Pheasant Fest: Taking on opening day, dogs to dinner, habitat to hordes

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Kimberly Dyer with Rosa, a Deutscher Wachtelhund, during the Bird Dog Parade on opening day at the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Consider me overwhelmed.

Now I know what the Westminster Dog Show must feel like.

The National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic opened Friday, and it runs through Sunday at the Schaumburg Convention Center.

Two things really struck me: First, I haven’t seen a local outdoors show with as many exhibitors in more than two decades. Second, I’ve never seen so many dogs in a show.

Pheasant Fest started with the Bird Dog Parade at 11 a.m., leading into the noon opener. There were 100 dogs from 39 breeds. Good Lord, I’d never heard of most of the breeds. Life is about learning, and I’m trying.

After booth setup, I walked the show early and ran into Rick Pelszynski with the Deutscher Wachtelhund of North America club. The breed dates back to Germany in the 1800s.

‘‘These dogs are phenomenal,’’ said Pelszynski, who lives near Princeton. ‘‘They will hunt well beyond what you want. Then they will come home and sit on the couch next to you.’’

In the Bird Dog Parade, Kimberly Dyer of Oak Ridge Kennels in Michigan had Rosa walking the runway. Dyer and husband Dave sang the praises of the hunting skills and versatility of the breed.

‘‘They are good with kids, too,’’ Kimberly said.

In their area, the dogs work on grouse.

‘‘When you hear them barking, get ready,’’ Dave said. ‘‘They give tongue on the trail.’’

They do quail and pheasant, too.

It is difficult for me to capture the expanse of the show, the variety and range.

There are puppies all over, as there should be with dog breeders and trainers everywhere. There are all kinds of dog accessories. There are guns and gun-related stuff. The colors and styles at Boyd’s Dog Stocks is stunning.

The visual wonder of the gun stocks at the Boyds Gun Stocks booth at the National Pheasant Quest &amp; Quail Classic.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

The visual wonder of the gun stocks at the Boyds Gun Stocks booth at the National Pheasant Quest & Quail Classic.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

The Youth Village is upstairs. Pheasants Forever has a successful series of youth programs.

On opening day, I made sure to take in the dog seminar by Tom Dokken on ‘‘Training Your Dog to Hunt Sheds’’ before a standing-room crowd of more than 100.

I can see why he drew the biggest crowd. He’s an organized speaker and, as he noted, ‘‘[Shed hunting] is probably the fastest-growing canine sport out there.’’

Tom Dokken leading a seminar on teaching dogs to hunt shed antler at the National Pheasant Fest &amp; Quail Classic.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Tom Dokken leading a seminar on teaching dogs to hunt shed antler at the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Here are some nuggets about training your dog to hunt sheds (the dropped antlers of deer):

Puppies can start training as young as 7 weeks old. Start small dogs with a small piece of antler, then work up in antler size. Make sure to call it something different than what you teach them for finding birds. Dokken uses, ‘‘Bone.’’

De-scent yourself and the training antlers, so the dog is not imprinting your scent into hunting sheds.

Make sure to make the training hunts successful excursions, much like teaching a kid to fish.

‘‘Best shed hunting?’’ Dokken asked rhetorically. ‘‘Suburbia has some of the best of shed hunting.’’

Among other things I will focus on attending before the show ends are cooking demonstrations by Hank Shaw and Lukas Leaf.

I am in Booth 513 for the Sun-Times, directly across from the South Cook County chapter booth. I’m there every day. Stop by. The Sun-Times is running a giveaway (think #CSToutdoors).

Let me sum it up simply: We haven’t had an outdoors show like this in far too many years. It’s a thing of wonder.

Information about Pheasant Fest is at pheasantfest.org.

The opening day crowd at the start of the National Pheasant Quest &amp; Quail Classic at the Schumaburg Convention Center.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

The opening day crowd at the start of the National Pheasant Quest & Quail Classic at the Schumaburg Convention Center.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

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