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Field Etiquette for Bird Dogs

Pheasants Forever Editor Mark Herwig, left, and Pheasants Forever Tongue River Chapter President Travis Muscha of Miles City, Montana, with sharp-tailed grouse bagged this November on land the chapter helped purchase and improve. Much to the author’s delight, there was no cross-over retrieving on this hunt.

Pheasants Forever Editor Mark Herwig, left, and Pheasants Forever Tongue River Chapter President Travis Muscha of Miles City, Montana, with sharp-tailed grouse bagged this November on land the chapter helped purchase and improve. Much to the author’s delight, there was no cross-retrieving on this hunt.

We all want our upland hunts to be safe and enjoyable, and a big part of that is good dog work. Here are a few bird dog field etiquette topics I’ve been mulling over lately.

Taking turn        

One thing that annoys me when pheasant hunting is someone else’s dog retrieving a bird my dog flushed and I shot.

I train my dog to retrieve and it’s a big part of the hunt and a big part of my hunting satisfaction. My springer, “Hunter,” isn’t the most aggressive on retrieving all the time, but sometimes he’ll really ‘fight’ for a bird. He really likes chasing cripples, something my other springer excelled at as well.

Some dogs stick with their masters and leave other hunters alone; others just range everywhere, somewhat out of control, and hog the retrieving. I guess it’s better he demurs than gets in a fight over a retrieve. One tactic that helps is hunting him far enough away from other dogs that there’s no conflict on retrieves.

E-collar use

I wonder if anybody else does this, but once I’ve had an e-collar on my dog a day, I’ve noticed I can remove it the next and he behaves perfectly, meaning he won’t range too far out. He’s just generally more attune to my commands in general as well. I’d much rather hunt him without the collar. A gun dog just looks better to me without a neck full of gadgets. I imagine the dog likes it better at times too.

The right kind of dog?

I’m about to embark on a quail hunt. I was feeling pensive about bringing a springer on what’s ‘supposed’ to be a pointing dog hunt. But my springer has flushed and retrieved quail, as did my previous spaniel. I’ve found both pointers and flushers do a darn good job. The best dog to hunt quail with? One that flushes the birds in range and brings them to hand once the shot is made.

I’ve noticed one thing about flushing dogs hunting simultaneously with pointing dogs, at least my springers. They tend to defer to them. My old springer, “Wolf,” got over it after a bit, but I’m not sure Hunter has. It’s odd. I think maybe Hunter is just put off by a dog that does it different. I sometimes just move a ways out from the pointers and that seems to help, that is he forgets about the pointers and does his own thing….and does it well.

The Nomad is written by Mark Herwig, Editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at mherwig@pheasantsforever.org.

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8 Responses to “Field Etiquette for Bird Dogs”

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  1. Steve Quesenberry says:

    My Springer needed his e-collar, bell and safety vest on before he would consider time in the field as anything but fun. Once he had his ‘stuff’ on, he was a total different dog. He would even walk at heel for me as we moved from field to field! Most of the time his e-collar was not turned on or working.

  2. Mark Herwig says:

    Totally agree Steve. The next best thing for bird hunting since the bird dog came around? The e-collar!

  3. Joe Bob Shirley says:

    Always have the e-collar on. You never know when you may encounter something harmful and need a correction,from previous personal experience this includes: skunks, snakes, porcupines, etc. Also, you can stop inappropriate “chases” like deer, rabbits, hogs.

  4. Mark Herwig says:

    You got that right Joe! An out of control dog is a lost or dead dog. Young dogs especially need extra ‘e-control.’ An out-of-control dog running a bird toward a road is in grave danger. I’d rather give it a zap with an e-collar than have to bury it.

  5. John Dillon says:

    My dog absutely knows when she has the écollar on and when she doesn’t. She’s ok without in in the uplands but a horrible duck dog without it (black lab). I get both sides of the ecollar debate and given her vocalization and over-enthusiasm I wouldn’t breed her even if I did that sort of thing. But shes my dog and I’m not trading and she needs it to be on her best behavior in the field (even though I infrequently use it).

  6. John Catlin says:

    Mark, I think an article about hunting etiquette could be very interesting, but other than the title, this didn’t really address etiquette, at all. The amount of training that would go into training dogs to retrieve only the birds they flushed or their owners shot would be incredible. However, very well trained dogs, like springers, might ‘hup’ and wait for their owner’s command to retrieve. Pointing dogs might all be steady to wing and shot and only your setter might be released by a tap on the head. Otherwise, I think whichever dog gets there first is probably going to retrieve, and that’s probably ok.
    I agree that we use too many gadgets on our dogs, but e-collars are such good training tools, it is impossible to go back to the days of yore. Each individual dog, as we see in the comments responds differently to having or not having a collar. I enjoyed the story of the dog that wants all his gadgets and his vest, but I prefer to go as natural as possible. On the other hand, it IS good to have that collar on to prevent some of the problems mentioned by others.
    I’ve had a springer, labs, and pointers and setters. I personally like hunting with pointing dogs best, but I’d take any mutt out and he’ll find birds. I thought your observations of your springers around pointers was very interesting. I’ve never seen them hunted together, although I sometimes hunted my lab and setter together. The setter was always farther out. The lab got birds the setter missed. When the setter pointed, I had time to control the lab and make him sit. Otherwise, I’m sure he would have happily flushed the bird.
    Speaking of etiquette, I recently hunted with a guy I’ve known for quite a while. He really ruined the hunt by making comments about my young setter and about my shooting. Granted neither was stellar that day. The coups de grace was when he walked up to my pointing setter, grabbed his tail and reset him. Presumably, he found my training a bit lacking! Now, there is a lesson in poor hunting etiquette!

  7. Mark Herwig says:

    John, that is pretty bold of someone to man-handle your dog uninvited. Yes, I could write a long story about hunter etiquette irrespective of dogs. There’s a reason I prefer to hunt by myself, and when with a group that doesn’t know what its doing, a ways off to one side!

  8. Scott Siman says:

    Mark: John Catlin is right on target with his comments. I agree that uncontrolled dogs that chase down birds are annoying. I hunt with several guys who bring their dogs and we sometimes have 4 or 5 dogs hunting together. My dogs are trained to be steady and will retrieve only when I release them but others don’t want to spend the time to train steadiness. I’ve learned to live with it. Although I love to see my labs retrieve, I tolerate my friends because they are my friends.
    E-collars are a great training aid as part of our training tool box alnog with whistles, leads, heeling sticks, etc. The best tool is time spent in obedience training. We attend class weekly. All hunting etiquette is based in obedience. If your dog is obedient to your commands whether, voice, whistle, e-collar or hand signals, you will not have problems while hunting alone or with distractions from other dogs or field conditions.
    Good luck in the field and please enjoy your time with your dog. They will be gone before you know it.

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