Garden & Gun Ranks Wild Wing

Few things can match the sublime pleasure of working with a great dog in the field. But the dogs don’t usually start out great. These trainers are here to help

When it comes to our four-legged hunting partners, the potential to rapidly swing between the emotional extremes of adoration and apoplexy, pride and embarrassment, or satisfaction and regret begs for a kind of therapy session that begins with “So, tell me about…your bird dog.” On a chilly evening before a hunt, perhaps nursing a wee dram, we might watch our pooch curled up peacefully and feel the world aglow with goodness. But come morning, as our beloved sprints uncontrollably toward the horizon, oblivious to commands now fraught with desperation, we wonder which of us is crazier.
Your first step in the healing process is to admit that you need a trainer. Next is to locate one that’s suitable for you and the dog, which can be like asking a New Yorker where to find a good slice of pizza. Everyone has an opinion. The following professionals have decades of experience, and many consider them to be among the best gundog trainers in the South. They often specialize in certain breeds and methodologies, and their goal is to make you and the dog a team united in your passion to hunt birds, to rekindle the romance of the hunt—and, yes, to help you save face in front of your buddies.

Call him crazy, but Tracey Lieske believes that gundogs develop better with wild game birds rather than the pen-raised fowl that dominate commercial wing shooting. He doesn’t base that conviction on some wide-eyed notion. His Wild Wing Lodge and Kennel is a twelve-thousand-acre wonderland of woods, grasses, and crop covers that’s home to a thriving population of indigenous quail. And those hard-flying birds are just the thing to bring out a dog’s prey drive and sharpen its skills.

“Our philosophy is to expose the young dog to all of the elements that Mother Nature has to offer, including numerous bird contacts,” Lieske says. “We’ve found that by doing this we build on the dogs’ natural pointing ability and desire, to produce a bird dog that has a lot of style and intensity around its game.”
For Lieske, the program is a big win for his English setters, a breed that loves to work but that he says typically matures more slowly than the English pointer. “English setters generally don’t mature until about two years old, and we’re seeing pointer-like performance from our setters at six to ten months old.”

In addition to training, Lieske also hosts quail hunters at Wild Wing Lodge during the season. Off-season, he trains in the mild weather of his Wild Wing Lodge North, on Clearwater Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And if you stick around, he offers prime grouse hunting during the month of October. Read the entire article by Irwin Greenstein here.