Typical of winter, I spend lots of time thinking and dreaming about future seasons. I usually try to make an assessment of things I could do better, changes I could make, and dog issues I'd like to resolve. This winter it's different.
Recently I've met a few dog people. These people train dogs, hunt with dogs, and are hunting guides. Though we all basically find enjoyment in the same thing, hunting Ruffed Grouse, I was a bit surprised at some of the differences in the way we operate in the woods.
Ask anyone who hunts with dog, and they'll tell you it's a partnership. But is it really? I've noticed some people train their dogs to hunt, and then expect them to go right out there and do it, perfectly. They just follow their dog, and enjoy any success they achieve. Others, in a similar fashion, put their focus on the dog. They follow behind, and marvel at the work it's doing, almost not believing it's actually happening. Everything that happens is a spectacle. The dog a performer. I, on the other hand, take a different approach. The partnership I enjoy with my dog isn't one of, he finds birds so I feed him. It's based on my observations that he really loves to hunt, and he loves to make me happy.
Grouse, and Woodcock to a lesser extent, are runners. Before you ever get to take a shot at one on the wing, your dog has to decode the scent, and track the bird for some time. Of course, having a dog you trust, and who understands the behavior of grouse makes this task less risky, and we can help the dog if we're willing.
We can start by learning to trust our dogs. Let your dog relocate, and re-point a bird if it feels in needs to. Remember, he' got the nose, not you. If you "whoa" your dog on every point, you'll quickly get frustrated, and start doubting your dogs ability after walking in on a few unproductive points. I learned a long time ago not to command my setter to "whoa" when hunting grouse. For those unsure of what I mean; whoa, just like with horses means stop, and when told the dog should stop until released. For some reason it is tradition to release your dog with a tap on the head, which is impractical in the grouse woods. Let your dog have some control. When he's got the bird locked down you'll know it.
We can also help our dog by getting out in front. If you start walking in on unproductive points, or see your dog relocating, get and stay 20 yards in front and to one side of the dog. The bird is running ahead, and you'll cut off an escape route this way. If you give the bird a little something extra to worry about it'll lock down sooner. But don't crowd the dog too much. Twenty yards to the side, as well, is about right. Any closer and you run the risk of flushing the bird before it's pointed. Often, when I know we're on a runner I'll try to boogie ahead about 50 yards and slowly work towards the dog as he works the bird between us. Pinching a bird like this can also get it to lock down. While it is the dogs job to point birds for me, we are partners, and there is no reason why I shouldn't help. After all, successfull, productive points are fun for both of us.
So, how are you helping your dog? Other than the guy with the gun, what role do you play in this partnership? Think about it.