Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Do you need a dog?

A long time ago, when I was a youngster, we hunted ruffed grouse by just walking them up.  There seemed to be more birds then and youthful enthusiasm was on our side.  Thick briars and muck-filled swamps didn’t even slow us down; we just kept marching ahead.  We did shoot a few grouse, but really not all that many.  I have to admit though that we didn’t know too much about what we were doing.
A hunter can increase his odds dramatically if he knows where to look for ruffed grouse.  An area where logging has created young forests is a great place to start looking.  We didn’t know that.  Most of our time was spent looking for the proverbial abandoned farms that bird hunting literature romanticizes.  Old farms can be great places to hunt, but they are getting rare and when you do find one it has probably seen lots of hunters.
My first bird dog was a Brittany spaniel, who was on the large size for his breed and even more bull headed than I.  With the dog I discovered woodcock, which I had pretty much been walking right by all along, and what fun those birds were.  That Brittany did point a few grouse, but never became a great grouse dog.  He spent his time traveling through the woods like a steamroller and bumped more grouse than he pointed.  Woodcock held though, unless he tripped over them.
The second dog in my life, a German wirehaired pointer named Jesse, had an entirely different temperament.  I’m not certain if it was because she was a female instead of a male, because of the breed, or because I was older and a more patient teacher.  Although she was never exposed to many grouse, she seldom bumped a bird.  It was always fun to watch her slow down and taste the air, trying to figure out where the bird was before settling in on point.  My dogs since then have all been great performers, each seeming to be better than the one before.
Almost any dog will find many more grouse than you will ever walk up by yourself.  An ill-mannered dog will drive you nuts though, flushing the birds out of range that you may not even hear or see, and you’ll shoot fewer birds than if you had no dog at all.  With a flushing dog that hunts within range or a pointing breed that will hold a point until you get there, you will shoot more birds. And better yet, with the dog you’ll find the birds after you shoot them.
So no, you don’t need a dog to hunt ruffed grouse.  Just as I don’t need a fork to eat dinner, but it certainly is more civilized with one.   

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