Bumping grouse

Not much beats a day in the woods when a pretty pointer sticks her grouse and the hunter doesn’t miss.

The ruffed grouse is the wariest of the species hunted by bird dogs, the wisest and hardest to handle.
~ Henry P. Davis, Training Your Own Bird Dog, 1948

The perfect ruffed grouse shooting opportunity occurs when a pointing dog engages the bird so it doesn’t move. Bumping grouse happens when a dog gets too close and the bird flushes. Of all the training problems clients ask me about, this is one of the most common.

A major reason dogs bump grouse is simply the difficulty of the quarry. An occasional bump is part of grouse hunting; but if your dog bumps more than it points, something else might be going on.

Listed below are common causes and tips for improvement and correction.

→ Cover and weather conditions.
In the early part of the season especially, the cover can be thick and conditions can be warm and dry. Both make scenting extremely difficult for less-experienced dogs and challenging even for veteran grouse dogs.
Tip:  The hunter can’t do anything about this one. Wait until conditions improve.

→   Lack of experience.
It’s rare that a dog will naturally point grouse with just a few contacts. Most bird dogs need repeated exposure over several seasons.
Tip:  This is easy. Hunt more.

→   Lack of training.
The dog doesn’t know it’s supposed to stop and point.
Tip:  The dog needs to be trained to stop on WHOA.

→   Seeing grouse on the ground.
Occasionally, a dog will see a grouse on the ground and sometimes the temptation is just too much.
Tip:  Reinforce WHOA and steadiness training with a visible bird on the ground.

→   Over-exposure to planted birds.
A dog can get very close to a planted bird before it stops to point. Grouse are just the opposite and will flush if a dog gets too close.
Tip:  Stay away from the game farm for awhile and provide more exposure to grouse.

→   Genetics.
The dog lacks the ability to find and point grouse due to a bad nose, poor pointing instincts or other inherited trait.
Tip:  Thoroughly check out the breeders and breeding of your next puppy. Make sure the sire and dam—and previous generations—are proven grouse dogs.

→   Stuff happens.
Even an experienced grouse dog with a bold, confident attitude will sometimes bump a grouse.
Tip:  Exercise patience and move on.

 

Wild bird training and scenting

Puppy Jeter (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Chablis, 2017) had a nose-ful of scent before the quail flushed. But he won’t get that close to many wild birds!

Working young dogs on wild birds takes lots of time and effort. And since, in the end, the goal is to bring out their best and develop them into the best possible grouse dogs, then that commitment is worth it.

Why do wild birds take time and effort?

1. You have to know where to find wild birds.
2. You have to get up early or be there late in the day for the best chances.
3. You still might not find any birds.
4. If you do find birds, it might not be the right opportunity for the dog.
5. You can only work so many dogs in a day due, usually, to weather. It can be too wet, too dry, too hot, too stormy.

Whew! Many days I wish the same training could be accomplished on liberated birds in a 40-acre field. It would be easy but it just can’t be done.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working several young dogs, varying in age from eight to 18 months, on wild sharp-tailed grouse. They find birds but haven’t pointed any. Yet when I train those same dogs on pen-reared chukars or quail, they find and point almost every bird.

What’s going on?

Her head held high, Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’ Belle’s Choice, 2009) is perfectly poised to capture just a wisp of sharptail scent on the North Dakota prairie.

While there are several differences between wild and put-out birds, I think the primary distinction is the amount of scent they emit. Put-out birds just smell more. While those birds work well to get young dogs started, eventually, the dogs need to focus on tiny wisps of odor that lead to a bird.

My analogy is that some dogs seem to be searching for a bucket of scent and others are looking for a thimble-ful. As far as I know, the only way for young dogs to learn about finding a thimble-ful is to work them on birds that provide just that small amount—wild birds!

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
Jerry: 651-492-7312     |      Betsy: 651-769-3159     |           |      Directions
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