Waterfowl Hunting in Alaska
Training Hunting Dogs with Birds
Bird dog training has deep roots in hunting and game bird conservation. In order to teach dogs to reliably find and retrieve birds, it is vital to train with a variety of birds under varying conditions. It is important that dog trainers and clubs know the rules concerning use of birds during training to both support game bird conservation and stay out of trouble with the law. Many state and federal laws and regulations apply to the importation, possession, use, and disposal of birds used in training and field events. These rules serve two general purposes: (1) protect the health and welfare of native game bird populations in Alaska, and (2) ensure that game bird hunting regulations are enforceable. Here is a quick guide to applicable regulations pertaining to the use of birds in dog training.
Acquiring and Possessing Birds
Alaska regulations do not require you to have a permit to import, possess, and sell upland game bird species on the "clean list" (5AAC 92.029), i.e., types of birds that are not likely to become established in the wild or spread disease to native birds. These include pigeons, pheasants, guinea fowl, new world quail, and chukar partridge. In 1995, the Alaska Board of Game adopted a year-round season and unlimited bag limit for deleterious exotic wildlife, including pigeons. Under this regulation, pigeons may be taken from the wild by any legal methods, including dip nets and baited live traps (5AAC 92.080).
Federal and state regulations prohibit taking wild waterfowl, except in accordance with normal hunting regulations. Some trainers use ducks taken legally during the fall hunting season to train their dogs. Use of wild game birds in public not only presents a poor public image that can feed anti-hunting sentiment, but it is illegal unless the meat of the breast is salvaged for human consumption [5AAC 92.220(d) and 5AAC 92.990(17)]. Most clubs and trainers buy "domestic" mallards from game farms; these birds are raised in captivity from non-wild stock. No permits are required to buy or import farm-reared mallards, but there are two important things you should do: (1) ask for a health certificate from the seller to ensure that your birds are disease-free and you stay clear of agriculture/health violations; and (2) make sure your mallards are marked, either by removal of hind toes or permanent bands, as required by federal regulations. Be aware that law enforcement officers may presume that unmarked ducks are wild and were taken out-of-season. Keep your purchase and shipping paperwork to prove you bought them from a dealer.
Use of Birds
Training with live birds is an essential part of effectively training bird dogs. Three fundamental areas of regulation govern use of live birds: (1) release of birds, (2) "take" of birds (harass, trap, shoot, etc.), and (3) methods of taking. Generally, Alaska regulations prohibit release of animals into the wild, and prohibit taking of animals unless seasons are specifically opened.
In 1990, as a result of proposals by retriever clubs, the Alaska Board of Game adopted regulations that allow the temporary release of birds for dog work. Alaska regulation 5AAC 92.029(g) permits release to the wild of "clean list " upland birds and domestic ducks, but only for purposes of dog or falconry training and legitimate field trials and tests. Even so, certain conditions apply: (1) birds may be released only on the same day that they will be used; (2) every attempt must be made to recapture or kill all released birds; and (3) the birds must have been legally acquired and possessed. It is important to note that this regulation does not legalize the release of planted birds simply for "fun hunts"—dog or falcon training or testing must be involved.
By law, birds may not be taken except through a specified open hunting season or special permit. The regulation that allowed temporary release of birds for purposes of dog and falcon work also established that those birds could be taken in association with training and testing. This is the mainstay of legal bird shooting for training and field events. Two subsequent regulations broadened the latitude for shooting birds for dog training: (1) regulations on deleterious exotic wildlife (5 AAC 85.075) established a year-round season and unlimited bag limit on pigeons, as well as several other introduced species; and (2) regulations were created to allow the taking of escaped exotic game birds (e.g., pheasants, chukars) at any time (5AAC 85.070). These regulations allow the shooting of birds commonly used in training and testing.
Methods and Means
Virtually all of the regulations that now allow the release and use of birds for dog training require that only legal means be used. For the most part, this means that trainers have to operate within methods currently allowed for hunting game (5AAC 92.080) and specifically for waterfowl (5AAC 92.100). Conventional shooting of birds in training and trials is legal, as long as hunting regulations are followed (e.g., no shooting from vehicles or across highways, shotguns only—no larger than 10 gauge, etc.). Especially note that nontoxic shot is required for shooting all waterfowl, any time and anywhere.
In planning your dog training activities and locations, please keep in mind that city, borough, and military ordinances prohibit discharge of firearms (even starter pistols and popper rounds) in certain areas. Also, in some jurisdictions, ordinances may exist that define and prohibit cruelty to animals, such that dog training and testing would be violations.
Hunters and trainers of hunting dogs need to support regulations that are designed to conserve Alaska's game bird resources and prevent violations by "bad apples." Dog trainers also need to be good citizens by respecting private property and not behaving offensively in public. Changes in regulations have made it much easier to legally train and test hunting dogs with birds, but violations of game laws and actions that display a lack of respect for birds can jeopardize the public images of hunting and dog sports.
The material presented here is designed to provide general information for trainers of hunting dogs and falcons. It does not relieve your obligation to understand and comply with the formal codified regulations. For questions or for copies of the regulations, contact any office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.