When Rick Radtke changed his dog, he didn’t know it would also change his life.
Minn. Radtke, of Great Lakes, is a longtime pheasant hunter and several decades ago regularly drove down I-35 to Iowa in his truck or west to South Dakota for a few days of bucking.
Over the years, he was accompanied by either a Labrador retriever or a golden retriever, and he loved watching the quarter dogs, sniffing the birds, put their noses on the ground.
Then one day, about 10 years ago, he tried something different.
“I knew a guy with a springer spaniel, and I bought him,” Radtke said.
When she brought home her new liver-and-white-toothed puppy, whom she named Ruby, Radtke knew she was outside of the Minnesota sporting dog norm.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) registration, the Labrador retriever has been the most popular dog in the United States for 31 consecutive years.
Among Minnesota bird hunters, this breed record probably stretches further due to the dual nature of the Lab’s skills, whether it’s pulling ducks or geese out of the water or finding and flushing birds in the uplands.
In many ways, however, the springer spaniel — or rather, the English springer spaniel — is the quintessential pheasant dog, and more than a few will be running into Minnesota’s hinterlands when the state’s 2022 season opens at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s fun to watch the spring work guy,” Radtke said. “They cover the ground well and find birds.”
However, Radtke and a handful of other springer spaniel owners and handlers in Minnesota will not be hunting Saturday. Instead, they will be headquartered in Minn. from Nov. 17-21 this year. They will be busy preparing for the British Springer Spaniel National Open Championship to be held in Austin.
The trial represents the culmination of a nationwide effort to breed, breed and manage the best field bows. to show dogs of the same breed — and Radtke is among the Minnesotans who have qualified for the championship, which is open to amateur and professional handlers.
“If you test, you generally don’t hunt your dog because the training is often interrupted during the hunt,” said Radtke, who will compete with the offspring of Ruby, a black and white male springer named Jack. , in the November championship.
Radtke’s life changed so much after he got his first spring spaniel that he hasn’t hunted pheasants in nearly five years.
“Field-trial training takes a lot of time,” he said.
Longville, Minn. Kevin Martineau agrees. Along with Mike McGinty of Long Lake, Morgan Haglin of Brainerd and Radtke, he was awarded the Minnesota springer spaniel owner and owner title race.
Martineau said: “I bought my first summer car in 1978 and started testing in 1979.”
The appeal of the springer spaniel trial game is that it is very similar to real hunting.
“There are three ‘series’ in the weekend field test,” Radtke said. “In the first two, the two dogs run in an arm, that is, they look for pheasants that are planted together in the same field. When a dog finds a bird and roasts it, it must immediately sit down. We call this “sitting for a roast”.”
Designated shooters or “gunners” who follow the dogs, then shoot or attempt to shoot the bird, and both dogs must be “shoot proof”.
“At that point, the handler who fried the dog gives the command to retrieve, and the other dog must remain seated, respecting the retrieve dog’s work,” Radtke said.
Speed and style are among the qualities that dogs value when searching for birds. Discipline is especially important when roasting a bird. When a competing dog is sent out to retrieve it, its ability to pinpoint or “mark” the bird’s landing is also evaluated.
“If the dog doesn’t go directly to the bird or otherwise can’t find it, the handler should ‘handle’ the dog, or guide it by hand, and whistle where the handler thinks the bird is,” Radtke said. “In that case, the dog’s ability to follow instructions is also judged.”
Although the AKC does not list dog breeds for use as pets or for hunting, field trials, or showing, its registry’s annual ranking tells of the relative popularity of dogs known for their ability to hunt pheasants.
Note that there were 26 English spring spanielsc In the 2021 AKC rankings – not bad – but the German shorthair was ninth.
Meanwhile, Brittanys (formerly Brittany spaniels) had 27c; German wire feathered indicators were 59c; wire-haired pointing Griffons 60c; Irish setters, 71st; English setters, 98c; and (English) indicators 120c.
Each of these will be hot for a certain number of Minnesota pheasants on Saturday.
But most will be Labradors. Not only because of its usefulness for hunting waterfowl (many of the breeds listed above can be included), but Minnesota’s pheasant habitat often requires a larger dog that can wade through swamps thick with cattails and other cover in search of birds.
In contrast, states such as Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, and to some extent Iowa and South Dakota are more suitable for pheasant hunting for larger range dogs that can cover large landscape patterns.
However, for Radtke, Martineau and other mounts, there is no better partner in the field or at home than the springer spaniel.
“My motivation for buying the crossbow was to find more pheasants while hunting or later field testing,” Martineau said.
“But other than that, they’re very nice dogs to have around. They love human company.”