Steady Your Dog
Three hunters were on a knoll. Three dogs were on-point about 30 yards at the bottom of the knoll. The guide moved in and the quail covey flushed. The dogs quickly broke point and chased the birds. All three hunters, with a downward angle, opened fire on the birds. The chasing dogs were directly under the flushed covey.
Any responsible hunter recognizes quickly what is wrong with this picture. And, the scenario is not made-up. I watched, with dismay, the above action on an upland bird hunting TV program aired on one of the outdoor networks. It was this action that motivated me to start my TV show…Bird Dogs Afield. I simply felt we had to present a more safe and orderly process to the public.
Each year, numerous pointing dogs are either badly wounded or killed because they’ve never been taught to stay steady on the flush. The birds should be the only target; not birds and dogs together. Hunting with dogs that have been trained to not chase is hunting with a steady or broke dog. A broke dog is a dog that has been trained to ignore its instinct to chase and stay steady until the hunter has released the dog…either after the flush or after both the flush and shot.
The casual observer might say “this makes sense so why aren’t all dogs trained to remain steady”. It’s a good question. The number one reason is that the dog owner/handler doesn’t know how to do it. Or, they don’t want to take the time to polish their dog. Pro trainer Paul Long said: “A broke dog separates the men from the boys”.
The most common excuse I hear from upland hunters is that they want their dog to be on top of the bird when it falls. They say this is good conservation…ensuring the bird is recovered after being shot. Except perhaps for truly wild pheasants in the prairie states, there is no validity to this argument. A truly wild pheasant flies high and is almost always far from a chasing dog. Pen raised pheasants, either early release or daily release, often fly low and, if a dog is chasing, only a few feet above the dog. I would add, however, that I’ve filmed German shorthairs from Top Gun Kennel in Central City, Iowa, and saw several pheasant run after being shot. Those shorthairs eventually found every running bird…there were no losses.
I often hear upland hunters state that grouse and woodcock fly too high to be concerned. I’m an avid grouse and woodcock hunter and see many birds that fly low….too low for a shot over a chasing dog. Last fall my wife and I worked a cover along an old logging road. We had three grouse flushes in 30 minutes. Every bird flew very low. Much too low to shoot with a chasing dog. Fortunately, Susan’s Dena stayed steady on point and remained steady through both the flush and shot. Susan was able to connect on one of the birds and Dena had a perfect locate and retrieve on the downed bird.
Any upland hunter can have a steady dog. There are numerous videos on-line which demonstrate how to steady-up your dog. Or, join the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). You can locate a chapter near you at www.navhda.org. Or, locate a professional trainer who can help you.
Also, I’m asking all the TV programs that feature upland hunting to improve their game and present a better picture of dog work and wingshooting. Also, bloggers, Facebook and Twitter users to do the same. Let’s all work toward a safer hunting environment for our beloved dogs.
Copyright 2017 Paul Fuller
Paul Fuller is a life-long sportsman. He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German shorthaired pointer in 1961. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.