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Bird Dogs: Do Bells Really Spook Roosters?

"Sprig," an English cocker spaniel, wears a bell while upland hunting to reveal her location at all times. Photo courtesy David Hendee

“Sprig,” an English cocker spaniel, wears a bell while upland hunting to reveal her location at all times. Photo courtesy David Hendee

When I first hunted with bird dogs wearing bells, I thought they spooked birds. Pheasants have very acute hearing – it’s underestimated and equal, if not more remarkable than, their ability to run – and it would reason a noisy bell would unsettle a bird that’s ears are always on alert. But consider me a convert on this theory.

I don’t use an e-collar on my English cocker spaniel, as, the occasional straight-line runner notwithstanding, she’s usually in gun range. I’ve ran her with a bell this entire season, on public and private land, areas with great pheasant numbers, areas with so-so pheasant numbers and areas with just a bird or two. I realize it’s my own two eyes and a small sample size, but I honestly haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe her bell is causing birds to bust out early.

On a recent hunt in South Dakota, the guide at the outfit I was at raised a brow when I said I used a bell, he harboring the same concerns I used to. I obliged and ran “Sprig” later in the day by herself in a different area without our full group of hunters. But with gunshots ringing out, multiple dogs and a line of hunters, do I think my bell would have added much noise to the mix, at least an incremental amount impacting birds in range? No.

This doesn’t mean I’m a loud-mouth, truck-door slamming, decibel-busting machine as I work through the field. Quite the contrary, in fact. My dog’s bell is typically the only noise I tolerate on a pheasant hunt (other than a cackle followed by a gunshot) and by being quiet in all other regards, I think it lessens the bell-ringing in roosters’ ears.

If there is one exception to my use of a bell, it’s a dead-quiet day during the last two weeks of the season. With a complete absence of wind, I can hear well enough to locate the dog, or can see the thick cover move as she works through it. I find pheasants hardest to get close to on these days, and I do believe stealth mode in this situation is warranted.

I’ve actually come to enjoy the bell, its addition a soothing sound to the hunt. And if it’s use really does cost me a bird here or there? Well, at least I know where my pup is at all times. Because the thought of anything happening to her on a hunt other than flushing and retrieving is spooky enough.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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16 Responses to “Bird Dogs: Do Bells Really Spook Roosters?”

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  1. erzola says:

    I usually hunt solo with dog in North Dakota, (didn’t do it this year). I found that the quiet approach has worked well for me. No bell, no E collar, my dog hunts close and responds to my hand signals so I don’t do much verbalizing with my dog. Bells on dogs are okay, but what really makes me laugh is the large groups of guys with several dogs all whistling and yelling all day long. It can’t help and makes for a very unpleasant bird hunting experience.

  2. Matt H. says:

    I’ve hunted with a bell on my GSP the whole time I’ve had her. I will also take the peace of mind in knowing where she is at all times, and if it occasionally costs me a shot at a rooster then so be it. And for the record, I’m approaching 100 birds shot over her in the 6 seasons I’ve had her, most of those in Nebraska where our bird numbers aren’t what they are in the Dakotas, which isn’t too shabby.

  3. josh hutch says:

    I always used a bell on my spaniel mix. He was so short I could never see the guy! Safety came first, I had to know where he was…I don’t think we missed too many birds from the bell, more from my shooting! Now that he’s too old to hunt I miss the sound of that bell in the field.

  4. Dan says:

    I have used a bell and a beep collar on my GSP. I haven’t seen the birds act any different. The problem I have with bells is that my GSP runs so hard she kept breaking them off her collar. I tried a few different brands, with different ways of attaching them and would still lose them.

  5. Rick says:

    I am just like you, no ecollar no gps (yet …. thinking about it) just an old fashion bell (same bell have been on my families setters for 50+ years). I do think the birds do get wise to the bell after a bit though.

  6. Tim Hambidge says:

    Dan, try attaching the bells with chain joiner. Little gizmo at local hardware store. Twist the nut to opens the link, slide on bell and attach to collar and twist the nut back up…i carry vise grips to do the job. Check nut occasionally they will vibrate loose

  7. Dick Greene says:

    My Springer Smudge, since passed, used to “yip” when she got hot on a rooster. Some of the guys I hunted with thought she was spooking the birds — but I just learned to get ready.

  8. dave says:

    Ive found bear bell work real grate

  9. josh hutch says:

    I lost bells too until I switched to attatching with heavy duty double zip ties. Also down side to bells they get clogged with snow.

  10. Bill W says:

    I have a three year old French Brittany. The first two years I hunted with only an ecollar. On the advice of my trainer I switched to a bell. I saw absolutely no difference in the number of birds she put up. And it had the added bonus of allowing me to know where she was at all times. That made a big difference in my ability to get ready for a shot. In Western Washington we often are pulling birds out of blackberry brambles. So, knowing where she is in the super thick stuff resulted in getting more birds. One thing in the article I really agree with, however, is at the end of the season the birds spooked more. So, I did use the bell less the last few weeks. But, that was OK since the cover was thinner and I could see my dog.

  11. BJ Cassio says:

    I have hunted English Setters for over 30 years now and never had an issue with Any bird being spooked.
    My dogs set up as much as 20 feet away and work in some times and others are with in 5 feet.
    If the Birds start to move they break off and circle and re set.
    The only time I have had birds bust out is if they are sitting in the open and then I do not think it mattered one way or the other.
    I average 150 Pheasant,Quail and Chucker’s a season between State,Private and Preserve Birds.

  12. David C says:

    I have hunted with friends’ dogs and none of them wear bells. That being said, we hunt in grass/cattails way over dogs’s heights, even over our own heads sometimes. When that happens, we have to verbally communicate where we think the dogs are. We don’t always get great points, but we certainly get some nice ones. When the birds flush, they are WAY out flushing wild. I can’t imagine that a bell would spook the birds. The places we hunt, I’d prefer a bell so I could keep track of where they are rather than looking for grass moving.

  13. Bob W says:

    Bells pass more information to birds about the speed, direction and proximity of a dog. It’s also a constant, until the dog stops. The beepers don’t give away as much info, and I have watched sharptails from a high vantage point act much less disturbed by the beep than the bell on nearby dogs. I like the low tech of bells, but only use dead #1 bronze sleigh bells for their low dull tone, and these not much since the Alpha.

  14. Chuck D says:

    I’ve always used bells on all my dogs and have not had any problems.
    I have 2 Swiss silver bells that thread directly onto collars. They have been used with 3GSP’s 1Lab and presently on a WPG. The bells were purchased 40 years ago from Orvis.

  15. erzola says:

    Ok, so most of you pheasant hunters seem like you haven’t witnessed any problems with bells on your dogs spooking birds. Let me ask you this. Have you tried hunting pheasants without bells on your dogs? If you haven’t then you don’t know the difference. Enough said.

  16. josh hutch says:

    I’ve hunted with and without. Probably 50/50. Definatley not a scientific study. But my experience was no noticeable difference.

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