Throughout the non-hunting season, trainers should keep their dog's hunting skills sharp by training with live birds whenever possible. Though depending on where you live, getting live birds to train with can be hard. In the following post, I will explain some local Pennsylvania sources to get birds, as well as ways to catch your own birds to keep and use as training tools.
One of the cheapest ways to get birds would be catching wild pigeons. This can be done in a few different ways, the easiest being using the LCS Pigeon Trap. Trapping pigeons is relatively easy to do, just place the trap in an area with high pigeon populations such as barns or abandon buildings. Use either a bait pile, which can be bird seed or shelled corn from your local feed store, or another pigeon in the trap cage to attract other pigeons into the cage. If you're not having luck at first, try getting them use to the cage and area by spreading around the bait your using for a few days to get them coming back. You should also try concealing your cage if possible.
Pigeons also have several characteristics that make them great for off-season live bird training. One of the best traits of pigeons is that they have a natural homing ability. Once a pigeon is raised in captivity for a period of time or born into captivity, they will return to their cage when released. This makes it great for training pointers or flushers. The pigeon can be placed on the ground, in a kick-up, or bird launcher and pointed/flushed the dog in training. The pigeon will then come back to its cage to be used again. Second, pigeons are very hearty. They can be launched out of bird launchers, like the LCS bird launcher, several times without becoming injured. The third trait is that pigeons are smelly, this gives dogs, especially puppies, lots of scent to track keeping them on the trail and interested in the bird.
If you don't have the time or want to trap pigeons, often times you can find sellers on local dog training or pigeon racing forums and craigslist. Pigeons bought over these mediums will usually run you $2-5 depending on the quality and the source of the birds. A great option for transporting birds is the LCS Bird Carry Cage.
Live game birds can be bought from local bird hatcheries; at the end of this article I'll list some great places local to Pennsylvania. These live game birds are going to be more expensive then pigeons and can normally run you up to $15 per bird.
When buying game birds from a hatchery, it is important to read forums and reviews about them to get an idea of the quality of birds they normally provide. It is also a good idea, if possible, to source game birds from hatcheries that are as close to your location as possible so that the birds aren't in the shipping boxes too long. The less amount of time they are in the shipping boxes the more likely they are going to be healthy and good fliers.
Advice from Buck: "hen I buy birds, I try to give one or two days after receiving the birds before using them for training. Give them some water and feed, let them rest up, shipping can be hard on the birds."