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The Dogless Pheasant Hunter

Plain and simple, the dog work of a pheasant hunt provides a good 60 percent of the enjoyment for me in the field.

A fan of Pheasants Forever on Facebook recently posed the following question:  “Is it hard to hunt pheasants without a dog?”  I believe the answer to this is as easy as adding 2 plus 2.  There is no doubt hunting pheasants without a dog is harder; simply no doubt in my mind.

However, there is a question I think provides greater room for debate: “Is it even possible to successfully hunt pheasants without a bird dog?”

First of all, I am a dog guy.  Plain and simple, the dog work of a pheasant hunt provides a good 60 percent of the enjoyment for me in the field.  That being said, I do believe I’m unbiased in saying a dog is more important in pheasant hunting than in any other bird hunt.  Unlike virtually every other gamebird, a pheasants’ first survival instinct leads them to run rather than fly from danger.  Consequently, pheasants can run circles around a dogless hunter without providing any indication of its existence.  Pheasants are also tough birds to kill in the air.  Personally, I am an average shot, and I believe my dog saves at least 90 percent of the birds I cripple from going completely unrecovered.

So back to the question.  My answer is a qualified “yes.”  Here are the four instances I think you can successfully hunt pheasants without a dog:

1)      Walking linear cover.  Roadsides, drainage ditches, and fence rows create linear habitat a pheasant hunter can walk without a dog until he/she pushes a bird out the end or squeezes one out the side.

2)      Small Patches.  Same basic principle as walking linear cover.  If you can push a small piece of habitat completely surrounded by plowed fields, then your odds of boosting a bird multiplies.

3)      The Big Group Push.  If you have enough guys to walk close together, it’s possible to push a big field and jump the young birds that lack the elusiveness of running around your footsteps.

4)      Game Farms & Preserves.  There is no doubt that pen-reared birds lack the survival instincts of a wild pheasant that has evaded predation its entire existence.

I’ll add two caveats.  First, in all four of these scenarios, it’s possible to flush a rooster without the assistance of a dog; however, finding a winged bird without a dog is another story all together.  Any ethical pheasant hunter entering the field without a bird dog should take great care in making high percentage, quality shots.  Second, I would wager a good bird dog will lead to twice as many birds flushed walking these same scenarios as hunting without one.

I’m sure there are dozens of dogless pheasant hunters reading this blog who have harvested wild roosters in vast expanses of cover without the aid of a canine companion . . . Where are the holes in my opinion?

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

16 Responses to “The Dogless Pheasant Hunter”

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  1. Russell Sewell says:

    I disagree, it is easier to hunt with dogs but me and my friends hunt all season without dogs and are able to limit out every time. This requires a ton of hard walking, but I makes the birds you do find that much more rewarding.

  2. George says:

    I hunted without a dog when I was young (actually I guess I was the dog for my father). It was fun and we got birds. I now have a dog and working together as a team doesn’t compare to pheasant hunting in the past. The enjoyment watching my dog get birdy and flush the rooster out is addicting. Then retrieving the downed bird brings the game full circle. I would still chase birds without a dog, but with a good dog nothing compares!

  3. Jon says:

    On the subject of ethics – it’s actually illegal to bird hunt in many other countries WITHOUT a dog. The reasoning is the same as that expressed in the original post here, namely, without a dog your chances of bird recovery are significantly reduced. Last season alone, with my two dogs, my dogs “retrieved” 4 pheasants that had been wounded but not found by the original shooters within the previous 24 hours. Two years ago, the number was 7. I’m not counting other species there either.

    My opinion is probably too harsh, but I say that it’s about respect. Ask yourself if, ethically, you’re ok with gut shots that result in unrecovered deer 50% of times you pull the trigger this year. If the answer is no, recollect that an “average” shot probably wounds (without killing) at least that percentage of the pheasants they flush each season; my own experience hunting with others that don’t have dogs suggests that 50% recovery would be generous.

    I understand the desire to hunt and the many exigent circumstances that can prevent avid outdoorsmen from owning dogs. I used to hunt without one too. Now, I’d never chance it. But I don’t take shots that aren’t high percentage kills during rifle season either.

  4. Dan says:

    After 11 years hunting with my best friend I can not even imagine hunting with out a dog. Can it be done? Sure. Should it be done? Only if you must. Hunting with a good dog brings a whole new level of enjoyment. Even some one who is not a dog lover can appreciate watching a good dog work.

  5. Dave says:

    I could bird hunt without a dog if I had to, but it just wouldn’t be the same.

  6. Ryen says:

    In New Zealand a dog is not actually required but in the regs it highly recommends it and I dont know anyone who hunts without one. I think hunting without a dog here is much more difficult than in the US. The cover and terrain is such that getting to birds to flush or recover can be difficult to impossible. For the same reason dogs are heavily relied on for pig and deer hunting as well as working cattle and especially sheep. The terrain is too harsh and the cover too dense in a lot of places for a person to be effective on their own. I would never go into the field without my dogs.

  7. chris says:

    I’ve pheasant hunted without dogs before (mostly culverts between train tracks and corn fields) and I’ll probably do it again. With that said, I will only take a high percentage shot. I will pass on any shot that is marginal. I’m ok with just getting out, walking and seeing a few birds. If I put a couple in the bag, that is great, but it isn’t a necessity.

  8. steve says:

    This is a couple years late but for those just coming to the (?)of how to flush fowl W/O a dog; I must agree with Chris, A seasoned hunter won’t take a shot that is marginal at best. With all the stuff going through your head when you’ve flushed a bird, the choice should be easy if you’ve been practicing for accuracy and kill distances at the skeet ranges. This is why we use these facilities… for instance, if you are new to shot guns or have been using a shotgun for many years.
    A dog or a brace isn’t required to have great day!

  9. Edward Tillema says:

    A tactic I have used with success is to run. I only do this when alone and when it is safe, ie. the terrain allows it. Short fifty yard bursts, then stop and catch your breath. Try to flush towards open ground or water or uphill. It seems to not let the birds walk around me. They are startled and flush. You need to be quick to get the shot. I learned this tactic from an old deer hunter who used to run thru the woods and snap shoot deer. You must know the area and be sure you are alone, and do it safely.

  10. Christian says:

    I am 15 years old, and I hunt all the time without a dog, and I get my limit often enough. It’s fun and challenging, and I have the cuts to prove that it’s hard sometimes. Being your own dog is fun sometimes, some people that I see are more out there to work their dogs than actually hunt seemingly. I’ll keep hunting dogless likely, and you can keep hunting with dogs… After all, we’re all just out there to have a good time and get some Pheasants, right?

    P.S, the ones you get without a dog, taste just as good as the ones you get with a dog. The Pheasant don’t say, “well you killed me without a Dog, so now I’ll make eating me miserable”. Respect the bird, enjoy yourself, and go HUNT!

  11. Bob says:

    Before I moved I hunted stocked birds in Ma without a dog. Most of these birds would either hold tight and just before you stepped on them fly off or run into the next county. Yes it sucked to miss all of those running birds but I often found that beating the edges and working some of the thick cover would reward me with a limit. Yes it was more work but I found that it made for better stories and that good tired feeling at the end of the day. Another option is to walk to the far end of the field and act as a blocker.

    The one thing I will say is know your shots. That applies to both making good solid hits and marking where the bird went down. ( I have gotten several birds that were flushed and missed by other hunters that flew into my range.)

    However you look at it a day in the field is a good day!

  12. Jim says:

    I grew up being the dog when I went with my dad and older brother. We got a dog when I was in my mid-to-late teens and it proved to be an asset, but our numbers were relatively consistent with past hunts – it just opened up other methods and wider areas to hunt. I’ve also been on hunts where there has been a good hunting dog along and my inner birddog has led me to my kill quicker than my buddy’s four legged sidekick (granted, I was closer to the bird than it was).

    However, there’s another angle to this whole story that hasn’t been addressed: there’s a HUGE difference between hunting with a dog and hunting with a well-trained dog. A well trained dog knows how to work cover and works close to the shooters so birds flush within range and you’re not constantly taking low percentage shots (the same type of shots some above complain are a risk for hunting without a dog). Everyone can think of at least one instance where even a well-trained retrieving dog was outfoxed by a cockbird everyone in the hunting party believed to have been taken out by a long-range shot. Doesn’t necessarily mean the dog was poorly trained or untrained (a lot of times, it’s shooter/operator error), but it goes to show that hunting with a dog is not a 100% guarantee of recovering every bird you believe to have shot.

    Hunting with a poorly-trained dog only adds the convienience of having a dog bring back the birds you manage to shoot (if they’re at least trained to retrieve – and that’s not always a guarantee either). I have had the experience of hunting with other people’s dogs that work completely too far ahead of the shooters (“runners”) and flush birds at inopportune moments (one could argue this is trainer/owner/operator error). To me, hunting with a poorly-trained, untrained or mismanaged dog is WORSE than hunting without a dog.

  13. Steve says:

    When I was young, I was still learning to train dogs. I had to wait ’till I was 22yrs. to acquire a dog good enough to train for the job… a runt Shepard owned by neglectful people was to be destroyed. I trained him with bird wings in a sock, a “shake-’em-up”. The dog flushed pheasant, grouse, game-hen and quail, to name a few, for three seasons then was stolen. I’m here to tell you that there are three ways to do the job we are speaking of. One; you can flush the birds yourself…(until you’re my age). Two; you can sit on a perch above the suspected area and glass the brush or, you can develop a trusting relationship with a sub-human critter that lives to see you happy and will bring a downed bird to his human friend… he also knows, as he watches you prep the bird, that he is going to get some of those vittles… which taste better hot. Even watching a dog work for another hunter is something to behold. Hence, “mans’ best friend”.

  14. Steve says:

    I have to agree with Jim. A ‘running-flusher’ could mean a whole other set of problems. A well trained dog hunts close to the shooter… a close flush equals a good clean kill, plus, no injured birds to rustle/wrestle from the briar. I have to suggest to all hunters of any game to KNOW YOUR WEAPON, its ammo and the difference between sure shot and long shot. Skeets are always good fun and practice.

    I also wanted to mention the 11,14 2012 at 11:55 reply was for Cristian, # 10 above.

  15. Marc says:

    I just started bird hunting and do not have a dog. Like others have said, as long as you take good shots and pay attention to where the bird falls, hunting dogless can be ethical and fun. Maybe not as fun as hunting with a well-trained dog, but certainly more fun than not hunting at all.

    Also, regarding the post by Christian:

    “Respect the bird, enjoy yourself, and go HUNT!”

    Words to live by…Christian is wise beyond his years.

  16. Jerry says:

    After reading this and the comments left by people . I have to say, I think most wingshooters use the dogs as a crutch . In my opinion it’s the dog that’s doing the huntin and the persons there to do the shootin . I grew up huntin cacklers without dogs and did just fine . later in life I started hunting with other hunters and their dogs . At first when the dogs did what they were supposed to be doing it just seemed a little like cheating and having an unfair advantage on the birds when walking up on a locked up dog waiting to flush . Now days it’s a lot different with the low bird numbers in the places I hunt. one needs all the help he can get ! and a dog is a great equalizer when trying to outsmart that Mr red faced cackler… PS. as far as ethics goes ! get out and practice with your gun ! It doesn’t mean your un-ethical if you hunt without a dog if you can shoot straight .. Jerry ..STH …

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