I am often asked the question: “Should I hunt my grouse dog on pheasants? Or will that ruin it for grouse?”
My answer is another question about goals: “Do you want the ultimate grouse dog or do you enjoy hunting pheasants as much as grouse?”
If you want your dog perfected on grouse, my answer is no. Don’t use your pointing dog on pheasants. If, however, you like to hunt both grouse and pheasants, then I say okay. There are key differences between pheasants and grouse and one, rather unfamiliar, similarity. Pheasants tend to run out from a dog’s points and to not sit well. But so, occasionally, do grouse, especially wily, adult birds in late season. Many times I’ve spotted grouse running ahead of the dog in dense cover. When a pheasant does hold, it allows a pointing dog to approach it more closely. Most ruffed grouse don’t. The ability to point a grouse accurately—but at a distance—is what separates real grouse dogs from those that occasionally point a grouse.
Pheasants have a stronger scent because they are larger than a ruffed grouse and are likely to be in a group. Grouse are smaller birds and tend to be solitary which makes them more difficult to locate. Despite those distinctions, though, there are pheasant hunting conditions that favor pointing dogs…and those that don’t. The ideal situation is an expansive, grassy piece with mixed terrain. A running pheasant could stop and hide at various breaks in the cover and, thereby, provide a spot for a pointing dog to pin it.
I wouldn’t hunt my pointing dog where it’s unlikely the pheasant will ever hold—such as cattail slews, standing corn or sorghum feed strips. Even if my dog points a rooster in such cover, it usually evolves into a cat-and-mouse game that only serves to frustrate the dog. Another tough scenario is many birds in a small area, i.e., a food plot, when too much scent is difficult. A flushing dog is the better dog in these situations.
Ultimately, if you want your dog to be the best grouse dog it can be, then avoid more than the occasional pheasant hunt. If the goal is a good wild bird dog and you enjoy hunting pheasants as much as grouse, use you’re pointing dog.