by Randy Capsel
The English Springer Spaniel is a versatile hunting dog utilized in numerous hunting situations these days. From upland game to waterfowl hunting, the English Springer Spaniel is a proven hunting companion adding enjoyment and efficiency to each hunting trip.
A springer with basic obedience training and some introductory field training will be able to fulfill most hunters’ desires. A bit of training is highly recommended though as there is nothing to compare to a springer’s hard charging trailing of a bird. It is desirable during those times to be able to slow the dog up a bit to ensure an efficient and effective shot. There are times though when a fast running bird will present far too much of a temptation to even the best trained dogs. That is the birdiness of the English Springer Spaniel. The springer will quarter efficiently in front of the hunting party, staying within gun range and occasionally checking back to ensure it is maintaining a proper working distance. This type of pattern allows for a quiet hunting experience with the handler being able to thoroughly enjoy observing his springer companion methodically and diligently searching the field in front. As a springer gains experience it will utilize the wind extremely well to afford the best opportunity for locating birds. In addition, some springers will learn to “cut-off” a fast running bird, somehow being able to get in front of the bird and thus placing the bird between the hunter and the dog allowing for a better shooting situation. The joy and excitement of watching your springer enjoy itself as it pushes through the cover in front of you makes for a more enjoyable hunting trip.
Springers have been utilized extensively in the pursuit of pheasant, chukar, partridge, and grouse over the years. In some geographic locations they also participate in quail and woodcock hunts as well as acting as retrievers from the dove blinds. However, the springer excels at the trailing and hard flush of the pheasant. The excitement of seeing that tail begin its buzzsaw action is a sure clue to its human companion that there is a bird nearby. As the head of the springer lifts into the air attempting to catch a running bird’s scent in the breeze there is no mistaking when those ears rise up on the dog’s head and that tail goes even faster that some fast shooting action is soon to follow. A properly trained springer will complete the package after the shot with outstanding retrieving ability. To the springer, the retrieve is the reward to a hard push on that bird.
Not only has the English Springer Spaniel proven itself on land, it has also become more popular in the waterfowl blind. Most springers greatly enjoy the chance to swim. As with any waterfowl dog, proper training for manners in a blind or boat as well as work on blind retrieves, will provide you with an ideal waterfowl dog. Springers can handle the early season work with retrieving teal, and continue hunting through the late waterfowl season with work on late season mallards and bluebills as well as Canada and Snow geese. The properly trained springer will make for a patient companion whether in the boat or in a land blind.
While the springer may not be as large as the retrievers commonly seen in waterfowl situations they can handle the rigors of waterfowl hunting with proper introduction to their quarry. A young puppy introduced to water during the mid-summer months will quickly take to this enjoyable swimming game. It is important to remember, however, that you should introduce your puppy to the water only after the water has warmed sufficiently so as not to “shock” its young system with frigid spring-thaw waters. Once the young dog has taken to the water you can begin its introduction to waterfowl work with training bumpers or thawed ducks. Once introduced to these birds, either on land or water, the springer will treat it as another feathered delight in its life. Work up to bigger birds as the dog becomes more comfortable with the smaller birds. A large goose wing is also a good introduction for an older puppy. The concern with retrieving a large bird on water typically is not a problem as the buoyancy of the bird on the water takes away a great deal of its weight. An experienced springer will learn to grasp a large duck or goose in a fashion that allows the water to assist with its retrieve. A springer is efficient at retrieving a wounded duck and will swim great distances to finally get a grasp on that bird. A wounded goose is a true challenge for any dog, retriever or spaniel, and can cause damage to any dog if the goose possesses the necessary strength. A second shot to dispatch a wounded goose would be recommended before sending any dog on such a retrieve. There may very well be some comical times with your springer when hunting from a land blind on a goose hunt. A giant Canada goose is definitely a mouthful for an adult springer, but sheer determination on the part of your canine companion will result in a retrieve back to your blind. Yes, your springer buddy may trip a couple of times on his way back with his quarry, but his pride will remain intact upon delivering that bird to his best hunting buddy.
This short summary will allow you a quick overview of the hunting possibilities with an English Springer Spaniel. It is important to remember that the more time you dedicate to training, the more complete hunting experience you will have with your springer. From a simple instinctual hunter to an advanced finished dog steady to flush and shot with the ability to deliver to hand those long blind retrieves or multiple falls, the English Springer Spaniel will with no doubt add intense pleasure to your days afield.