Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
Paul Answers Dog Questions
The following recently received email will be the subject of this month’s column.
“Paul, I was invited to hunt over an English setter three years ago. I’ve always been primarily a deer hunter so this was new to me but I really enjoyed the whole program. Within six months after experiencing this new world of hunting, I bought an English setter puppy. My puppy and I are just finishing our second hunting season. I’ve read the books and have done my own training. I have a couple of rookie questions. First, you’ve written about finishing a dog which I’ve learned generally means a dog that stays steady on point and doesn’t break when the bird flushes and doesn’t break when the gun is fired. I’m confused over what I believe is called “relocation”. If I understand this correctly, a dog is on point and then breaks and starts hunting again. Doesn’t this violate the concept of a steady dog? Question No. 2. I hunt northern Vermont mostly but a little of northern NH too. When I was invited to hunt three years ago, which started this love affair with bird hunting, we shot two woodcock and no partridge. The partridge flushed in thick cover and we couldn’t see to shoot. I realized then how difficult it is to shoot partridge. Now that I’m spending more time partridge hunting, I’ve discovered that not all birds are shot when flying away from the dog. They’re shot from the road, out of trees, etc. Do bird dog hunters always shoot flying birds or do some shoot from trees also? I hope these aren’t stupid questions since I’m still learning.” - Charlie.
Hmmm. The problem with email is that you never know the source. The second question almost sounds like a set-up from one of my hunting friends. I will take “Charlie” seriously and answer both questions. For a beginner, I can see where both questions present a dilemma.
First, let’s talk about relocation. A dog goes on point due to a strong scent cone. Relocation happens when a dog that’s on point realizes the scent cone is fading. The bird has either moved on the dog or the bird had flushed before the dog arrived. You may have trained a young dog to be steady to wing and shot and the dog will continue to point despite the diminishing scent cone. In this case, if you’re sure there is no bird in front of the dog, you’ll need to release the dog from point and allow it to relocate. As the dog matures and becomes bolder, he will relocate on his own. For a hunting dog, you don’t want the dog pointing stale scent. Learning to relocate is important for the dog. There is often a fine line between simply relocating to a stronger scent cone and busting the bird. A dog will learn the difference if given enough work on wild birds. Many professional trainers will tell you it takes 4-5 years before a dog truly understands scent.
One further comment on relocation. You must study and understand your dog. You need to know what your dog is telling you. Typically, a rock-solid point with no head movement or tail wagging means the bird is pinned. It’s there and ready to be flushed. If a dog’s head starts to move back and forth, he’s then having a tough time locating the scent cone. That usually means the bird has moved. If, however, there is a strong breeze, the dog may be having a difficult time identifying the direction of the scent. So, as a dog owner and handler, you need to work at understanding your dog.
Let’s address Charlie’s second question. I don’t have any statistics on this; however, it’s my guess that 80% of all Ruffed grouse are shot either on the ground or out of trees. If, Charlie, your idea is pure and to only shoot birds on the wing then I encourage you to continue that philosophy. Let me explain a little further. Probably only one out of every 20 grouse hunters has a dog. Most “locals” only know hunting grouse by driving the roads and shooting the birds when they come out to a logging road to sun themselves or pick grit for their crop. The goal using this technique is to simply put a fine tasting meal on the table. Some of these road birds will fly into a tree and are then dispatched while sitting on a limb. Charlie, most dedicated dog men do not shoot birds on the road. Coincidentally, in last month’s column I explained how to hunt road birds with a dog. Here is my own personal approach to grouse hunting/shooting. Rather than the dog being a means to killing birds, I see the game as a bird being the means to good dog work. I can’t get dog work by shooting birds off the road. If a grouse flies into a tree after I get good dog work, with a flush in front of the dog, I have shot grouse from a tree. Not many…maybe three or four in my life. The reason I do this is to reward the dog. My shorthair loves to hear the words “dead bird”. He’ll quickly locate and retrieve the bird. Again, you need to reward your dog for good work.
Here is a final comment on shooting grouse. I do not pass judgment on anyone who is shooting within the law. If it’s lawful shooting, enjoy the meal.
Paul is the host of Bird Dogs Afield WebTV program which can be seen on the myoutdoortv.com network. Through cooperation with Northwoods Sporting Journal, Paul’s previous columns are now available on his website which is www.birddogsafield.com. Paul can be contacted at email@example.com.