The Christmas Drone – Acclimating Patty

Bethany bought me a drone for Christmas. Seriously, I can’t even believe it. She thought of it all by herself, I never asked for one.

It’s hard enough getting a shot of an unpredictable hunting situation with a camera and tripod sitting firmly on solid ground. How on earth is a person supposed to get the situation contained and framed and in focus and properly exposed while also flying a drone? Clearly this is not a tool to be used while distracted by dogs, birds or anything else. I’m going to need some help.

Reading the manual is a good place to start, and that will get you flying pretty quickly with today’s modern drones. Registration and certification processes are also pretty simple. (Follow the rules kids. It’s safer for everybody.)

I’m fortunate to also have some friends that I can lean on for help. Ron VanderHeiden is always willing to run a camera or handle a dog and his brother Terry VanderHeiden is a professional photographer/videographer and a licensed commercial drone pilot.

Ron manning a camera.
Terry getting a feel for the controls.

But nobody has written the book on how to acclimate your dog to this new situation. I had no idea whether Patty would be scared, not affected at all or if he’d lunge at it, trying to tear it out of the sky. After all, “If it flies, it dies!” is pretty much bred in the bone.

I decided to do some test flights and, just like introducing a young pup to the gun for the first time, we’d start small, in a safe environment and at a distance.  If it all worked out, we’d end up with some video clips showing the acclimation process.

I put Penny and Patty on the chain gang in our yard and flew some missions slowly bringing the drone in closer. Both dogs were curious at first but then seemed to lose interest. If it flew in too close it might get an irritated yawn from Patty. When the dogs were off of their chains and the drone was on the ground it would merit one quick sniff and then be ignored again.

After a few test runs solo, I invited Ron over and then did some yard work with Patty under the drone. No problem. As long as Patty had a job to do (fetch or heel, etc.) he ignored the buzzing mechanical bird.

The next step was to introduce birds into the equation. I was feeling confident. Patty would never even notice the drone if he had a nose full of pheasant scent. Ron recruited his brother Terry and the three of us headed to Quail Point Hunt Club near Zamora in northern California.

The hunting fields at Quail Point are defined by the hilly terrain and so are quite private. Dave Martin who owns and manages the club had reserved one of the most isolated fields so we could work with the drone and not bother any other hunters.

After a test flight for Terry to learn the specific controls, we continued Patty’s acclimation. With the drone in the air, I released Patty. He immediately started hunting and ignored the drone. I called him in and walked him at heel back and forth underneath the drone several times. No problems at all.

For the final stage, we planted three pheasants and I carried a gun. As expected, with birds on the ground Patty was in his own world and the buzzing drone couldn’t spoil his happy place. He hunted up each of the birds and we got some fun video footage along the way.

Thanks to Terry and Ron for running the cameras.  A big thank-you to David Martin for letting us film at his club.  And, of course, thank-you sweetie for the great Christmas present.

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