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Tower Shoots: An Avid Bird hunter and Dog Trainer’s Point of View

Mark Riley preparing for the incoming roosters at his first tower shoot in his home state of Oregon.

It used to be that if you wanted to experience this style of hunt it involved a ticket across the pond and a hefty fee to get access to one of the many amazing wingshooting estates in Europe.  Then there is the issue of dress:  tweed jackets, ties, tattersall shirts, breeks and of course your wellies will all cost you a small fortune.  Well, thanks to a few enterprising lodge owners across the US we now have the opportunity to experience such events without the plane ticket, dress and rigid old world tradition of a European wingshooting adventure.  Now don’t get me wrong, if I ever get a chance to participate in one of these shoots in the hills of Scotland or the down lands of England you can bet your first child that I’ll be on the next flight across the Atlantic.  I’d even be excited about shopping for the cloths and brushing up the traditions and etiquette so as not to embarrass myself once I arrived.  But for now, like most, I’ll have to focus on the many opportunities closer to home.

Living in Oregon, I’m fortunate to have a number of destinations that offer these types of hunts.   One such place is Deep Canyon Outfitters located in Bend Oregon.  I stumbled on this location searching for retrieving opportunities for Piper, my young Boykin Spaniel pup.  With releases in the range of 200-500 birds my thoughts immediately went to what better opportunity could there be to work on our retriever skills than one of these type hunts.  While I knew Piper was ready, I was very nervous wondering what all these bird falling from the sky might do to my normally very under control 11 month old retriever.

We arrived in Bend the night before the shoot so that we could all get a good night’s rest and be ready to roll early the next morning.  Upon arriving at our destination we were greeted by Damien and given a quick tour of the lodge and the shooting grounds, they were amazing.  Next he outlined the logistics of the hunt and what was expected out of the dogs.  Piper would be picking up birds alongside his English Cocker and one of the guides Springer Spaniels so it turned out to be a showcase for the “little dogs”.  Piper and I were responsible for the three pegs (shooting stations) on the left side of the hunting grounds and the other dogs covered the remaining four pegs.  These hunts are typically started with the sound of the “hunter’s horn” but in our case a simple hand held air horn was all that was needed.  Within seconds the high flying roosters were approaching and the sound of discharging shotguns filled the air.  My opportunity for training was officially underway.

In an effort to maintain order and a level of safety we were asked not to release the dogs until after the first wave of birds were complete and the

Boykin spaniel retrieving a rooster

Mark’s Boykin spaniel, Piper, with a beautiful rooster from her first Tower Shoot.

horn sounded signaling that all guns were unloaded and open, then the dogs could do their thing. For this hunt I was using my SportDOG SD-400, and let me tell you it came in handy.  If you think your dog is steady just wait until there are 40 roosters in the air and you have birds falling from the sky at an alarming rate, landing anywhere from 10 to 100 yards away.   A few “reminders” of what the place board is actually for and Piper was pretty content to keep her butt parked in one place.  She was a tightly coiled spring waiting to be released, but we were, in fact, under control.  The sound of the horn for the second time was our cue that the first wave of birds was now complete and the pick-up work was to begin.  Piper and I started with a series of single marks, followed by multiple blinds that ranged from 20-40 yards in length and then proceeded to quarter through our designated area in search of the many birds still lying on the shooting grounds. This process was repeated over and over for about 2 hours until all 300 birds were driven off the ridge past the hunters.  The birds that escaped the hunter’s shots landed in the surrounding fields and were later hunted as part of the “scratch” hunt.  This portion of the day was exactly like a typical upland bird hunt with pointers and flushers working the fields putting up birds for the hunters.  I worked Piper as a non-slip retriever on this portion of the hunt and enjoyed the work of the hard charging setters.  Once the Setters were on point,  I’d release Piper for the final flush and retrieve.

Finally the day was complete and I had one very tired but happy Boykin on my hands; bringing 47 pheasant to hand will do that to a little brown dog.  On the 3 hour drive home I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and really realize was a tremendous opportunity it was to expose Piper to so many of the things she will experience this coming season.  She was marking falls preparing her for her duck blind work, executing multiple blinds giving her the confidence that when her “dad” sends her on a line that there really is something out there to retrieve and quartering the fields in search of downed birds and crafty roosters who are doing all they can to avoid detection.  So, if you ever get the chance to offer your dog’s services for one of these style hunts drop everything and go because it will be an experience you won’t forget.  Consider it a reward for both you and your pup for all the hard work getting to this point in their training!

About Mark

Mark Reilly is an avid hunter and would happily admit that he is an amateur trainer relying on the help and advice of many great trainers. Thankfully, Piper is a great student and well beyond where he thought she would be as she approaches her 1st birthday on April 17th, 2012.  His collar of choice is the SD-400 because of its size, Piper is only 37 pounds, ease of use and most importantly its reliability in the field.  Working Piper most every day of the week on land and in water puts plenty of of stress of the collar but do to its rugged and reliable construction it is one piece of equipment that he doesn’t need to worry about.

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