Getting Your Dog Ready for Hunting Season
By Kirk Moody, Associate at West & Swope Ranches
Featuring Eric Harrison and Joshua Creek Ranch
Photos by Terry Allen Courtesy of Joshua Creek Ranch
I visited Joshua Creek Ranch over the summer to learn from the professionals about getting your dog ready for hunting season. I interviewed Eric Harrison on the matter which you'll find in the Q and A on the next page. Eric is Club Pro and Certified Shooting Instructor, Lead Hunting Guide, Sporting Clays Manager, Gamebird Keeper, and Dog Trainer at the famed Joshua Creek Ranch. Eric took the time to discuss all things relevant to have a successful season with mans best friend. A little more about Eric, he grew up in Kentucky along the Ohio River. He shared a passion for hunting with his father, who would regularly take Eric on his hunting trips from the age of 4. He graduated from South East Illinois in 2002 and moved to Texas to pursue a career as a hunting guide and started working at Joshua Creek Ranch in 2007. He's a Texan at heart and defines "Texas Hospitality." Eric was also voted the 2017 Orvis endorsed Wingshooting guide of the year. Needless to say, he was the ideal fit for this article. As a kid, I was fortunate enough to attend Joshua Creek Ranches’, Youth Kids Camp for 3 summers in a row and had the pleasure of meeting both him and Dr. Richard Allen at a young age. My admiration for the entire operation started there and I am thankful for the memories and connections made along the way.
Q: As far as fitness goes in the off-season, you know for those not running a commercial operation- us guys with a couple of bird dogs, what would you recommend doing in the off-season to prepare?
A: Fetch every day, sit, stay, heel, and I use the word “back” every day. Also known as break set go fetch and keep that repetition every day for 15 minutes and you will have a dog ready for the season. It helps the relationship between the owner and the dog as far as respect. Dog and all dogs, love to have a purpose. Dogs will tear less stuff up with a job, especially high-energy bird dogs, they need a job.
Q: As far as warming up and getting the dogs ready are you taking them out in the field? Running them? Letting them stretch their legs?
A: Something that we do that helps a lot is to always shave the dogs in September. Especially a long hair English Cockerspainel. You have to be sure they do not overheat. We've all heard about the guy who got caught up in the dove and let his dog overheat on opening day. You have to make sure they are prepared as much as possible. Attention to your dog and water is a necessity.
Q: Getting ready for opening day. You have a dog who is not in the best shape, who has laid on the couch all summer long, and is not in the field foaming at the mouth, and at the point of exhaustion. What do you recommend?
A: If you have a dog and you are going hunting, ask yourself if you have a gun, shells but most importantly, do you have water for your dog.
Q: Are there any drills in particular y’all like doing with the dogs at Joshua creek?
A: Once the dog is older I like to do blind retrieves. I tell the dog to sit, stay, and walk away and I’ll have bumpers on the ground to the left and right. On the right bumper, I’ll say back with my right hand and the dog will pick up on that particular movement means to go right and bring me the bumper. These learned hand signals are a great tool for the dog to know.
Q: As far as cooling down after the hunt, what do you recommend? How do y'all like to get your dogs cooled off?
A: Well we will get them in the river for a swim. We also have silver tanks spread throughout the ranch and every field has at least 3 of them and we fill those up so the dogs can be self-sufficient in cooling themselves off. As a guide, we go water trough to water trough with the dog in mind to be sure they are cooling off and not overheating.
Q: As far as someone, for example, going down to Hondo on a sunflower dove hunt, what do you do if you've put your dog in a situation where there are lots of other dogs in the area to keep your dog focused when a bird goes down?
A: That's a great question. I've been asked that by a guy with a one-year-old dog and told him yours is going to chase down every bird in the field. So if you have a young dog, don't be selfish. Put your gun down and take the time as a learning lesson to teach your dog how to sit, stay, and mark. What if it takes 30 minutes to get the dog's light to turn on to not chase every bird in the field? That time was well spent. All it is, is the hunter investing the time in working with his dog to make sure the dog learns his job and then you've got a lifetime of hunting ahead.
Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of the spring-fed, crystal-clear Joshua Creek and the famous Guadalupe River. You'll call it paradise when you experience the combination of the pristine hunt country with outstanding cuisine, award-winning lodging accommodations, and premier event facilities at Joshua Creek Ranch. Joshua Creek Ranch is the ideal destination resort for corporate events, conferences, Texas Hill Country getaways, and special occasions like weddings, reunions, an