Wingshooting, It’s not a Game

We have a ladies hunt and wingshooting day coming up soon.

I’ll be explaining and demonstrating the differences between wingshooting and the shooting games including skeet, trap, sporting clays, etc.

Wingshooting is unique and requires different timing and procedure because real birds don’t simulate the flight of clay targets. With real birds, you can’t see one fly first, you don’t know where your feet (stance) will be, you have no hold point or break point, etc. In addition, the flight of targets is opposite of that of real birds. Clays start out fast, slow down and drop. Birds do the opposite, they start slow, accelerate and rise.

The method I advise and practice for wingshooting is similar to the Churchill or Instinctive style of shooting.

Higgins Gundogs Rules to Successful Wingshooting

After the flush:
1: As the bird flies, focus on his leading edge (usually his head)

2: Square your shoulders to the bird and keep them squared (follow the bird with your upper body)

3: With your shoulders already squared to it and following the bird, mount the gun in front of the bird

4: When the gun touches your cheek, pull the trigger (the gun touches your shoulder and cheek at the same time)

One of my favorite Churchill quotes: ”In practice the shooter should not be conscious of his muzzle, the rib or sight. His eye, or rather his attention, should be fully occupied with the bird, and, if he holds his gun properly, he will hit whatever he is looking at.”

Brad Higgins
Higgins Gundogs hunting etiquette
Dogs: Stay in touch and handle well. Always honor another dog’s point, be steady when necessary and manage the birds for the gun.
Handlers: Be silent in the hunt. Allow the dog the freedom to do his work. Nurture the natural retrieve.

Certifies Higgins Gundogs & Higgins Gundog Handlers

Here is a link to a list of our certified Higgins Gundogs (HGD) and handlers (HGDH).

I understand there are some impostors out there. I just found out that a guide at a well known hunt club has been telling his clients that he and his dog were certified with Higgins Gundogs. In his case, it is untrue.

All Higgins Gundogs (HGD) and Higgins Gundog Handlers (HGDH) have been personally trained and certified by me using one-on-one sessions or through video and phone consultations.  Those that know me understand that I have the highest of expectations for our dogs and handlers. If you have reason to question someone’s comment claiming to have a Higgins Gundog title, please let me know.


Brad Higgins
Higgins Gundogs
Higgins Gundogs hunting etiquette

Dogs: Stay in touch and handle well. Always honor another dog’s point, be steady when necessary and manage the birds for the gun.

Handlers: Be silent in the hunt. Allow the dog the freedom to do his work. Nurture the natural retrieve.

Don’t Punish the Dog for Your Mistakes

Often, trainers make mistakes and teach the dogs specific, unwanted associations without even knowing it. Then, when the dog acts upon these learned associations, he is punished by the trainer. Here is an example.

A dog is always told “fetch” immediately after the gun goes off and the bird falls. The trainer has unknowingly built an association between the gun going off and the release command. Now when the gun goes off, the dog anticipates and begins leaving early (before the release command is given). Due to his lack of understanding, the trainer shocks the dog for being unsteady. This lack of understanding of the canine mind is one of the reasons there are so few steady dogs. It is also why so many hunting dogs have what I call “training handprints” including gun sensitivity, lack of style, blinking birds, shortened range, flagging, etc.

Dogs don’t naturally understand human concepts like obedience and repetition. Instead, being predators, they learn quickly to build association based on success. I tell my clients that consistency builds associations that lead to anticipation. It’s important to build the associations needed to help the dogs achieve success. It’s equally important to be careful and not build unwanted associations. Basically, be consistent with the ones you want and inconsistent with those you don’t.

Instead of punishing the dog for doing what makes sense to him, these trainers need to stop building associations that are unwanted. In this case, the answer is to become inconsistent with the release command. Meaning sometimes you tell him fetch immediately, sometimes wait a few seconds before releasing him and sometimes, even leaving him where he is and going for the retrieve yourself. Soon, when the gun goes off, he no longer associates it with an immediate release. Instead, when the gun goes off, he remains steady and looks at the trainer to see if or when he can go. He chooses to wait for the “fetch” command because it is the only association that is consistent in the retrieve scenario.  He knows that if he hears that word, he always gets to go.

Forget obedience and punishment. Instead, start building trust. What a concept.

Brad Higgins



Higgins Gundogs hunting etiquette-
 Dogs:    Stay in touch and handle well. Always honor another dog’s point, be steady when necessary and manage the birds for the gun.
Handlers:    Be silent in the hunt. Allow the dog the freedom to do his work. Nurture the natural retrieve.


VIDEO: 6 Month Old Bird Dog

Here is a young dog we recently trained. He is steady to wing, shot and fall. He also stops to flush and has a natural retrieve.

People often ask how we can get such a young dog (6 months old) understanding this level of steadiness and still maintain his natural drive, intensity and focus. The reason is, I don’t use any pressure or obedience in his steadiness training and bird work. My method is success based. He knows that If he cooperates, I’ll help him get the bird in his mouth.


Brad Higgins

Retrieving From the Dogs Perspective

In conventional gundog training, force fetch or retrieve training is usually taught early, along with other obedience commands. People often ask why I instead, add a natural retrieve as the last step in training.

Retrieve, in my method, is done last, after a dog understands that steadiness leads to success and that we can help (the building of trust). In a dogs mind, retrieving, as an obedience command, is unnatural. The fact that you’re going to force the dog to bring his reward to you so you can steal it from him makes you by definition, “untrustworthy” in his eyes. That’s why it takes pressure and lots of repetition. Early retrieve work, before building trust, can lead to problems including a lack of desire due to adding unnecessary stress. In my method, because we add the retrieve AFTER building trust, the dogs see it not as an obedience command, but as naturally sharing the kill.

Brad Higgins

Proofing a Steady Dog

Higgins Gundogs are trained and managed to a high level. They must be able to adapt to new and unusual situations and control their excitement level. We want to see all their style and intensity, but they must choose to remain steady. Here, we’re proofing a seasoned dog. This is Greg Belanger, HGDH and his dog HGD Harry. This was filmed a while ago during one of our training hunts. While Harry is managing a moving pheasant, we release a young, untrained pup. The pup goes out and bumps and chases Harry’s bird. What is Harry’s response? He doesn’t break, he manages his energy. He is steady to flush, shot and kill. He is able to do this because he has learned to trust us. He knows, with our help, he will get his bird.

Steadiness = Managing Your Dog’s Energy

This is an excerpt from a recent post on my blog. He was commenting on a recent video I posted,

He wrote in part:

I noticed the woman flushing was almost creeping in on tiptoes when in front of her dog. Others take a much more positive or aggressive approach. Do you have an opinion on whether there is a best way to approach and flush a pointed bird?


My answer:

To answer your question, whenever we are working with a dog and especially when we go in front of a dog on point, our focus is in managing the dog’s energy or excitement. Flushing the bird is secondary. This gets a little deep but stick with me. Unlike obedience or “whoa” trainers, my goal is to help the dog control himself so he doesn’t break and flush or chase the bird. A “whoa” trainer’s goal is different. He has no interest in helping the dog be successful (getting the bird in his mouth), he wants the dog to be obedient to the “whoa” command. In training, he wants the dogs energy or excitement level to surpass it’s ability to be steady so he can enforce obedience with an e-collar shock.

If I am good at managing the dogs level of energy, he doesn’t break and doesn’t require the use of an e-collar. The same energy or excitement that gives you a stylish, intense point, is the same energy that, when left uncontrolled, will rise beyond the dogs ability to remain still, causing the dog to break or chase.

Ok, now back to your question. Martha and Katy (the shooter), being good Higgins Gundog Handlers, were effectively managing Sophia’s energy. They felt she was pretty excited (being new to coveys of chukar) and they were helping her control herself. Remember, it’s always a balancing act. We want the dogs to display all the style and intensity they possess. Equally important is we don’t want to push the dog over the top and cause them to break.

What we do here is dog training at another level. It all boils down to building a relationship with your dog based on mutual trust. This is the nature of the dog.

Brad Higgins
Higgins Gundogs

Building Associations

A few years ago I was contacted by Unleashed Technologies. They had developed a variable intensity, vibration-only collar and asked if I would test it for them.

Here are 4 dogs learning the “here” command with a vibrating collar all in less than 30 minutes. As I say, dogs don’t naturally learn based on obedience. They learn by association.

Brad Higgins

Understanding the Retrieve From the Dog’s Perspective

Some have asked why I teach dogs to retrieve as the last step in their training when conventional training dictates that it should be taught as one of the initial obedience commands for pointing dogs.

When the fetch “command” is taught in the beginning, before the dog learns to be cooperative and steady, it is by definition, obedience. From the dog’s perspective, he is being forced to perform these tasks to avoid trainer induced pressure. However, when the retrieve is encouraged after the dog has learned to trust the owner and understands that being steady leads to success, in his eyes, retrieving is a reward, not an e-collar enforced obedience drill. It is much easier to retain the dog’s natural enthusiasm for retrieving when he does it naturally.

The same holds true for the flush/stop cue for the pointing dogs. In the UK and here at Higgins Gundogs, this style of hunting, where the dog on point is cued to flush the bird for the shooter, then stop on the flush, is practiced. The dogs see this cue in the same way they see a cue to retrieve. Basically, they see it as a cue to procure the prey. Keep in mind why dogs point. It is the pause before the pounce. In conventional training here in the US, the dog is  never allowed to pounce. His entire reason for pointing is taken away and replaced with pressure and obedience. It’s no wonder some of the softer dogs can loose style and intensity in these situations.

It’s interesting that this method of allowing the dogs to pounce, but only on cue, makes them much steadier overall. Enthusiasm, style and intensity increase when he knows  his reason for pointing will be realized, it’s just a matter of waiting for the cue. This is dog work on another level. I call it more than “physically steady”, this is when they become “mentally steady”.

Brad Higgins








Martha and Sophia, Higgins Gundog and Handler

Here is a recent video of HGDH Martha Zimet and her dog HGD Sophia. They both recently received their Higgins Gundog certifications. Martha stopped by for a few days earlier this month to handle Sophia in some new and challenging hunting scenarios. Birds are the real trainers and nothing better than covies of chukar to season a dog.

Here is an important comment taken from the video: Higgins Gundogs are more than physically steady, they are mentally steady. When a dog reaches this level, it’s important to understand that a different type of handling is required. Quiet, calm and unhurried. You’re not enforcing obedience, you’re simply helping the dog by managing the excitement level of the hunt.