Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Northwoods Sporting Journal

Grouse Dog Speed

The prevailing theory for a good ruffed grouse dog is that he is fast and comes onto the bird quickly. At the very first hint of scent, the dog stops and points. The quickness of the stop and point prevents the bird from having time to consider what is happening. It makes sense and your author has witnessed outstanding grouse dogs follow this pattern exactly.

The most dazzling example of coming on quickly to the bird I’ve ever witnessed was from Long Gone Madison. It was several years ago in Northern New Hampshire. She was being handled by Long Gone Kennel owner Lloyd Murray and Hall of Fame trainer Dave Hughes. Madison came on hard, pointed and pinned eight grouse in less than two hours. When Madison pointed, there was always a bird there. It was the most masterful piece of grouse dog work I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve heard field trial judges state that Madison is amongst the top all-time grouse dogs.

But wait. Come on fast and hit the brakes hard at the first hint of grouse scent? It works; however, I’ve also witnessed the opposite. I will use our GSP Dena as an example. I’m going to explain how an older dog is very effective going slow and easy. As a youngster and until around seven years of age, our GSP Dena, practiced the fast and stop method perfectly. She excelled in Maine, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Brunswick, Canada and Ontario, Canada. We often called her the “doubles” dog. It was uncanny how often we would have a double flush from a Dena point. She was, and still is, a damn good grouse dog. However, she’s now 12 and has slowed down considerably.

Slowing down has not interfered with her ability to be an excellent grouse dog. Now, she seldom pins a bird on initial contact. She tracks them slow and easy and eventually pins the birds. This past grouse season, in Northern Maine, she tracked and pinned a single and a double in one hour. I’m not sure of the psychology of the birds, however, I feel that without pushing the birds hard, they become less threatened. Tracking a running grouse without pushing too hard takes skill. Tracking a bird with the dog’s head down (using ground scent), will seldom produce a point. Most often it will result in a flush way out in front of the dog…with no opportunity for a shot. A dog that keeps its head up and using air scent, will be far more successful at pinning and pointing a running bird. Air scent allows the dog to locate and pin/point a bird at a greater distance than ground scent.

A quick note on the “head high” while tracking a bird. This is referred to as the Bernoulli effect. Basically, the Bernoulli effect results from lower pressure in the mouth cavity than in the nose during inhaling and causes an inward flow of air through the nose. This phenomenon only occurs when the dog is running with its head held high and does not occur while it is searching for ground scent. This phenomenon explains why dogs can be running and breathing hard yet continuously scent game if head is high.

Another plus for the older slow-moving dog is that it’s less physical work for the hunter. A hard running dog will most likely have a bigger range. If your hard running dog establishes point 50 to 100 yards in thick snarly grouse cover, you’ve got work ahead of you. The first one or two trips into the bush on a hunt might not be too bad; however, by the third, you might wonder if you want to do it. However,you owe it to your dog to come to the point.

A slow moving dog might track or point just off a logging road. Both Susan, my wife, and I consistently get points while we walk an old logging road and the dog works just 10 to 20 yards off the road. That road often has a ditch running along the road and that ditch will have grouse.

The moral of the story: Both a hard running dog and a slow methodical dog can make great grouse dogs. Which ever you have, enjoy!

Copyright 2023 Paul Fuller

Paul and Susan Fuller are co-hosts of Bird Dogs Afield TV show. All past episodes are available on their website: Contact: