TRAINING THE BOYKIN AS A TURKEY DOG
By J. Carson Quarles
Turkey hunting, both in the fall and spring, is a disease and one which I have been afflicted by for over 50 years. I first caught the disease with fall hunting. Most states that allow fall hunting permit harvesting either gobblers or hens. In spring hunting, only the gobbler is fair and legal game.
Fall hunting is permitted in 43 states. Ironically, five of the states that prohibit fall hunting have very high wild turkey populations. Some turkey biologists say that the average life of a wild turkey is about two and one half years. Predators keep the average life of the turkey to this level. To me, it seems rather silly not to allow fall hunting since predators are so lethal.
Hunting turkeys in the fall, I think, is more challenging than hunting the gobbler in the spring. Some hunters will no doubt disagree but in the fall the turkeys are more alert, cautious and leery of any strange sight, movement or noises. The turkey’s eyesight and hearing is beyond anything imaginable. Any noise or movement by a hunter means the turkey is gone, period.
The objective of fall hunting is to harvest a turkey, any way you can, be it flying, running or standing still. Hunting without a dog, that means you have to out maneuver (ambush) turkeys for a shot. It is very, very difficult to sneak close to turkeys for a shot. The most common way is to somehow scatter the flock and then spend hours some time trying to call one back. Wild turkeys like to stay flocked together so some time during the day after being separated they will want to get back together.
Flushing or “busting up a gang” can be done by shooting in the air when close enough to them or running towards the flock and screaming at them. After the flush, the next task is to build a ground blind with tree laps, logs, etc. and then settle in from one to four or five hours and try to call a bird back and harvest it. The hunter will use the “lost” call of a turkey.
Flushing and scattering the gang is the key to possible success of the hunt. This is where the turkey dog comes in to play. The purpose of using a dog to turkey hunt is two fold: first, find the turkeys by sight or trailing by nose and scatter the gang; second, catch a crippled bird if that should happen.
In the USA, 29 states permit fall turkey hunting with dogs. My state, Virginia, has permitted the use of dogs for years.
There are various breeds and cross breeds of turkey dogs. Standard breeds such Setters, pointers, and springers are used. One popular cross breed was developed by John Byrne, a friend of mine who lives in an adjoining county in Virginia. Over a number of years John cross bred a setter, pointer and a plot hound. The pointer and setter for the nose and the hound for barking. These are good turkey dogs; I have hunted with a friend over his dogs.
Another cross bred is breeding a Boykin with another bird dog. I understand these make good turkey dogs but it does nothing to preserve the breed and integrity of the Boykin. I do not approve of this cross breeding.
Now to the Boykin Spaniel as a turkey dog. Actually, while the Boykin is not the most popular turkey dog due to its lack of awareness by turkey hunters, the Boykin Spaniel was bred and developed for turkey hunting and retrieving. According to an article in the 1992 September-October issue of Turkey Call, the Boykin spaniel is a cross of a Cocker spaniel, Water spaniel, Chesapeake Bay retriever and Springer spaniel and was developed in the early 1900’s.
Brandy (Brandywine of Edisto) was my first Boykin ppaniel turkey dog.
For 11 years, she was recognized as one of the best turkey dogs in the State of Virginia. When she was 14 I had to put her down; a day that I will never forget.
Wife Norma and I now have litter mates, Missy and Mandy who are 3-year-old Boykin Spaniel turkey dogs. They are good turkey dogs and we have had good luck harvesting turkeys with them.
Training a Boykin Spaniel for turkey hunting must start as a puppy. It is hard to train a turkey dog after it is ten months or a year old. I tried this with a couple year old pointers many years ago. After three years of training, I had reasonable success. They were just too set in their ways to train.
The first question is to decide or determine if the Boykin is going to be an inside or outside dog. I used to be of the old school and believe that you could not have an inside dog as a hunting dog. This is totally erroneous; my first Boykin Brandy proved that theory wrong. She was a champion turkey dog and at the same time owned the house, including sleeping on the bed with her mom and dad.
After it has been decided to have an inside Boykin turkey dog, you can then begin fundamental training. My opinion is that a puppy that is born in either November or December affords the opportune time table to have the Boykin ready for the fall season to start. It will be about ten months old for its first turkey hunting season.
Training should begin when about 10 to 12 weeks old. Inside training for blind behavior can begin as a puppy. It must be remember that flushing turkeys is only part of a turkey dogs required expertise. Equally important is blind training. They must be trained to lay still and be perfectly quiet in a turkey blind for hours.
Blind training can be started by sitting on the floor somewhere in your house and having the puppy lay quietly and under control for extended periods of time. Inside, you can teach them the basic commands of sit, lay, stay and what the word “no” means. If you do the proper job of binding with your Boykin, these elements of training become easy.
At ten weeks, the puppy is ready to do some outside training. The key tool for training is a wild turkey wing. Saving wings and putting them in the freezer for training later is a planning must.
The first exposure to the turkey wing is simple—tie a wing to about 10 feet of small rope and let the puppy chase it while you pull it away from it. Letting him/her catch it and chew on the wing gives the puppy the smell and taste of a wild turkey. You can also put the puppy somewhere in the house and drag the turkey wing out of its sight and let it trail the ground scent. This will start the puppy learning to trail the scent of a turkey.
It is imperative to get the young Boykin in the woods as quick as possible. Let them range and explore the woods as a puppy. While out in the woods, periodically sit down with the young dog and do some yelping on a caller to acquaint it with the sound of a turkey. I also use the turkey caller to call my dog back to me when I think it has been gone too long in the woods.
It is imperative that you get the Boykin into turkeys at an early age—within six to nine months. While hunting season is closed, put some feed (corn or oats) in an area that will attract turkeys. Watch the use of the area by the turkeys and then arrange to walk the young Boykin into the turkeys and let it flush the birds.
Hopefully, it will bark on the flush; some dogs will and others will not.
Brandy was a real barker and would burn their butts. Missy and Mandy will sometimes. If the Boykin does not bark as a rule, you have to watch for flying turkeys on the flush.
When turkey dogs get out of sight and flush turkeys, never move from the spot that you were when the Boykin left. They will return to the spot they left you. Not waiting on them can confuse them; they may not find you when they come back. They will usually circle back behind you, get your scent and come to your rear. This is very important when hunting turkey dogs in high wind.
If you have done most of what I have outlined, I think the young Boykin is now ready to actually hunt. If the Boykin is now about ten months or a year old, it is prime time to begin to help you harvest fall turkeys. Down a bird any way you can at this stage of its training—flying or running on the ground. On its first kill experience, let the Boykin tear into a down bird. Let it pull feathers, bark at it, lick blood and in general really rough it up. This instills the kill instinct in the Boykin and makes it want to hunt turkeys for its master.
The Boykin as a turkey dog is a natural. It possesses great traits that are needed for turkey hunting. The Boykin is fast, has a great nose, is highly intellegent, ranges far enough but not too far and is easy to train. Its small statue and dark color is a major blind advantage.
Finally, a couple of do’s and don’ts. Do not scold a Boykin excessively. If you have bound with them, simple no’s to them will correct them. Never, never, never, never whip a Boykin or use a shock collar. Boykins are very temperamental and you can break their hunting spirits if mistreated. Give them praise, love and hugs. For this, they will do anything to please their master.
This article was written for the Boykin Spaniel Society Newsletter and was used with permission from the author, J. Carson Quarles of Roanoke, VA. (C) J.Carson Quarles