A pointing dog’s first hunting season

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Jerry and I wrote this piece for the September 15, 2013, issue of Minneapolis-based StarTribune. (http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/223773411.html ) Even though two years old, the information is still valid and worth re-visiting.

The golden leaves of autumn lie crisp on the forest floor. The dog’s bell rings merrily as the hunt moves from one likely piece of grouse cover to another. Suddenly, the bell stops. With high anticipation, the hunter searches and, near an alder edge, sees the dog — body rigid and eyes intensely focused. As the hunter approaches, a ruffed grouse noisily flushes and the report of a shotgun swiftly follows.

To achieve that classic ruffed grouse hunting experience with your dog will require hours in the woods and years of effort, for there is no game bird more difficult for a pointing dog to properly handle than a ruffed grouse. It is wily, wary and often called “King of the Woods.”

The process of developing a puppy into an experienced grouse dog begins with the all-important first season. The dog is at an impressionable age and lessons learned will set the foundation for future success.

Here are important considerations to make the most of this time.

Be prepared.
Before taking your young dog into the grouse woods for its first hunt, make sure you’re prepared.

The foremost consideration is proper introduction to birds and gunfire. A basic obedience command, HERE or COME, and an attention-getting command, such as calling its name, need to be understood. In addition, the means to enforce those commands, such as a check cord or e-collar, is necessary.

Your young dog also should be accustomed to the sound of a bell or a beeper and to riding in a vehicle. It should be at a suitable weight and in good health, too.

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Exposure to grouse.
Most of what a dog needs to know about finding and pointing grouse is learned from the birds themselves. Exposure to grouse — and plenty of them — is crucial.

Your puppy will learn key details about grouse.
• Where they are most likely to be found.
• How to differentiate where the grouse is as opposed to where it was.
• How close to get before the bird flushes.
• That it can’t catch the grouse.
• How to follow running birds.

The goal is to have your puppy hunt for and find grouse. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.

Handling in the woods.
Expecting your puppy to be in sight always or range at a certain distance is unrealistic and, in fact, can inhibit its bird finding. As long as it is checking in and hunting in the direction you’re headed, you don’t need to say anything. Over-handling, in terms of too much calling and whistling or constant encouragement, can distract and confuse the dog. In addition, it could alert any grouse to your whereabouts.

At times, you’ll need to communicate with your puppy. Use the basic recall or attention-getting commands and be sure to have the capability to enforce them.

If your puppy gets overexcited, take a break. Give it time to settle down and regain its composure.

Owner attitude, expectations.
Be patient. Developing an experienced grouse dog will take several seasons. Your puppy has a lot to learn. Expect it to make mistakes — flush birds, chase rabbits, not pay attention and, at times, become uncontrollable.

Be realistic about your young dog’s capability. It might look mature, but it is still just a puppy. Be cognizant of its physical and mental limitations; i.e., plan several short hunts instead of one long outing. To encourage your young dog to point grouse and not flush them, shoot only birds that have been pointed.

Finally, do remember to have fun with your puppy. Take time to savor this first season — hopefully the first of many — in the grouse woods.

Both photos above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.


    Spotlight:  Northwoods Chalcedony

    Northwoods Chalcedony (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016)

    Callie did a stellar job for her first season on the prairies, under some very tough conditions. All birds were pointed and retrieved to hand. She blew me away. I love this dog and cannot get enough of her.
    ~Tom Massaro, hunting in Montana

    Good stuff about puppies

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    A pointing dog’s first hunting season
    Bird and gun introduction
    Early development of puppies
    How to correct a dog
    How to pet a dog
    How to pick a puppy
    Patience and puppies
    Picking puppies: the unimportance of picking order
    Puppies and fireworks
    Puppy buying mistakes
    Raising puppies at Northwoods Bird Dogs
    The pointing instinct
    Training puppies on a stakeout chain

    Good stuff from previous posts

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    Finer points on...

    A brace of bird dogs
    Accuracy of location
    Bird finding
    How to flush grouse and woodcock
    Hunting pattern
    Running grouse
    Scenting ability
    Speed and scenting
    To point a bird, first a dog has to find it
    Using grouse dogs on pheasants


    A bump or a knock
    Backing point
    Bird dog basics:  hunt, handle, point birds
    Bumping grouse
    Electronic training collars...a little perspective
    How to correct a dog
    How to pet a dog
    Patience and puppies
    The pointing instinct
    Transition to wild birds
    Unproductive points
    WHOA and NO


    Dogs, not averages, matter in breeding
    Evaluating litters
    Pointers of Northwoods Bird Dogs
    Proper conformation
    The tail of a bird dog


    Bird dogs and hidden traps
    Feeding bird dogs
    Feeding for ideal body condition
    First aid kit for bird dogs
    Get your dog ready for the season
    Hazards in the grouse woods
    How to maintain a good weight for your dog
    Quick lesson on poisoning and how to induce vomiting
    Tick-borne diseases in dogs


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