Pigeons, dirty birdies, rats with wings…. They have a lot of names, but the one not used enough is *valuable.
Sportsmen who use dogs as hunting companions and partners are often victims of not having adequate off-season training opportunities at their fingertips.
But what if I told you there was a low-cost option for both upland AND waterfowl hunters in the dog training realm that you could self-provide all year long from the comfort of your backyard?
Yeah, that’s right, I’m going there… PIGEONS.
Pigeons are used widely in hunting and training, but what’s not discussed is how you can do it yourself and save some money in the long run. No matter your property situation, 99% of folks have the means and area to have a small self-sustaining loft in their back yard, front yard, or even back patio or deck.
One of the beauties of starting your own loft or flock is that you can get as simple or intricate as you want to make it. I got in the pigeon game this year, started with a small kit box that could house about a dozen birds, quickly got hooked, and built myself a massive 8x8x8ft loft that could hold 10x the amount I had at the time.
But, you don’t have to go that far if you don’t have the energy or the space to do so. I have seen some setups where folks used semi-large vertical bird cages that fit on their patio and accommodate about 10 birds. The only thing that matters is that you give them enough food, water, and shade to be happy and a great safe place to nest with pre-made nests or enough nesting material for them to get by.
Regarding food, you can choose a few options like wild bird seed feed or some layered pellets. Amazon is a great place to find pre-made nests; there are many different options.
Regarding breeding, if you want to self-multiply, a good breeding pair will be able to crank out a couple of birds every other month all year.
So, if you are good at math (math is hard, folks), then if you have two breeding pairs, you could end up with 12 training birds a year from them-give or take a few ’cause nature can be cool or crappy. It will take roughly 18 days for an egg to hatch and another 5 weeks or so for those birds to be able to leave the nest.
You say how many ways are there to use them for training?
There is a BUNCH!
If you are looking for some good pigeon training videos, there is a YouTube page called “Standing stone kennels.” (no affiliation with myself of HuntBums), and they give a bunch of different uses for pigeons and bird dogs, with some good pigeon-raising tips as well.
As for a couple of simple uses that I have used in the past: For pointing breeds, my favorite training is to tie a full bottle of water to the pigeon’s leg using paracord (not very abrasive and won’t cut their leg), put the bird to sleep then plant the bird in the field.
I do this with 2-4 birds. This works a lot better if you have a steady dog that won’t pounce on the bird but run the dog and have them practice their back and forth cuts and point steadiness.
After the point is achieved, call the dog off and move on to the next bird. This is a terrific exercise for the dog and for you! Dog gets work, and you don’t have to kill any of your flock.
Another good practice is to hold the bird in your hand, have your dog off leash and when the dog comes to you and points, reward them by releasing the bird and letting them have a fun game of chase with no chance of success (lol), but for this to work your birds need to be trained to go back to the loft (not hard to do).
For retrievers: The best uses, unfortunately, include killing the bird (a price to pay for a successful season), but force fetch with warm birds is a must, and also throwing the bird and shooting it as a live dummy is about as close as you can get to hunting season. This takes more than one person to be done optimally, but you cannot get a better exercise in the off-season than shooting live pigeons.
Now, how do I even get pigeons?! There are multiple ways and options to get birds these days. Start with the simple: just get a net and catch some! I have teamed up with a buddy in the past, and we have toured bridges and overhangs around town with a spotlight and a net. This is definitely easier to do at night, for the birds are nesting and rather not leave unless provoked.
The bright light can stop them in their tracks for at least a few seconds-giving you time to strike and get the net on them. This is the most work in building a flock but also the most rewarding. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing the birds you catch start nesting and hatching further trainers. The only downside to this method is the possibility of diseased birds; this can cause obvious sustainability issues.
The second way is to buy ’em; there are many different options.
You can search other Facebook groups for opportunities, craigslist has reasonable possibilities, and also look in your local animal auctions.
This is a bit safer chance at healthy birds than the latter option, and you get the opportunity to pick and choose what birds you add to your flock. But, this is the most spendy option as well- most folks selling are selling from their personal stock and most likely from their race or eating stock (yes, lots of folks eat pigeons, if you didn’t know, now ya do). So, if you have the money to do it, I would definitely go this route.
Last is the good ol’ go and beg a farmer for a pair of birds. Out of the three options, this is one that I haven’t personally done, but I have been told to try it. Lots of times, if you go to a pigeon racer or someone who has a large loft and flock and express your efforts to get into the pigeon game, you could possibly talk them into giving you a starter pair of birds for your loft.
This is the cheapest and easiest option by far, but also, you have a high risk of being told no.
Also, they might not be as apt if you wish to disclose that you are raising them to train with.
Overall, pigeons are a great tool in dog training, and folks need to know how easy it can be to get started. You must remember most to see that it’s ok to reach out for help and ask folks for insight and guidance. I have been pleasantly surprised in the pigeon-raising community with folks being apt to answer my questions that I sought silly.
Lastly, if you want birds to return to your loft, if they get out of you, use them for training, and don’t kill them; remember to get a homing breed! There is a bunch of different breeds, so do your research.
Thanks for tagging along. Stay safe, stay helpful, and always reach out if you have any questions.
Thank you! -Drew