Pheasant season was a whirlwind. We shot a few limits and missed a few birds… missed a lot of birds. Though poor shooting comes to mind, other factors also impacted our results. The Harvest More Birds series will cover strategies to improve next season. First step: Trust the dog. Trust the dog’s abilities when they’re young, hunting with friends, and late in the season. This first step comes down to discipline and consistency
While hunting behind a young dog it’s tempting to think you know more than they do. A pup might false point six times in a row before turning up a bird. Trust the dog (even if he’s a liar).
Avoid speeding past sparse habitat and pressing on towards thick cattail patches to search for roosters. Let the dog determine what habitat to examine closely. A professional hunter once told Max, “The dog will teach you how to hunt.” At the time my brother thought it was just another hunting cliché. Five years later, Max is still learning how a dog approaches scents and winds to sneak within range of a deer.
The pup will need time to figure things out. Stay close behind to ensure you can shoot the bird when the time comes. You’re a team, and trust goes both ways. As you learn to trust the dog’s nose the dog learns to trust your shot.
Many hunters feel an experienced dog will “teach” an inexperienced one. However, hunting in tandem can also rush a young dog and limit their opportunities. Last year when my buddy’s 6-month-old Drahthaar would get birdy my 5-year-old Lab would cut the track and flush the bird. On a few hunts the only time the pup got action was if he rushed ahead and flushed out of range.
And if the older dog wanted to go one direction, we would drag the pup away from the trail it was sniffing. Was he on a rooster? Probably not. But, continuing to trust the dog will go a long way in developing confidence. For deer hunting, and pointing breeds, you may need to give them a bit of space and a moment to work things out. The more trust you have the easier it is to be patient in the process.
It’s awkward to herd hunting buddies on random tangents while Sport sniffs a seemingly endless trail. As the dog starts turning up birds, they’ll learn to follow. It helps to explain ahead of time that the pup’s development is priority number one, and shooting birds comes second. Hunting solo has fewer distractions for you and the dog, but it’s more fun to share success. Keep in mind that you’re building trust between you and the dog on every trip. Don’t ruin the trust you have built with your dog in order to satisfy a friend who is trying to get the most out of his Thanksgiving weekend.
As the season progresses, birds will increasingly run, flush early and hold in unusual places. So trusting the dog will become even more important. In October, Nali followed tracks for 100 to 200 yards before flushing roosters, often in thick cover. By November tracks started to stretch twice that far. The birds would flush around trees, barns and other overlooked habitat. To make matters worse many were out of gun range. I don’t know whether roosters learn, or only the cagey survive. Regardless, you’ll have to become more disciplined as the days get shorter and tracks get longer.
You may have less success in the beginning as a young dog is finding their rhythm, but over time trust will pay off. You might thing you could shoot more birds today by forcing your pup into dense cover. This strategy almost never works. Default to the dog for long-term success.
Discipline and consistency play a huge role in bird hunting, especially behind flushing breeds. Spending a day tailing Buster while he sniffs through endless miles of canary grass only to have him find a rooster just as you turn back is demoralizing. Hunt from the moment the kennel opens to when it closes, and trust the dog to shoot more birds.
Stuart and Max