon as he made scent, he stopped and pointed, and I dropped the check-cord. He continued to hold point as if surprised by the bird’s scent and eventually dove in and the bird flew off. When he got tired of chasing it, I took hold of the check-cord again and led him to the second bird. This time there was no hesitation. He dove in hard, and I held the check-cord just long enough for the bird to take flight before letting go. I did not use the check-cord to make him point; rather I used it to restrain him from catching the bird on the ground. If a pup learns he can catch a bird before it flies, he may stop pointing. It took a couple more sessions of leading the pup to the bird, but before long he was hunting on his own. The check-cord allowed me to stay in control and get him into birds with very little commotion. Soon I was able to unsnap the check-cord and let him run free. He no longer needed my help because he knew why was out there. He was focused on finding birds.
This fall a training buddy asked me about her one-year old pup. The pup had been worked on pigeons, but she lacked experience on loose quail. The pup’s age presented a real dilemma because, at a year old, she was powerful enough to run down a good flying quail. I asked Maurice Lindley how he introduced older pups to quail, and he gave me a great tip. He said, “If an older pup needs to run on loose quail, I release birds along the edge of the woods. I don’t dizzy them. I hold them close to the ground and let them go. They should run into the woods. I plant them this way because the pup is unable to follow their flight path in the woods. It works good, but birds have to be good flyers.”
There are many windows of opportunity to introduce quail to your pup. The best and easiest time is between three and four months old. By five or six-months old, your pup is more independent, and you may need to use a check-cord for the first couple of sessions to lead him to birds. If you have to wait until he is a year old, he is physically strong enough to run down a good flying quail so you have to think outside the box with techniques such as Maurice’s idea of releasing birds along the woods edge. Staying flexible in your thinking along with waiting for good flying quail will help you accomplish this important step. If you do it right, you will develop your pup’s desire to hunt and be on your way to having a high-class bird dog.