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Outdoor Adventure: Turkey Dogs

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By Indrek Kongats

No! This article isn’t about a new recipe for non-beef flavored wieners, but rather another breed of dog, one specifically developed for the hunting of turkeys. You might not know it, but the use of dogs is allowed to hunt turkeys in the fall in New York State. In fact, the use of dogs dates back some 400 years, when the British colonized Virginia, bringing their quail hunting dogs with them in 1607, 14 years before the first Thanksgiving feast was recorded in November of 1621 at Plymouth.

Virginia is still the number one state to use dogs for their autumn hunts, and over the course of time, have been responsible for developing the most popular breed of turkey hunting dogs. They started out crossing pointers and setters, and along the way, introduced some hound into the mix. The end result is what is unofficially called the Appalachian Turkey Dog. The breed is not a recognized breed by the American Kennel Club, but is definitely recognized by the turkey hunter and, more importantly, the turkey itself.

Although breeding of turkey dogs dates back to colonial times, the person responsible for the Appalachian Turkey Dog is the late John Byrne, of Virginia, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 87. Byrne selectively bred a line of pointers and setters with the Plott hound. The idea was to create a dog that roamed far and fast, picking up the scent of turkeys, tracking them down, scattering the flock and barking to let the hunter know his whereabouts.

The breed is recognized by its black and white makings, floppy, hound-like ears and a medium build. The purpose of a dog in today’s hunts is to locate and scatter a flock of birds, hens, jakes and toms, all fair game in the fall hunt. Once the birds have scattered, the hunter sets himself down in a concealed location with his dog back by his side. The scattered birds will try to relocate one another and fall to the hunters call, thinking one of their misplaced relatives is nearby.

The dog’s work is almost done. In the event the hunter does not get a clean kill, his dog will take over the duty of tracking down the wounded bird, stopping it dead if necessary. Many a bird has been lost when hunting without a dog. Fall hunting is considerably harder than spring hunting and accounts for considerably fewer turkeys harvested. Adding a dog to the mix increases the odds and the ease in which a hunter can fill his single bird quota for the season.

The Appalachian Turkey Dog is not the only breed to be used in turkey hunting, and depending on your region or interests, any breed of dog used in upland game will work, as it is the natural instinct of the dog to chase a turkey once spotted. The trick is for the dog to recognize the scent and track the turkey flock and return back to hunter once the flock has scattered. The training takes place out of season and is allowed by law on wild small game Aug. 15 through April 15.

The term “feathers in the mouth” coined by Byrne is his top teaching tool. Exposing the dog to the turkey’s scent as often as possible is the surest way to develop his turkey hunting ability. In the beginning, the use of the dog training collar will help you call your dog back if out of ear shot and keep your dog focused on specific game rather than getting distracted by other animals, including other dogs. Your dog also needs to be desensitized to the sound of your shotgun blast.

With turkey season opening this weekend, Oct. 15, consider working with your dog. Important tips to keep in mind are: not to interfere with another hunter, use a hunter orange collar on your dog, tread cautiously yourself and eliminate any of the telltale turkey colors (red, white and blue) from your own wardrobe. By the way, it has also been proven that clothing, without a camouflage print, in natural earth tones will still fool a turkey if you keep still and break up your silhouette with some sort of cover. Dog hunters will also drape a camo or burlap cloth over their dog in a blind.

Remember a scattered flock will more often than not return to the break site, so setup, sit back and call softly; I’m sure you’ll find hunting with your dog exciting, enjoyable and rewarding.

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