Trusting your dog

We have some time left here in northern Illinois for hunting pheasant and quail.  In the southern half of the state there's even more.   It seems like we waited so long for the hunting season, then it passes so quickly.

This year’s opening weeks in November were a bit warm and mild.  December was okay.  Mid-month had a bitter chill.  But isn’t it not the same unless you’re walking the fields when cold enough to see your breath?

Warm dry weather is not the best for upland game hunting with a dog.  I have two German Shorthaired Pointers and when we’re in the field and  there’s little moisture on the weeds and grass, I can tell they’re having a little more difficulty in finding the birds.  Instead of keeping their nose to the ground, they’ll spend more time with their heads held high, sniffing the air trying to pick up a scent.

It really is better when there’s some moisture on the ground, a bit of a breeze, and it’s cold enough so that the exercise that you and your hunting partner get doesn’t cause either of you to get over heated..

So with mentioning things like cooler weather, a bit a moister and a mild wind, let me explain what that’s all about.

A good pointing dog will find birds for you.  It will use its nose and when it picks up on the scent of the bird, through experience, it will discriminate the different scents or maybe it’s better said the strength of the scent.

Pointing dogs should not crowd the bird.  Sometimes when they’re running hard, they will find one and come to a screeching halt and go on point.  A “Whoa” command will hold them from charging in at the bird.

When they meticulously work a field and zero in on a scent, they should lock up on a point with a little distance between them so the bird does not flush.  This comes with experience of birds busting too soon.  By being several feet away from the bird hiding in cover, the hunter has time to catch up, walk in and flush the bird for the shot.

So this is where the moisture and wind come in to play.  Dry weeds don’t hold as much scent as wet ones do.  As a pheasant walks through the weeds, for example, it will leave some of its scent and the dog can follow it.

It’s always best to work your dog into the wind so it can pick up the scent coming to his nose from the bird or weeds that the bird walked through.  Give your dog the best possible conditions to find a bird and it won’t let you down.

Too often I’ve seen it where hunters will push their dogs in the wrong direction because they feel they know where the birds are hiding.

I say, trust your dog.

Chances are that a good hunting dog will find birds because it’s using its nose, not just looking at cover.  Yes in a field that has short weeds and a four foot tall bush right in the middle of it, the dog may head toward it thinking it’s a hiding place.  Maybe through past experience the dog remembers seeing something different like that and that he found a bird there.  As long as that cover is close to the area you’re working, let the dog check it out.

Your dog may want to work a bush line on the edge of a field.  That’s no problem as long as he stays on your side of the bushes.  I almost always hunt with another person and when my dog looks a bit birdie on a bush line, we would make sure that one of us is on each side.

Bring a bottle of water with you into the field.  There are folding bowls available on the market that will add no extra weight to your hunting vest.  Having the water for your four legged hunting partner will be highly appreciated.  Don’t let him over drink, but let him have enough to keep hydrated.  Oh yes, there are electrolyte formulas on the market that you can add to the water for your dog.

So here’s the bottom line.  We have some hunting time left.  I belong to a hunt club so I have the advantage of an extended hunting season (into the end of March). You might consider going to a private club to extend your hunting season.

Let’s all remember one thing.  We must remember to trust our dog.  He has the ability to sniff out a bird and cover ten times more ground than we could only wish to walk over.

Good pointing dogs have the instinct on stop and point at a bird. They love to hunt.  It’s through the training and experience that we get and share with our dogs that will make him steady on the shot, hold points, honor the point of another dog, and stay close.  Our dogs can learn to retrieve, to have a soft mouth (not bite into or chew up a bird), and come off a bird should there be a need.

We have plenty of opportunities to harvest a few birds with private farmlands that we have permission to hunt and the public grounds managed by the Illinois DNR.  Add in the private hunt clubs that have extended seasons and we can easily say that great hunting is not that far away.

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