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"Red Zone" Handling on Blinds

The "Red Zone" is a term I use to describe the critical area at the end of a blind retrieve. The “Red Zone” is where a great blind turns into a failure in a split second. This where you can go from “Cy Young” to “Sayonara”… These difficult blind endings challenge even the most seasoned handlers. Then add long distance, marginal visibility, lunging water, a blind planter trail, unpredictable wind and a fast dog and you might have a disaster!

The “Red Zone” is a term commonly heard in football, referring to the area inside the twenty-yard line. Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs coined the phrase The Red Zone in an article he wrote for the Washington Post in 1982. In the Red Zone the complexion of things change and precise execution is critical. The ability to execute in the Red Zone is the difference between success and failure in both football and field trials.

This photo is an example of a challenging Red Zone scenario from the 6th series at the 2016 National Amateur Championship. At first glance, this blind looked relatively innocent. However it became anything but! The dogs had just completed a land quad with a flyer rooster pheasant. The rooster flyer was located just to the right of the blind. With the wind direction, the feathers and scent from the flyer drifted into the area just short of the blind. The blind was planted at the base of a tree that is about 15-20 yards deep and right of a large grove of trees. The area just behind the grove of trees created a blind spot for the handlers. Another hazard was the location of the blind planter who was sitting deep and to the left of that same grove of trees. All of these factors created the perfect storm.

The photo below gives you a better perspective of what the end of this blind looked like.

Note that there is a very small window where the dog is down wind of the blind and still in sight of the handler. If the blind location would have been deeper, it would have been easier. A deeper location would have given the handlers a larger area to handle their dogs to the left of the tree and downwind of the blind. As it turned out, some handlers casted their dog to the left too early and lost them behind the grove of trees. Where others waited too long and missed the blind on the right and up wind of the bird. Many of those dogs ended up by the blind planter. When they attempted to call them in with a come-in whistle, the dogs appeared on the left side of the island of trees. It got very messy!

In my experience, the first thing that falls apart at the end of a difficult blind is stopping mechanics. The second is a poor response to a come-in whistle. A sharp stop and a reliable come-in will save the day in these situations. It seems simple, but it isn’t. The first 80 percent of a blind you're trying to create a lot of rearward momentum. That momentum that you generated to get to the Red Zone, now becomes your enemy. This is where you need to downshift. A slow tentative whistle will be your demise. Your whistles will come closer together in order to regain control. Your intensity will need to increase. Your handling needs to be passionate without being panicky. And above all else, never give up!

The only way to get better in the Red Zone is to practice blinds with difficult endings. You need to challenge yourself. Most novice handlers over handle their dogs at the beginning of blinds and then under handle them at the end. Practice putting your dog directly on the bird instead of hoping they will find it on their own. Place a strong emphasis on reliable whistle stops and a respectful response to a firm come-in whistle. Most dogs treat a come-in whistle as permission to hunt up a bird. That is the last thing you need in the Red Zone.

I hope this article inspires you to step up your game. Good luck and happy training.


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