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How to Approach a Dog on Point

John Edstrom, PF & QF’s Merchandise Supervisor, approaches a Brittany on point

I learned to bird hunt behind a Brittany.  I don’t remember my dad ever teaching me how to “approach” a pointed bird, but it has always felt natural because it’s how I got my start.  What’s interesting and more than a little humorous is watching my various hunting partners the last few years who have only hunted behind flushing breeds react to my German shorthair on point.

In almost every case, I’ve witnessed “human vapor lock” as these friends look at me with twitching eyebrows, tip toe with caution as they approach the dog, then stop behind the dog and look at me again.  Are they waiting for the weasel to go pop?  Honest to goodness, I’ve witnessed pure fear on the face of a fellow hunter.

“When a rooster flushes in front of my Lab it’s all instinct and excitement,” one friend explained last season.  “With your darned pointer, it’s like watching a Friday the 13th movie and you know Jason is around the corner with an axe.”

I’ve also been told by pointing dog purists to never walk up directly behind a pointer, but rather come in from the front or at an angle.  The pointer purist worries about inadvertently causing “creeping” by approaching a dog from behind.  “Creeping” being the unwanted broken point and creep forward of the dog toward the bird.

With this subject in mind, I called Purina’s “top dog” and pro trainer Bob West for his guidance on how best to approach a dog on point.  “There is no clear cut, best way to approach a dog on point.  You have to factor in the dog’s level of ability, the scenting conditions that day and the species of bird you anticipate being pointed to properly make the best approach for the situation,” explained West.  “When hunting pheasants, it’s not uncommon for me to make a big 20 yard circled approach in front of a dog on point in an attempt to prevent a rooster from running.”

Approaching a dog on point from the front.

West went on to explain to me that he does believe young dogs could be caused to creep by approaching them from behind and an angled approach would be advised; however, he didn’t think a seasoned bird dog would be susceptible to the same problem.  He stressed repeatedly in knowing your own dog’s tendencies and making the best decisions with your dog in mind rather than what some “expert” advised.

West did add that “perhaps more important than what angle to approach is the speed at which to make your approach.  It’s critically important, especially with pheasants, to approach a dog on point at a pace as fast as safely possible.  That bird isn’t going to hold all day and the conditions of the scent and scenario are also constantly changing for your dog.”

Lastly, West reminded me that the bird isn’t necessarily where the dog is looking.  “It’s important to be ready the entire time you approach a pointed dog and be alert in all directions.  The bird may be exactly where the dog is looking, but it oftentimes is not.  Where the dog is looking simply is where that dog picked up the scent to lock into a point.  That dog has been trained not to move any closer than the moment the scent reached a level to cause the dog to freeze.  Its eyes should have nothing to do with it.”


Listen to FAN Outdoors this Thursday evening from 7PM to 9PM on www.KFAN.com

To learn more about the pointing instinct and a variety of dog training questions, tune in to FAN Outdoors radio this Thursday evening at 7:45PM (CDT) as Bob West joins the show for a live interview with me and host “The Captain” Billy HildebrandFAN Outdoors airs live on 100.3 FM in Minnesota and can be streamed live across the globe at www.KFAN.com.

Billy Hildebrand, host of FAN Outdoors radio, and I approach Trammell on point.

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.



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5 Responses to “How to Approach a Dog on Point”

  1. lucas w says:

    love this article! great description of those few tense moments!

  2. [...] The moment you’ve worked for all year finally arrives: it’s hunting season, your dog finds a bird, and you have a solid point. Now what do you do? Here’s a bit of advice from the folks over at Pheasant’s Forever: [...]

  3. JOHN CATLIN says:

    I am glad someone is addressing this. Pointing is a team sport and the players are you and your dog (and any other hunters who are along).
    I used to guide hunts at a hunt club with my shorthair, and I agree that the hunter who has not hunted behind a pointing dog will lock up when the dog points. “What now?”
    I’ve also seen it on televised hunting shows. A real pity because it is that teamwork that makes pointing a beautiful sport.
    I believe the most important objective is to put the bird between the hunter and the dog. Since the dog is standing and we hope the bird is holding, that leaves the hunter to move. Take the wind into consideration and move into a position upwind of the dog beyond where you think the bird is. If the wind is strong and the grass is short, the bird could be 30 yards or more in front of the dog. If the dog is in heavier cover where the wind would be stopped or if there is not much wind above the cover, the bird is probably closer, maybe under the dogs nose.
    Pheasants, and with my limited experience, grouse seem to be the birds that do the most running, but once they feel surrounded they will sit tight. Now, move in on the dog … more slowly. That rooster will lose his nerve and up he goes! – THE most satisfying moment of hunting with a bird dog!
    Be sure to discuss this with your hunting partners before you let the dog loose. Frozen hunters means no bird in the freezer!!

  4. JOHN CATLIN says:

    Also, a circling or arcing approach to a position upwind of the bird is important for two reasons: 1. many people believe moving up from behind and alongside the dog will cause him to move or break point, and 2. walking directly at the pheasant is likely to cause him to run – directly away from you.
    I agree with the author. I think an experienced dog won’t move as long as he can smell the bird. The arcing approach is more for the bird. The alternative would be to walk directly downwind and then make a 90 degree turn to put yourself in position. It’s not natural, so we arc around in front of the bird. No hesitation – GET THERE!
    Happy Hunting!

  5. JOHN CATLIN says:

    Darn … I meant upwind.
    I make an arcing approach UPWIND of where I think the bird is. The alternative would be to walk directly UPWIND beyond the bird and then turn 90 degrees to a position that puts the spot where I ‘believe’ the bird to be between me and the pointing dog.
    Sorry to take up so much space, but this is the most important part of hunting with a pointing dog, and I have thought a lot about it.
    Have faith in your dog. He loves to point, and even if you miss, the excitement of the whole episode reinforces his desire. You’ll get the next one, so praise the dog and enjoy the camaraderie. No more from me!


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