I was recently reminded of how working with our dogs, thinking like they think, can produce better shooting from us. In South Dakota, a less-experienced companion was so nervous (or was he dazzled at my dog’s performance?) the ringneck had almost five minutes to fly wild or scoot out from under the point. This guy snuck, skulked, minced and tiptoed over 100 yards – it seemed to take eons for him to flush the dang bird!
The rest of us were going batty, urging him to step on it. I was hoarse from yelling across the stubble. My dog stood on trembling legs, eyes bugging out as he searched for someone, anyone, to push that bird into the air. Luckily the pheasant held and the outcome was fatal for him.
Sure, that situation was the exception. But the lesson was clear: ignoring your dog’s critical role might negatively affect your shot. Consider these tips next time you’re lucky enough to find your dog locked up on a bird:
- To ensure a safe, sure shot, ensure a solid point, and a bird that holds still rather than a scampering off unscathed, be punctual. Once your dog stands the bird, walk in with alacrity. The longer you dawdle or admire his stunning good looks, or take photos, the greater the chance a bird will flush wild, run off or the dog will do the flushing for you.
- Then, assert yourself. Over many years in many fields one thing is clear: both birds and dogs hold better when the gunner moves with confidence. Once your dog shows you the bird, stride right in and everyone will likely do what’s expected of them. This is the time to show you are in charge. Be confident.
- Choose your approach route with care to maximize your chance at a solid, killing shot. Swing wide around the dog and you’ll cut off one of the bird’s escape routes. Two gunners performing a pincer movement means even fewer bolt-holes for a cunning rooster more inclined to sprint than fly. If you can move to the front and circle back so the bird is between you and the dog there’s a good chance it will fly, not run.
- Flanking your dog also minimizes his chance of breaking point … one less thing to worry about when you should be preparing for a flush and a shot. “Allelomimetic behavior” is a highfalutin’ word for that flock of birds that jinks in unison, or pair of wolves trotting in parallel. Sauntering close alongside a pointing dog is an invitation to follow you into the flush – that’s how we teach “heel,” after all.
Okay, so you hunt a spaniel or retriever in the uplands. You could still apply many of the same principals:
- Focus on the dog, not the puffy clouds or a deconstruct of last night’s game. Stick as close as possible to your hound, and look for the “tells” that indicate he’s getting birdy. Be as ready as you can be for a shot.
- Use your “hup” command (you DID train for that, right?). It might instill confidence in the dog … you’re in charge, a situation he’s accustomed to, and comfortable in.
- When you sense your dog’s birdiness, start maneuvering for a safe shot. Use your peripheral vision to suss out birds’ likely escape routes. Set up as best you can for a shot in that direction. As with pointers, two hunters working in sync can stage-manage a bird’s flight to some degree. Now’s the time to talk to each other.
Shorthair, Lab, Small Munsterlander, Boykin, whatever breed you’re running these days, keeping your eye on the dog and not on your smart phone should put you in a better place, literally and figuratively … when it comes to shooting.