Dog Training

Many times when talking to people who want to buy a puppy I get asked about what it takes to train a GWP. I always answer that question with a question of what is your end goal for your dog and what type of hunting are you planning on doing with the dog? I would say 99 times out of a 100 the people will not need much more than to teach the dog its name so it comes when called. If they are looking for a good hunting dog the best thing is to take them hunting and let them teach themselves how to find and point game. If you are going to be using your GWP mainly as a duck blind dog you will have some extra training, but it isn’t too complicated. If you want to compete in field trials or hunt test you will have some extra training. If you do want to put in the time a completely well trained dog is neat to hunt with, but not by any means a necessity to hunt with. A dog that stands until the shot is a dog that most likely won’t get shot by another hunter, or will run blindly after a bird and injure itself somehow.

If you bought your puppy to be a hunting partner I would suggest that you and your new puppy spend the first year hunting by your selves. You want to build a good bond with the new puppy and you also want to let it learn things by itself. If you hunt with an older dog sometimes the puppy will just follow the old dog around and not learn on its own. If you hunt with other young pups it might learn bad habits because the other pups don’t know anything either. I also think it is better to not take your buddies with you until the pup is doing a great job for you. Once it understands how you like to hunt, and that you are the boss things will start to come together. Sometimes when you take a couple guys it can get loud and crazy. I like to stay as quiet as possible while hunting. Most wild game will hear you coming and be on alert, which means less chances to get a dog pointing something. If you have the patience to let the pup learn on its own that first year you will have a great dog for a long time to come. Once everything comes together and you have that first great find, point, shot, and retrieve you have established the base. From the base you can start waiting for a while before the flush while the dog is pointing and this will help teach them to hold point for as long as it takes for you to get there. Sometimes in chukar country you might have to cross a canyon to get to a dog on point. You want them to hold until you get there. Usually by the end of the first hunting season you know what you can expect from your dog and it will be ready for a lifetime of hunting trips.

I’ve been to seminars, read books about training, and trained dogs from start to finish myself. There seems to be dozens, if not more ways just to train a pointing dog. If you really want to train your own dog I would start by reading a few different books on training, and then maybe attend a seminar. I think some of the biggest mistakes people make is to think they have to get pups started at a very young age. People want to play with a wing on a string which is all for the person, and not for the dog. They want to teach them to whoa before the dog even knows why they should be whoaing in the first place. Another thing I don’t recommend is to teach tracking at a young age. Some people teach this so the dog can pass a test, but some dogs never do well pointing covey birds or jumpy rabbits after they have been taught to track at a young age. A dog that is tracking with its nose on the ground will most of the time get way to close to wild game and the game will flush before the dog locks up. I feel a GWP must learn to hunt with its head up and learn how far it can point without busting game first then you can teach to track later. This is where starting dogs on pen raised birds can be frustrating when trying to go hunting wild game.

What I suggest to anyone who is getting a puppy from me that isn’t going to compete is to keep it simple. You can start with playing fetch at a couple months of age with something soft and eventually work your way up to a bird. Then when you are ready to start shooting birds they have already had feathers in their mouths. Most GWP’s love to fetch, but I have seen some lines that don’t have natural fetching instincts. Before you turn your pup loose for the 1st time in an open area you need to make sure it is going to be a safe situation. I always recommend that the pup knows its name and will come back if called. Another thing I suggest is to make sure you are in an area away from traffic so there is no chance of a dog getting ran over by a car. Over the years we have had dogs die about every way imaginable, but none have ever been hit by a car. If you haven’t introduced it to the gun you can do that when it is out running around. I use a small gauge like a 410 or light loaded 20 gauge. They don’t have to be chasing a bird when you introduce the gun. Most of the time I just pop a shot in the air when they are maybe 50 yards away running around. I watch the reaction of the pup to see how it looks. If I think they are okay with gun fire I will look for an opportunity to shoot a bird while the pup is in pursuit. I like to make sure it is a crossing shot so the sound is traveling away from the pup. I never shoot right over the top of a young dog.

Training for field trials. If you want to play the field trial game I feel you have two options, both are going to cost you a lot of money. You can do it all yourself or you can hire someone to do it for you. If you hire someone to do it for you plan on spending many thousands of dollars over a few years of time before you get a finished field champion. If you do it yourself depending on what part of the country you live in you might have to travel great distances to get to field trials. You will probably need to buy horses and spend lots of your free time training dogs. Some of the worst money I have ever spent in my life was hiring a field trial trainer to do this for me. There are good honest dog trainers out there, and I have used some that I really liked, but there are also some crooks out there. I’m sure there are horse trainers like the dog trainers and probably other animal trainers that are not good honest hard working people. If you decide to use a trainer a couple things you want to watch out for is if they have too many dogs. You can look at how many dogs they have and do the math to determine how much time they have for each dog. Just like most things the integrity of the dog trainer is probably more important than the ability of the dog trainer to train dogs. Dishonest dog trainers will use clients to fund dogs with their kennel names, or dogs with customers they really like. The clients with the average dogs end up paying all the bills so the trainers can campaign the dogs they really like and do lots of winning with these dogs. As the trainers do more winning they get more clients. Most of these new clients are going to be lemmings that simply walk off the cliff listening to the trainer before they realize they have been used financially to promote other dogs. I’m a finish carpenter and I’m not evaluated on how well I can make a well framed house look when I’m done with the work. I’m judged on how I can make the poorly framed houses look. Field trial dog trainers are never judged on how well they do training the average dogs and if they can win with them. Sometimes the trainers win with dogs they don’t even train and they will take credit for training the dogs. If the trainer is training dogs that are off-spring of national field champions those dogs should be more competitive than other dogs and the trainer should win with them. If you can work closely with the trainer you can see what the results are, but most of the time you send your dog away, then send money away and hope everything works out. Unfortunately some of times you just get taken advantage of because the trainers know you think your dog can win even though it might not have what it takes to win. Field trials are very competitive and not all dogs will be able to win. If you haven’t trained dogs before you probably don’t know what it takes to win, or how the dog should be developing. The unethical trainers can keep feeding you full of BS so you keep sending them money. I would suggest if you want to play the field trial game do it yourself so you can get a good understanding of what it takes before you use a trainer. If you want to get into the field trial game I would suggest that you learn to train dogs yourself first and if you decide to use a trainer you will know where they should be in their development.

Field titles

Just like there are many different breeds of hunting dogs, and many different ways to train hunting dogs, there are many different ways to test a hunting dog. Even with all the different organizations, and tests or trials to participate in by far the best way in my opinion to evaluate a hunting dog (especially a GWP) is to go hunting. Not just a little hunting, but lots of hunting in many different areas, and on many different types of game, both fur and feather. You need to spend lots of time hunting a dog allowing them to show you what they are naturally before you do any training. You have to know what they have naturally first then you can see how trainable they are after you know how good they are naturally. Most people start training dogs to perform in a test or a field trail when they are too young to know what they are naturally. That is fine if you are not interested in breeding, but I think it can be a drawback for a breeding program. Testing and field titles are just part of what goes into evaluating your hunting dog. I see people that never hunt their dogs and just run them in field trials. They think that because they are good field trial dogs they are good hunting dogs. A good field trial dog doesn’t always mean a good hunting dog. Two of the worst hunting dogs I have ever had as far as being able to find game had dads that were national field champions. I think that other hunting titles are testing the trainer’s abilities to train dogs, more than the dog’s natural abilities. I’ll list what I think are the positives and negatives of hunting tests or field trials.

I have trained dogs from start to finish and put Amateur Field Championships, Field Championships, and Master Hunter titles on dogs. I have also judged hunt tests and field trials in many states watching many pointing breeds perform. A few times I have attended the German Wirehair Pointer Club of America national field trial which is held once annually. A few other times I sent a dog or two with someone else to run for me. Every year one of my dogs has competed at least one has come home with a placement at nationals. I understand what it takes to get a dog competitive on a national level, but I prefer to spend most of my time in the fall hunting, and not going to any field trials even the national trial. During hunting season it is not uncommon for me to spend over 40 hours a week watching up to 10 different GWP’s that we have bred or co-bred hunt.

I’m not at all against testing your hunting dogs, and I think there can be a lot of good information coming from a test and you can learn plenty about your dogs while training for the tests. You can also learn from other people that have trained dogs. When I spend time at tests or trials communicating with other trainers I always listen to what they think and file that information away to see how it fits in with how I think. There are however some things about testing that I don’t like. One thing that I always question is how did a dog get the title, and who trained and handled the dog to the title? A great trainer/handler can take an average dog and make them look good or even great. A poor handler, or someone new to the test or field trial game can take a great dog and the handler can make that dog look like an average dog. Like anything that is subjective and judged by other people, sometimes these judges are your close peers, the relationship between the handler and the judge will come into play. It doesn’t matter how unbiased the judge is, if a judge knows you or doesn’t know you they will have made up some opinion as soon as the judge sees you and your dog. No matter what anyone says, every test or field trial can be manipulated and that can mean some dogs get titles they don’t deserve, and some dogs don’t get titles they deserve. The German Shorthair pointer national field championship is held at the same place in Kansas every year. I don’t think this is a good thing. The German Wirehair pointer stills travels around the country to different locations for it’s national championship. Some people think that what the German Shorthair pointer club is doing is what is best for the breed. I think that breeding a dog to compete at high level on one small 1500 acre patch of land in the middle of the country, on one pen raised species of quail is not a good idea. How will that dog handle ruff grouse and woodcock in the thick woods back east, how will that dog handle blue grouse in the rocky mountains, how will that dog handle sharp tail grouse and Hungarian partridge on the prairies of Montana or the Dakotas, how will that dog handle three species of wild quail in the desert southwest, how will that dog that is bred to run the flat lands of Kansas handle the deep canyons of Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada on a chukar hunt???? The centralization of the national field trial is what is best for the people in the central part of the nation, not what is best for the breed.

Field trials can bring out the worst in people as well. Fist fights, lying, cheating, bullying, are things I have observed and heard of happening in other parts of the country. I’m not sure if this is because it is a competition or if it’s just people not wanting to believe their dog isn’t as good as another dog according to a couple of judges opinions. In testing where it isn’t a competition a dog can get a passing score, and be way less impressive than another dog with a passing score. All the dog needs to do is meet a minimum score to get a passing leg. It doesn’t matter what kind of a scale you use to rate the dog people will look at the titles for their evaluations. The differences in judge’s opinions and how they see the dogs will affect the numerical value of the dog. There have been times when I was judging that my numerical scores were quite different than the other judges. Does that mean I’m too harsh and the other judge is too lenient, or maybe we just see things through a different color of lens? So if I’m judging with some who thinks like me a dog might get poor scores, and if the other judge is judging with someone like them the same dog might get good scores. It is very difficult to get knowledge dog people to all see things exactly the same way. Therefore to just assign a number score to a dog has to be taken as just part of the dogs evaluation as a hunting dog because that number can be, well just a number. Too many times an owner will say look at that score my dog is great, but maybe it actually is just average. I think that competing is the best way to evaluate a dog especially if the dog is competing against many pointing breeds. While judging hunt tests I have on occasions had someone question scores I gave the dogs, but no one has ever been upset enough to have a confrontation with me. I have seen handlers go after judges verbally in trials and hunt tests. The thing about tests and trials is they are judged by humans and the dogs are not machines. The combination of the two means there is a lot of possibilities of imperfections and sometimes people just can’t seem to understand or accept it.
In my opinion most of the time field titles are more for selling puppies and people’s ego than to benefit the breed. I have seen GWP breeders with very poor coated dogs, that didn’t naturally retrieve, but won at field trials be really proud of those dogs. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world if you are breeding dogs you will be breeding dogs with faults. It’s up to the breeder to be honest with themselves and the people buying puppies or older dogs from them, because your integrity is all that counts. If you are moving forward with a breeding program you must identify the faults of the dogs being bred. If you are using dogs from another breeder if that breeder is honest about their dogs then they will tell you the faults of their dogs so you can avoid doubling up on faults.
The use of pen raised birds is another thing that I don’t like about field trials or hunting tests. I know at least some of the American Field trials are run on wild birds which is a way better test for the dogs. A dogs ability to find game not only varies from dog to dog, but from game to game. Some dogs are better at finding deer than another dog, but that other dog is better at finding sharp tail grouse. Very seldom do I see dogs point any of these pen raised birds at a distance or indicate that they pickup them up at a distance. It doesn’t mean they won’t be able to handle wild game at a distance, but there is nothing to tell me they can point wild game at a distance where they won’t flush the game by getting too close. They are not required to be a good hunting dog because they are not actually hunting in my mind. Dogs quickly figure out human, or horse, or 4-wheeler scents leading them to a bird that has been tossed in a bush. If the dog is smart and trainable and has been rewarded for finding these birds in the past it will become very efficient at the test or game like a field trial. These smart test or field trial dogs will rarely run outside the areas where the scent paths exist because they have learned nothing is outside these boundaries. This is a major flaw in the testing or field trials that most people don’t even think about because they don’t hunt their dogs on enough wild game to understand what the dog is doing at the testing or field trials. I also don’t like how much noise the handlers make while running their dogs at field trials. It’s obvious none of these loud handler/dog combinations are doing much hunting. Wild birds would simply leave the area if someone was doing as much hollering and blowing of the whistle as they do at a field trial. Late in the season you and your dog need to be pretty much in stealth mode to get any game pinned down. One other thing to remember is the testing is not done over a long time period. Most testing is half an hour and some trials are an hour. There are three hour American Field trials which is what I think is the longest test or trial. With a hunting dog many times the dog will be hunting for many hours even all day long. In my experiences after hunting your dogs four to six hours you start to see the true dog. A lot of field trial type dogs have been bred to perform at a high energy level for an hour or so, but lack the structure or mental makeup to perform for a long day. Field trial people tend to like smaller dogs because they zip around and look like they are working faster and harder than a larger dog. I actually like a larger dog for a long day of hard hunting. I have heard people say larger dogs won’t hold up long term, but I have noticed the smaller dogs don’t hold up especially while hunting any type of cover that is not wide open. I always go back to the Canadian wolf as a reference. Those are huge animals that have the endurance to run all day through any conditions. They can sprint or run marathons.

Another thing about the field trials and hunt test is that you have to not care about a lot of birds getting killed for the tests. Annually during tests or trials thousands of pen raised birds, mainly bobwhite quail, and some chukar are released for the dogs to find. Very few of these birds will be found by a dog and shot by gunner. Some might get caught by a young dog, and a small percentage might live for a few weeks. However the largest percentage of these birds will die of starvation or dehydration because they are not wild, and have no clue how to live in the wild. Many hunters have a mutual respect for the game they are hunting and always work to maintain good populations and habitat. To see birds being killed and wasted just for a test for our personal satisfaction can be a bit disturbing to the hunters who respect the game they are pursuing.

Blue Grouse

I didn’t do much blue grouse hunting until I moved to Sheridan Wyoming in 2007. The big horn mountains have a good population and they are in areas that are great for the dogs even if the dogs have a little extra power. I would find a few in the mountains of Idaho while big game hunting, but I never went hunting just for blue grouse. Most of them I found in Idaho were at very high elevations and they were pretty elusive. Most of the ones in Wyoming are dumb as a rock. The ones in Idaho also seemed to be a little different than the ones in Wyoming. I’m sure they are the same species and I just remember them as being a different color of blue. The only problem I can see with blue grouse hunting in Idaho or Wyoming is you have a chance to encounter a pack of wolves. In the Big Horns the wolves seem to “disappear” shortly after you hear about a pack getting established. Having had a dog killed by a wolf I know a wolf pack is probably going to kill any other canine that they come across so it’s just best to not take a chance if it’s not necessary.

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A blue grouse male that flushed up in a tree.

After I started to hunt blue grouse with the GWP’s here in Wyoming I found them in many different areas, but never at very low elevations. I usually only hunt them during the month of September because it is still warm enough the rattlesnakes will be out in the lower elevations where I hunt huns and sharp tail grouse. Most of the time by the 1st of October the snow will be too deep to get into the areas where the blue grouse live and they will probably be up in a evergreen tree. I have read that biologists have tracked blue grouse with gps collars and some of the grouse will spend all winter in the same tree. During the late summer and early fall when I’m scouting for them or hunting them I will find them in open grassy hillsides, thick sage brush hills, very steep rocky outcroppings, and in the thick timber. I think I have found them just about everywhere. The one thing that does seem to be a constant is they are never too far from water even if it’s just a small spring.
I like to take young GWP’s into areas where I have found blue grouse in years past. Once I find an area with grouse the grouse seem to be there year after year. If I know of a good area for the grouse the young dogs might not have to work real hard to find grouse, and if the grouse are young I can work the young dogs a few times before the grouse make it to the tree tops or fly out of sight before landing. I have had many times where a grouse would just stand right in front of a dog bobbing its head up and down. For the young GWP that is usually too much temptation and they will break point, but for a dog in field trial training that is about as close to a pen raised bird as you will ever get with a wild bird. I’m sure a dog can catch young grouse and I never run young dogs on young grouse.
Blue grouse can be great for an older dog as well. If you have a good grouse area that isn’t too steep I would take an old dog in the area. Sometimes the old dogs will forget they can’t power up and down mountains anymore and they will overwork themselves. The blue grouse can offer them an easy run similar to a pheasant hunt on flat lands. Even though I like hunting with bigger running dogs, I think in most cases a close working dog will be better for blue grouse, especially if you are hunting some thick timber or timber edges. Even though sometimes you can get into some pretty steep dry country that might resemble chukar country if you are where blue grouse live you will be close to water. If it is hot and dry a GWP will need to be able to find water pretty often. Blue grouse won’t fly way down a mountain to get water like a chukar, but I have flushed older blue grouse that have gone a few hundred yards down a mountain to escape.
I think blue grouse are probably the second best eating bird, behind spruce grouse. If you shoot a young blue grouse that has been eating berries in the fall they are very good eating. The sharp tail grouse, and sage grouse both might fly great distances and they have very dark well-muscled chest meat. The blue grouse spend most of the time walking around or just flying up in a tree. Their breast meat is very light colored and tender.
If you ever get a chance to take a GWP hunting blue grouse in the mountains out west you and dog will both enjoy the hunt. It’s probably never going to be a hunt where you encounter dozens of birds a day and if you get a limit that is a good day.

Training days

Training day gone wrong.

Right now I’m spending more time training than I have for a few years. Whenever I’m training broke dogs to get ready for a field trial or hunt test I always have a plan going into the training session. That plan can vary widely depending on what I feel I need to accomplish and where the dog is at in their development. Sometimes it will be two dogs and backing situations, or maybe one dog with standing through a shot bird, but at the end of the session I hope to have at least tried to get the dog in the situation I wanted. Sometimes I think all the plans just fly out the window as I’m driving on the way to training.

I was recently planning on running Hoover in an area where there were some paired up huns, maybe a few sharp tails, and cottontails, and probably some porcupines. It was out of season for upland birds, and I was just going to blank the fly away birds. The main thing I wanted to work on with Hoover was getting him to better understand what a blinker was and turn when I wanted him to turn. Hoover is a big running long ranging dog, but I know he is trainable. I don’t want to knock the run out of him, but I do want to get him to hunt a little less for himself, and start to go with me more even if that means at a very long range. Hoover is a dog that has to climb right to the top of whatever hill, or mountain is in front of him, which I’m fine with, but I don’t necessarily want him to get to the top then head to the next one without me. I got to the area I wanted to hunt and I was “planning on” turning Hoover loose in the bottom of a big long canyon. I would climb up the one side while he worked the bottom, and up and down the sides. If he pointed something I would go flush it and blank it. Once on top I wanted to work a big flat area that has some huns, and sharp tails. It also has a big canyon on each side that Hoover could work at a long distance while I watched him.

Well I made sure the tracking collar, e-collar, receiver’s, transmitters were all functioning and I fired Hoover off. He started to work the brush along the creek bottom on the correct side of the wind just perfect, and I started powering up the steep slope. About two minutes later Hoover was headed my direction at a kind of slow pace, both him heading towards me, and slow pace didn’t make any sense. When he got about twenty yards away I realized he was a bad dog. His face was full of porcupine quills. He had done a great job either avoiding them or pointing them for a few months, but I guess he was a little too fired up this time. He stood still while I pulled all of them out of his mouth and the side of his face. When I got done I thought I hope you learned your lesson. I sent him off towards the top of the hill I was climbing and he took off like a rocket up the face. When I got to the top I had him on the tracker at a few hundred yards ahead working the ridge just right. Then somehow I pushed the wrong buttons on my receiver and deleted the tracking collar he was wearing. I could find it in one of the menus, but it said it was not active so I couldn’t track him. Of course I’m up on a windy ridge in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, and I didn’t really feel like trying to figure out my receiver. At first I thought well I’ll find him and when I see him I’ll just call him in a get the collar back matched up with the receiver. I didn’t try to call him for 20 minutes or so just in case he was on point somewhere, but then I tried to call him in to no avail. After about 45 minutes of not seeing him while I was walking the ridge I thought I sure have become too dependent on these tracking collars. I was little concerned he might actually be in trouble; caught in a snare, lost over a couple ridges, or shot by a rancher a few miles away. He was none of the above, but he was in trouble, and he knew it when he showed up from another direction with a face full of porcupine quills. Once again I pulled the quills, and then I got his tracking collar back to operational. I thought by now he might be tired enough to handle a little better.

We started to work the ridge top and I saw him go on point across a small ravine. He was very intense and stylish and I’m thinking a pair of huns, but nope it was another porcupine, but he did hold point until I got there. Shortly after that he went on point again and once again it was intense and stylish. I was thinking probably a porcupine, but nope it was a pair of huns and he handled them great. We worked back towards the pickup and it was starting to get a little dark when he went on point again. This time it was cottontail rabbit that took off running right at him, and he did break and chase, but I got a little correction. I gave him the benefit on the rabbit because it was a tough one to handle. We had maybe three hundred yards to the pickup and it was pretty dark, but I saw him go on point again. I started towards him, but he broke point and popped a pair of huns in the air and then chased them like a run-away freight train. At the end of the training time I felt like nothing got accomplished, but at least we got good workout climbing up and down hills.

Crazy Completely Unbelievable Training Pigeon Story

When I’m working broke dogs a lot of times I will take a pigeon and clip the feathers on one wing. The pigeon can walk around and fly up in the air a short distance. This is the best way I can simulate a pen raised chukar, or quail in a training session.
I had a couple of these pigeons I had turned loose out in a somewhat open field and they were just walking around. I was working Hoover and Icy both after a run. I did some backing training then worked each dog individually. Hoover was really amped up and I didn’t think he was going to hold solid through the training session. Sure enough he broke hard on the one pigeon and jumped on it. Before I could really even get much of a correction in he had gulped the entire pigeon down his gullet whole. Now I know you are probably thinking the completely unbelievable thing was I kicked him in the ribs and he spit out a live pigeon. Nothing like that happened. I don’t kick my dogs. I did give him a little correction, but I decided to take him right over to the other pigeon and work him on it. The other pigeon was down in a small ravine about fifty yards out in front of my pickup and 4-wheeler trailer. When I turned Hoover loose he headed over by where I had let the pigeon loose and kind of flash pointed then started tracking around. He started back towards me and the pickup tracking, but I turned him down the ravine the direction I thought the pigeon would have had taken off towards. Hoover ran around for ten minutes in the ravine and never got at all birdy. I took him a little farther out into the open area towards another ravine where I thought maybe the pigeon had gone. After a while I just put a lead on Hoover and wondered out loud how he couldn’t find a pigeon I had just released. I thought maybe while I wasn’t looking a hawk had snatched it, or maybe it really took off on a walk up the hill. It was Sunday night and it was almost dark. I just gave up and went home because I had a big project to start in the morning. The place I was training was about 25 miles east of town.
On Monday morning I went by the cabinet company and hooked on to a large enclosed trailer full of cabinets for a kitchen remodel we were doing about ten miles south of town. When I got to the house I unhooked the trailer in the large asphalt drive way at the homeowners. Our plan was to leave the trailer there a couple days until we got all the cabinets unloaded and use the trailer to haul the cardboard back to the recycle bin.
Here’s the completely unbelievable thing. Fast forward to late Tuesday afternoon. I hooked on to the cargo trailer with the cardboard boxes and when I started to pull out of the driveway I looked in my mirror to make sure I the trailer was clear of everything and there was a pigeon standing in the driveway. At first I thought why the hell did that pigeon just land there by my trailer? Then I thought that looks like the pigeon I had out at training two days ago. I stopped the pickup and sure enough it was the clipped winged pigeon. I was somewhat confused, but I still had my fish net in the back of the pickup so I netted it up and put it in the pickup. On the way back to town I was trying to figure out the puzzle, but nothing was making any sense at all. I was starting to think I’m going completely nuts.

That night I took that pigeon out for another training session. We set up a backing situation and I released the pigeon about 50 yards out in front of the pickup. Before I could get a dog out to start working the pigeon was almost back to the pickup walking at a fast pace. It got to the pickup and jumped up on the front axle and just sat there.

My conclusion is that on Sunday night the pigeon climbed up in the pickup. It then rode 25 miles, 15 dirt, back to town. It sat at least one night in the pickup and then on Monday or maybe Tuesday it might have moved from under the pickup which was parked beside the trailer, to under the trailer. It also could have rode for two days back and forth under the pickup and just decided to jump out when I hooked up the trailer. At any rate that pigeon is still in the training pigeon rotation, but I make sure it’s far away from the pickup before I release it. Had I just trusted my dog and not turned him down the ravine he would have tracked the pigeon to my pickup and I would have found it then, but I wouldn’t have a crazy pigeon story to tell.

Ruffed Grouse

I haven’t had a blog entry on ruffed grouse yet because I have very little experience hunting them with a GWP. This blog entry will grow as I get more time hunting them in the next few seasons. I have it on my bucket list to visit the northeast and go on a ruffed grouse hunt. I might have to trade someone a hunt out west for an eastern hunt or get another GWP hunter to be a quest writer.

The 1st time I experience ruffed grouse was in northern Idaho whitetail hunting in the early 90’s. I was creeping through some super thick cover slowly and quietly tracking a nice buck in two foot of fresh powdery snow when a grouse exploded at my feet. I don’t know how I kept from falling over backwards or firing my rifle in the air. I encountered lots of grouse on my annual trip up north whitetail hunting over the next few years.

When Cruiser was a pup and we were still living in Idaho one time Jodi went to a dog show in Spokane Washington, and I went along and went deer hunting over in Idaho. I took Cruiser out between dog shows and got him on some ruffed grouse. I didn’t get any shooting because the cover was so thick I could barely swing my gun. That was the only time I tried hunting them with a GWP in northern Idaho.

While living in the Black Hills of South Dakota I saw a few while deer hunting, and one morning there was one in a pine tree right by our house. I was told there was a good population of them in the Black Hills, but even though I ran the dogs in the hills a lot I never got a point on one.

There are some in southern Idaho as well and I have gone hunting for them in recent years with different GWP’s and I even got a point on one in the fall of 2013. It was standing on a log with the dog ten feet behind it and when I took a step a few flushed, but I had no shot.

This is my ruffed grouse hunting experience with a GWP, but I have figured out where they live close to my home here in Wyoming so next year I’m going to get some quality hunting in, and I have a few places in southern Idaho to go. Maybe I’ll even find time for that trip back east.

We are in the process of moving to western Washington where there is plenty of ruffed grouse hunting. I should get some experience. Below is a picture of Quiz with my first Washington ruffed grouse.
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Turkeys

Growing up in Idaho we didn’t have turkeys to hunt until they were introduced in I think the early 80’s. The turkeys have done well in Idaho especially in northern Idaho where I used to hunt whitetails. I never got too excited about hunting turkeys because I was always spending my time big game hunting or chukar hunting. I did some reading about hunting them back east and how they were difficult to hunt. When my brother Travis moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota in the early 90’s he guided turkey hunters and after listening to his hunting stories I thought a turkey is going to be hard animal to be successful tagging.

While we were living in the Black Hills of South Dakota from 2003 until 2007 I should have been doing plenty of turkey hunting, but I always found a reason not to go turkey hunting, deer, antelope, and upland bird hunting was great in South Dakota. The place we lived on in the Black Hills had turkey everywhere, literally. Around one hundred would roost less than two hundred yards from the house and others from the neighbors would wander through all day long. The first winter we lived in the Black Hills, I was feeding the turkeys grain on my doorstep, and I think I could have grabbed one by the neck with my hands. It just didn’t seem like hunting if I shot one of the turkeys I was feeding grain to. These turkeys would stand right outside the dog’s yard and just drive our dog’s nuts. Finally I thought maybe I should use one of the dogs to turkey hunt. I kind of wish I hadn’t thought that after the trip Cruiser and I were going to have chasing turkeys. I did think maybe I can get a point and a picture with the dog and turkey in the same frame. Once again I wish I had not thought that was possible. The following is from an article I wrote in the Wire news magazine in 2007.

Jodi and I were in the process of moving yet again, (this time to Sheridan, WY) and it was spring turkey season so I decided it was my last chance to go turkey hunting. Jodi was already living in Sheridan while Cruiser and I were still in South Dakota. I planned on letting Cruiser go point one of the turkeys that lived on our thirty-five acres. I thought Cruiser or Zoie would be the best chance to point a turkey because turkeys are good runners and a young dog would probably just get them flying. I didn’t have any tracking collars or any collars for that matter and I can’t remember why, but I think they had made the move already. I was a little hesitant to let Cruiser loose without any way to find him. But, Cruiser was getting a little older, and slower, and it had rained the night before so I could follow him around through the mud if I had to.

I got up around daylight and looked out the window. Sure enough the turkeys were all over the place and many toms were strutting around in full fanned tails. I let Cruiser loose and I got ready for a picture with the turkeys and Cruiser in the same frame. Well the tame turkeys aren’t so tame when a dog is loose. The turkeys took off running in every direction and didn’t look back. I got Cruiser headed toward three toms that went to the east and stayed on our property. They didn’t stay around for long and headed up the steep hill leading to the National Forest land to the south of us. I really wasn’t in the mood to go hill climbing with a camera and my gun in the mud. Cruiser wasn’t pushing the turkeys too hard and they didn’t start flying, but they didn’t quit running either. I followed the tracks of Cruiser and the turkeys in the mud and they kept heading up hill. I would see Cruiser once in a while pointing and tracking them, but the turkeys just kept running and didn’t stay around long enough for me to arrive.

I ended up on top of the hill hoping the turkeys were not going south down the steep rocky slope to the National Forest. I was only up high for a short time because I could see Cruiser moving a couple hundred yards back down the hill heading northeast. This had only taken two hours so far, and I was planning on a ten minute hunt. The turkeys were nowhere to be seen, but Cruiser looked like he was still tracking them so I took off to a spot they looked like they might end up back on the southeast corner of our property. This was my favorite spot to sit and wait for the whitetails during the rut. When I got to the cut off spot I didn’t see any turkeys or Cruiser. I started down through the timber that was somewhat more open than the timber up on the hill. After twenty yards I found Cruiser pointing down the hill, but I didn’t see anything in front of him. I just couldn’t believe I couldn’t see a bird the size of a turkey. I just kept quiet and started looking closely in the direction Cruiser was pointing. Then I saw the red head of a big tom turkey. I wasn’t in range so I used some trees to keep the turkeys from seeing me and it was obvious they were looking at Cruiser, but since he was standing still they seemed to be still, as well.

At this point I realized I had no chance of using the camera to get a picture of Cruiser and the toms in the same frame. Wildlife pictures are not as easy to get as you would think, especially when you involve dogs. When I got in range I shot the closest one. Finally—the day Cruiser had been waiting for since he got to South Dakota! He was going to get one of those big turkeys in his mouth! There were two toms and after I shot the one the other one attacked the one I had just shot. I said fetch and Cruiser who was around seventy yards up the hill took off after the large bird. Then I saw I had a problem—the tom that was alive took off running and then flying and of course Cruiser decided to follow him. It took me a few minutes to get Cruiser back to the dead one and he pounced on it with the happiness of a little puppy playing. Another problem for a wirehair fetching turkeys is they are big and even Cruiser’s big mouth couldn’t get around the chest of a turkey, and the feathers seemed slick and sticky. Cruiser was struggling to get a hold on the big bird when he finally grabbed him by the neck and started my way. The bird was big enough it would trip Cruiser up when he tried dragging it and he finally just sat down and looked up at me like come get this thing.

Cruiser fetching a turkey spring 2007 in South Dakota

Cruiser fetching a turkey spring 2007 in South Dakota

He was reluctant to release the bird and I just let him claim it as long as he wanted. He did give up a lot easier than the time I let him fetch a nice five by five whitetail buck Travis had shot about 15 yards from where I shot this turkey. That time it took Travis and I both to pull Cruiser off the neck of the deer. I did manage to get a couple pictures with Cruiser holding the turkey down.

The 1st time I had a chance at a turkey in Wyoming was with a Cruiser daughter named Wanda. It was part of my blog entry for my best day of hunting. She got a point on the way back to the pickup after we had been very successful on other game earlier in the day. We had been on a little game less hike and after about two miles of Wanda running hard not producing anything else to shoot I was looking at the last big hill ahead of us thinking this is going to be a workout. My bird bag was already full, and I was tired. Little did I know the load was going to get much more heavy. Just before Wanda dropped into the creek bottom she locked up real hard with her head and nose up very high, and she was almost standing on her tippy toes indicating to me she had something just over the rise. I come up slowly and peeked over the small ridge, and a couple dozen turkeys were looking back at me. Well YES I did have a turkey tag in my hunting pack that was good for either sex, and the season was open. If I had been smart I would have ground pounded the smallest one, and called it a day, but I jumped them, and shot the biggest tom in flight at fifteen yards. Wanda went up and hopped on the big bird very happily, but then just like her dad Cruiser (in the picture above) had found out, turkeys are hard to pick up. The feathers seem slick, and they are a big bird. She wrestled with it for a while and never did figure out what Cruiser figured out. If you are a Wirehair retrieving a turkey you have to grab it by the neck and drag it. I finally convinced her to let go of her prize and go get a drink of water from the creek since that was the last water until we got to the pickup.

Cruiser holding a turkey by the neck. South Dakota spring 2007

Cruiser holding a turkey by the neck. South Dakota spring 2007

I’m hoping to get a chance to video a turkey shot over point this spring. I have had a few turkey points now in Wyoming and I have some areas figured out where the birds aren’t quite as wild. This spring I’m going to see about a video. . I would not recommend turkey hunting with a GWP unless you have some time to kill, but I think it is possible if you have tame enough turkeys, and enough country to follow them around half a day.

What makes a good hunting dog?

I don’t know how many times I have talked to someone and they said “ole (insert name here) was the best hunting dog I ever had and I would just like to get another one like him or her”. It very well might be that he or she was, or is the best hunting dog they ever had, but that doesn’t mean it is a great, or even a good hunting dog. However the most important thing is that you like your dog, and it is treated well. Hunting dogs are just like people and no dog is perfect.

 

I could probably write an entire book on my opinions for what makes a good hunting dog, and someday I probably will write a book. For this entry in my blog I’ll just say what I think for GWP’s and not go into all the other hunting dogs. For a GWP in my opinion it comes down to three words, Find, Point, and Retrieve. Now of course there are a lot of things that a dog must have for each of these traits before they can be a good hunting dog. Great hunting dogs that excel in each part find, point, and retrieve are way less abundant than most people ever want to admit. Depending on what part of the world you live in and what game you are hunting the importance of these three words can vary greatly, but most hunters with a GWP will put some importance on each of these traits.

I looked up the definitions of hunting and killing just for reference.

Hunting.  The pursuit and killing or capture of game and wild animals, regarded as a sport. The act of conducting a search for something,

Kill. a: To deprive of life: cause the death of. B (1): to slaughter (as a hog) for food (2): to convert a food animal into (a kind of meat) by slaughtering

Hard core hunter is a term I hear a lot and one way to really fire some guy up is say they aren’t hunting when they think they are hunting. If you just look at the definition many people are really not hunting because of the lack of wild game. Wild game has been pursued by predators all their lives and that game is not going to just let you go kick them. They are going to try very hard to elude you and your dog so you can’t kill them. The more they have been hunted the more difficult it will be for you and your dog to be a successful hunter. One thing I do realize is that in some parts of the US and other places around the world like in Europe the wild game, especially in the form of native upland birds species is very limited. People have to hunt private game farms, or other public areas that are stocked with pen raised game where they pay a fee to hunt pen raised birds. In my mind this is not hunting, but a substitute to come as close as possible. I realize some people could refer to me as a wild game hunting elitist or conceded because of my opinions, but that is just how I feel about hunting. To me hunting is much more than killing. I think there is a big difference between the two. I have done lots of hunting, and even more killing in my life so I have a good understanding of the difference. Hunting is a fair chase act in which your quarry usually is not an ignorant animal waiting to be killed. They are wild animals avoiding the dangers that will end their lives.

When it comes to GWP hunting dogs I think I should start with each of the three things I find important and offer my thoughts on each. I have gone back and forth over the years as to which one is the most important, and it still seems to change all the time. I would say they are of equal importance.

Find:

At first thought you would think this is obviously the most important job for your hunting dog. If the dog doesn’t find any game then the point and the retrieve don’t come into play, and you won’t be a successful hunter.  The find part of the equation will require the most things to come together in your hunting dog. This is where run, desire, structure, nose, eye sight, hearing, and intelligence all have to be working like a well-oiled machine. There are going to be days where the game may be sparse and if the dog slows down it might miss the few opportunities it has to find something. It can be very difficult to find a dog that can be great at finding chukar in the hot dry conditions of the west and also be great at being a duck dog in cold water conditions in places like the north woods. It’s kind of like wanting an offensive lineman to play wide receiver every other play. This is where a GWP has to be versatile and may not be as good as say an English pointer in the chukar hills, and maybe not as good as a Chesapeake in the cold water. But when you combine the two dogs a good GWP hunting dog will be good at both jobs and better than having two dogs.

If I’m hunting a very young dog I don’t like to run them too far without finding something to keep them excited because I know there will be days when they are older they will need to grind out a few hours for maybe just one chance to find something. Without the desire, run, and structure they might just quit like some people when the times get tough. This is not a good hunting dog, or if it is a human it is not a good person to go hunting with.

Nose is something that I think is overlooked. All dogs have superb abilities to smell things, but those abilities can vary greatly from dog to dog when it comes to finding wild game. You don’t really know how good your dog’s nose is until you test them in hunting situations in many different conditions with many different types of game. A dogs ability to find game varies not only from dog to dog, but from game to game. Some dogs are better at finding deer than another dog, but that other dog is better at finding sharp tail grouse. One thing about a lot of organized testing or field trials is the use of pen raised birds. Very seldom do I see dogs point any of these pen raised birds at a distance or indicate that they pickup them up at a distance. It doesn’t mean they won’t be able to handle wild game at a distance, but there is nothing to tell me they can point wild game at a distance where they won’t flush the game by getting too close. They are not required to be a good hunting dog because they are not actually hunting in my mind. Dogs quickly figure out human, or horse, or 4-wheeler scents leading them to a bird that has been tossed in a bush. If the dog is smart and trainable and has been rewarded for finding these birds in the past it will become very efficient at the test or game like a field trial. These smart field trial dogs will rarely run outside the areas where the scent paths exist because they have learned nothing is outside these boundaries. This is a major flaw in the testing or field trials that most people don’t even think about because they don’t hunt their dogs on enough wild game to understand what the dog is doing at the testing or field trials.

I do think the testing and trials is a great way to test the trainability of dogs which is another important part of the find in a good hunting dog. While the dog is trying to find you something it has to have some trainability or it will be self-hunting and not working with you. If the dog is always self-hunting it will satisfy its desires without you being part of the team.

Intelligence, good eye sight, and hearing all of which can vary greatly from dog to dog are also important during the find. I’m always watching young dogs to see how smart they are hunting. Most young dogs are like teenagers, lots of energy, but not too smart how they use it. When you watch an older hunting dog that knows how to hunt smart they don’t waste energy. Very few people ever notice the times a dog is not hunting smart, but any wasted energy will be something that slows the dog down on a long hunting trip. When I’m big game hunting in the mountains I always say maintain E whenever possible, E being elevation. It is senseless to walk down a mountain just to walk back up the same mountain, but I have seen people do that exact thing many times. I will see young dogs run up and down hills covering areas they could have hunted without losing E. Then I will see an older dog get up on the hill and work it correctly while not going up and down unnecessarily. One thing I don’t see in testing or trials as much as I do with good hunting dogs is working the wind correctly. If a dog makes a move for an objective it needs to work the wind correctly or the energy spent getting to the objective is just wasted energy. It takes most dogs a while to learn how to hunt with the wind at their backs. Most young dogs will want to work into the wind all the time even though you might be guiding them to some other areas when the wind might be at their backs. Some just want to run hard straight out with it blowing up their butts. Good dogs work objectives back into the wind, and then get to another objective to work that area back into the wind. I call it fish hooking with a Z to it. It is hard to explain without a picture or watching a dog do it, but it works well for the good hunting dogs.

Point:

Point is very simple. When the dog finds game it needs to point it until you get there no matter how long that takes. The dogs that don’t hold point for a long time are not great hunting dogs. Point is very important because the dog that doesn’t hold point is just a flushing dog and not a pointing dog. I feel like too many GWP’s don’t have enough point to be great hunting dogs.  I like dogs with lots of style on point just because it looks better to my eye, and when they have less style it usually tells me they don’t like what they are pointing. Some dogs just don’t have great style, but are still intense. If they don’t have style or intensity then you have a dog that for some reason isn’t committed to the task, usually caused by a training issue. After I get a dog out a few times I can usually tell what they are pointing just by how their tail looks while on point. Say they are pointing a porcupine that they have been corrected on, or maybe a deer that they have been advised not to chase. Most of these times like the previous examples they will be softer on point than they are on a covey of birds that they have not been corrected on and are confident on. Some dogs like my dog Cruiser never pointed a pen raised bird or pigeon with as much intensity as any wild birds. He did this from the time he was a pup well before any training could have influenced his decisions, but he had lots of wild birds as a foundation. Other dogs like Zoie who pointed everything with style and intensity can be more difficult to read while on point.

 

Retrieve:

If you shoot something you want your dog to go find it, and bring it back to you. I have had people with backgrounds in VDD and NAVHDA tell me they don’t need the dog to find live game because they can do that themselves, but they need them to be excellent trackers to find dead game or wounded game. I can understand the finding dead game or wounded game. But I know if you are hunting wild game the dogs are way better at finding live wild game than me, and I’m pretty good at finding wild game. The natural retrieve is important for the GWP and tends to get overlooked because you can just force break a dog to retrieve. Most of the hunters I deal with want a dog to have lots of retrieve, and lots of point. Some pointing breeds like the English Pointer are not always big on the retrieve, especially a water retrieve. A GWP with lots of retrieve can be more difficult to train to be steady to the flush and shot because they really want to get the dead bird and retrieve it. In most commercial pheasant shooting operations the guides don’t want a dog holding point through the shot, they want them digging in after the birds on the flush so they can get to tracking them sooner, or even be right under the bird when they hit the ground. These kick and shoots with poor shooters provide a dog with lots of wounded game retrieves. When hunting wild birds the retrieve is important because most of the time if these birds are wounded they will really take off to get away, especially runners like chukar or pheasants. Duck or goose hunting for a GWP in my mind is very little hunting and lots of retrieving. Of course most of the time they will be in the water, and maybe doing blind retrieves. Some training can be needed, and a good nose and eye sight will come in handy during the search. Dove hunting is also similar to duck hunting, except most likely you will be doing it in hot dry conditions with rattlesnakes present.

Other factors that come into play with a GWP hunting dog are coat, temperament, structure, swimming ability.

Coats:

When we 1st got GWP’s my thoughts on coat were much different than today. My wife was a dog groomer so a bad coat didn’t bother me because she always kept the bad ones groomed. Now that I have hunted with GWP’s with great coats, good coats, average coats, and poor coats I know good or great coats are a must for good GWP hunting dogs. Hunters really want good coats, and don’t want to have to deal with grooming a hunting dog. Good coats hold up way better in rough field conditions as well and will be an asset to your hunting dog. I feel there are many GWP’s with bad or really bad coats. I feel the show ring can be to blame for some of this because those dogs can be sculptured to look perfect by a great groomer, and I have seen field trial lines with very bad coats. I heard a story that while running in a national championship a dog had so many burs in its beard the handler couldn’t give it water. The handler took seven minutes out of the middle of the stake to pull burs and the dog won the championship. Field trial people don’t always think like hunters and this is what hunters don’t want to have to deal with while they are hunting. In a GWP breeding program you can greatly improve a coat in one generation, but if you don’t have a few generations of great coats in the dogs genetics bad coats will pop up like a deadbeat relative when you least expect it.

Temperament:

I have had some people tell me how great their GWP hunting dog was, but they couldn’t hunt it with other dogs because it was dog aggressive. Nothing will ruin a hunting trip faster than having one dog go after one of the other hunter’s dogs. There is nothing about a GWP that is aggressive towards another dog, or human that makes that dog a great hunting dog. The only time I feel an aggressive dog would be a good hunting dog is if it was hunting something that could kill it like bears or mountain lions. I don’t think GWP’s were ever bred to be lion or bear dogs. My brother used to run bears and mountain lions with hounds, and he told me sometimes the best dogs were the ones that we so aggressive most of the time you were scared to get near them, or turn them loose with other dogs unless you turned them loose on a hot trial. He also said they were not good for anything else except going after lions or bears. A good GWP hunting dog needs to be able to live with other dogs, and people without any temperament issues. Even a hunter like me who might hunt 150 days a year has over 200 days when the dog won’t be hunting and needs to be a good pet. When I first got into the GWP’s I was involved in the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Idaho. The club had members with many pointing breeds, but very few GWP’s and when I showed up to one of the summer training sessions with a GWP many of the people were hesitant to welcome me. I found out later that there had been many times a GWP had caused issues because of the temperaments. Temperaments are just like coats and will show when you least expect it, but sometimes they are hidden for a few generations, and hard to notice.

 

Size:

The size of the dog is something everyone seems to have an opinion about as well. I have had lots of people tell me big dogs can’t run a long time and break down faster than smaller dogs. I would say big dogs with poor conformation would break down sooner. The best hunting dogs I have ever hunted with have been larger dogs both male and female. I have not seen the lack of endurance, and actually they seem to have more when you get 4-6 hours into the hunt especially in the thick stuff. The more I learn about the Canadian wolf the more I think they might be the best canine hunter. A Canadian wolf is very large, but they have incredible endurance and they can also sprint very fast when needed. Of course the wolves are great hunters as well or they would die of starvation.

Structure:

Most people don’t know good structure from bad structure in a dog, but bad structure slows hunting dogs down faster than anything except lack of drive or desire which in some cases may be a product of bad structure. The more athletic the more hours a dog will be able to run and hunt hard.

 

Swimming:

A GWP must be a good swimmer to be a good hunting dog.

Another thing that is overlooked in evaluating hunting dogs is being kennel blind. I think every breeder is somewhat kennel blind and think they are breeding the best dogs alive, but EVERY dog has faults in hunting abilities. If I were to hunt any dog for any time I could find some faults in the dog. Some breeders are forthcoming with any issues that might be present in their dogs, while others can ignore obvious major faults to the point they are delusional about their breeding program. I have seen GWP breeders with very poor coated dogs, that didn’t naturally retrieve, but won at field trials be really proud of those dogs. If a breeder can not tell you the strengths and weakness of a dog in the field they have not hunted it enough, or are not accepting it’s faults. Every dog has stronger points and weaker in the field. I tend to be pretty critical of my own dogs and rarely do I have someone tell me something positive or negative about one of my dogs that I don’t already know. I think some breeders just take it way too personal, but if someone says something about one of my dogs I just file it into the information bucket on that dog. I do think it is important to spend time hunting with other people and dogs just to get more information about dogs. The testing and field trials offer a look at other dogs and how other people deal with their dogs which can help you to maybe not overlook issues, both positive and negative in your own dogs. Having judged many different pointing breeds in field trials and hunt test I have a more rounded understanding of dogs and dog trainers. I have used this knowledge to evaluate my dogs while hunting.

 

Along the lines of kennel blind is what I call owner blind where they think their dog is perfect for whatever reason. This isn’t and issue because these owners probably aren’t breeding dogs, but it can get annoying if you are a hunting buddy listening to somebody talk about how great their dog is all day long. Other owners having unreal expectations of a dog. Some people look at dogs as a machine, and have a hard time understanding how come they are not perfect.

 

Everyone is different and every dog is different. Enjoy your dog for what it is and if it happens to be one of the truly great hunting dogs that is awesome, but most likely it is similar to all of us and falls somewhere in the middle of the bell curve with some strengths and weaknesses.

Spruce or Forest grouse

I’m not a bird biologist, but I think what they call blue grouse in the Big Horns of Wyoming is what we called fool hens in the wilderness areas of Idaho. They are also called spruce grouse or forest grouse. They are probably completely different species and I might be incorrect in my thoughts. What we called blue grouse in Idaho were the dusky blue grouse that were larger than the spruce grouse and wilder than the spruce grouse. That being said this is about spruce, or forest grouse, or what I call fool hens.

 

When I started big game hunting the Frank Church Wilderness area of Idaho in the late 80’s I would always find these real dumb grouse. My hunting buddies and I would kill them with a rock or even a stick because most of the time they would just sit there and let you whack them. They were good eating and when we were camped miles from the trail head they provided us with our own meat isle at the supermarket so to say. They can be in the thick timber areas, or they can be out in the sagebrush hill sides. If you found them in the timber areas on the ground they would usually just fly up into the nearest tree, sometimes only a few feet off the ground. I can remember times when they were just standing in the trail and would hunker down to hide in plain sight and not move when we got within a couple feet of them. Now you have a better idea of why we call them fool hens. We did find the dusky blue grouse as well, but they were usually very skittish and we couldn’t kill them with a rock.

 

When I first got Cruiser I did get into some of these grouse during his 1st hunting season. They were in some green brush areas within the sagebrush covered hills. The grouse were good for Cruiser because they held tight, and I was able to get him on them a few times because they didn’t fly very far on the initial flush. Sometimes with Cruiser when he was a pup we would drive road hunting for birds and if I drove by some fool hens I could stop and go back to work them. They seemed to always just sit there waiting for you, almost like they wanted to become a meal for something.

 

After I moved to South Dakota I went a few years with little or no interaction with the fool hens. Then I moved to Wyoming and started to hunt the Big Horn Mountains. The locals all talked about the blue grouse and how they were everywhere up on the mountain. I found this a bit strange because the dusky blue grouse in Idaho were few and far between. They weren’t around every bush like the locals said these blue grouse were. I decided I better go check it out for myself. I think the 1st trip I took Apple and one of her off spring Spike up on the mountain. I went with a co-worker and we went to a spot where there was some sage grouse, and supposed to be some blue grouse. When I got there I thought well it does look like a place for sage grouse, but not a place for fool hen, or a dusky blue grouse. I was wrong about one thing. It was a good place for fool hens. We turned the dogs loose and headed up the mountain. I said to the co-worker that there is a spring up in a draw about 1000 yards up the mountain, and we should try to get the dogs into that area to see if any sage grouse are in the area. We did get on a group of sage grouse right off the bat, and I was thinking that is all we’ll see is some sage grouse. When we got about to the spring my hunting buddy says there is some grouse. I looked up and a group of five grouse that looked just like a fool hen where wondering around in front of my buddy. He said these are blue grouse, and I said no those are fool hens. He was chasing them around trying to get them to fly just like a guy in a call back at a field trial, and then the young dog spike came running up the hill just in time to get them airborne. They flew right at my head and I hit the deck because I had never hunted with this guy and didn’t know if he was going to shot me or not, but he kept the gun in a safe direction. These birds all flew off in one group and went a long ways down the mountain and around the corner. I told my buddy most of the time the fool hens don’t fly that far, but big Spike chasing them might have made them decide to get a little farther away. We worked the mountain for an entire day with the dogs and got on plenty of fool hens. Towards the end of the day while we were hunting some open timber areas we thought we heard birds flying in the direction we had just seen the dogs. I got over there and the dogs were both pointing up a tree (a first for me). I can’t remember for sure but I think we shot one when it flew off out of the tree. We both easily got our limits that day and after that every September, and the first part of October I spend time hunting the fool hens, usually with young dogs.

 

Now that I have a few years of hunting the Big Horn blue grouse under my belt I have started to figure out where they will be hiding a little better than before. They don’t always show up where I think they should be, but I can usually get on a ridge with binoculars and survey the country until I find areas where I think they will be in-habiting. Early in the year I seem to find them in sage covered ridges near a water source. I have found them in the rock piles on top of ridges as well, but it seems that they are more likely to be somewhat out in the open. When the snow flies they are almost always in the timber, and usually up in a tree, and that is where they stay. I read somewhere grouse with gps tracking collars were found to stay in the same evergreen tree all winter. The season opens on Sept. 1st and it can still be pretty warm even up at the high elevations so when I go hunting them I make sure I know where the water sources are at all times. This isn’t just because that is where the grouse most likely we be, but it is for the GWP’s when they get hot. I like to hunt earlier in the day when the wind is usually blowing up the mountain and I try to stay on the ridges as the dogs work down off the sides. This has worked well for me most of the time, and that way I can stay up on a high vantage point and not go down the mountain until I know there is something to shoot. Most of the time they will all flush at once, but sometimes if the group is pretty large they might go in pairs or singles. They never seem to have any set direction they fly, (like chukars flying downhill) and they might fly a hundred yards or fly somewhere out of sight. I was out doing some training with Birdie a younger broke dog early September when she locked up out in the grasslands part way up the north facing slope of the mountain. I had been seeing plenty of sharptails in the area, and I rarely saw any blue grouse down this low on the mountain. I was quite surprised when I flushed a group of five blue grouse, but I was more surprised when they flew down the mountain and way out into the open prairie lands.

 

If you have a young GWP these grouse can be awesome for the dog. If you know an area where they are living you can bring the young GWP in and get them on the grouse without making the young GWP run around too long. Just come in with the wind blowing in their face and they will have a good chance to get a nice point. These grouse area not real jumpy and most likely in some brush so the young dog can get a good point without seeing the grouse until it flies. They are big enough the young GWP can see them fly for a long distance and they get a more complete idea of the point, hold, flush, and eventually the shot. Quite a few of my young dogs get to experience their 1st wild bird point, flush, shot, and retrieve on one of these grouse.

Huns

If the sharp tail grouse are the most unpredictable birds I have ever hunted the Hungarian Partridge (huns) are the most predictable of all the upland birds. It is also the bird I have hunted the most with GWP’s and the number of times I have had a point on a covey of huns numbers in the hundreds
Anne retrieve
I started road hunting for huns back in high school. In the evenings if you drove the gravel roads in southern Idaho where I grew up you could find huns gathering gravel. Once you located a covey they most likely would stay right in the same area and you could go back anytime to shoot them. Of course this makes them an easy target and if a couple guys want they can shoot the whole covey out pretty easy. They usually only fly a short distance the 1st time you flush them, and they almost always flush as a group, and land as a group. Sometimes after you break them up a couple times they will scatter a little bit, but you really have to push them to get them to do this very often. I have hunted huns in many states and found them in a wide variety of country. I have had people tell me they only live close to croplands, but I have found them out in the desert of Idaho 50 miles from any crops living in sage brush and grasslands. I have found them in rock canyons that chukar like, and I have found them in subdivisions in Rapid City South Dakota, and Sheridan Wyoming. I have found them at fairly high elevations on the mountain in open grassland areas, but they won’t stay up there when the snow gets deep. I hunted the border or North Dakota and Canada September 2012 and we found them in standing sun flower fields, open prairie grasslands, grain stubble fields, and in some tree lines, all in the same day. I have read where the annual mortality rate for huns is 70% and I know they cycle from lots of birds to nearly no birds every few years in a lot of places I have hunted them. On a few occasions after a very wet cold storm I have had a dog bring back dead huns that look perfectly healthy, but frozen stiff. One day a young GWP brought back five huns during a hunt so I don’t think they can handle bad storms like a sharp tail grouse. I have many places in many states where I could probably drive up and point to a spot and say there will be huns right there. It can be a few years between times that I go to a certain place, but I will still find them right in the same place year after year. I have had places where there are thousands of acres that all look alike and the huns will always be in the same place, sometimes within a 100 yards radius, year after year.

Annie retrieving a hun

Annie retrieving a hun

For a young GWP I can’t think of a better upland bird than the hun. The 1st thing I like is they are always in a covey during hunting season which puts off more scent than a couple birds. They rarely run anywhere and they usually just hunker down. They will flush when a dog tries to crowd them so the dog learns quickly to point at a distance. They don’t fly that far so you can work them multiple times in one day and then leave. You could come back the next day to work them in the same place, or if no one knows they are there you can wait a month to come back and they will probably be in the same place. They will eventually get pretty jumpy if you just use them as training birds and seldom shoot any like I do, but all they do is flush farther away when you walk up on them. They will still sit tight and don’t do much running as long as the dog points them at a distance no matter how wild they have become.

The other thing that is nice about huns is they are a cross over birds with many other upland birds. What I mean by that is you can be hunting pheasant with your GWP in thick cover along croplands and get a point on huns along the edges. Many times while running dogs out in the open prairies of the Dakotas, or Montana, and Wyoming one point might be sharp tails and the next point will be huns. I have a few areas in Idaho where the sage grouse and huns are always together. Most of my chukar areas are not great for huns, but I have encountered them in the same areas a few times.

They are also great eating birds. Maybe blue grouse, or ruffed grouse are better, but huns are way better than a duck, or sage grouse. Of all the upland bird hunting the hun seems to be the best for the GWP and in the right areas the hunting can be fairly flat and easy compared to say chukar or blue grouse. If you get a young dog on a covey of huns don’t get greedy with shooting them on the 1st flush because one covey can give your young GWP an entire day of hunting if you just follow them around from flush to flush.

Hunting with “show dogs”

Ralphie all cleaned up and competing at the Scottsdale, AZ dog shows (March 2013)

One phrase I hear quite often is “I don’t want a show dog, they can’t hunt”. When I’m talking to someone who says that I usually just start laughing under my breath at them. Anymore I don’t even bother asking them why they would say that, I just chalked it up to lack of education on the subject. I just think these people just have the macho ignorant guy syndrome.

Pretty much every dog I hunt with is either already a show champion, or is well on their way to becoming a show champion. If they don’t have what it takes in conformation or mental stability to become a show champion then they won’t be part of our breeding program. In my mind there is absolutely nothing that makes a dog a great show dog that will make it a bad hunting dog. For the most part the dogs that win in the show ring have a few good things going for them. Of course like anything judged by other people the “politics” can be a factor in winning, but bad show dogs probably won’t have long term success. The largest percentage of winning show dogs will have good conformation, good breed type, and good stable temperament. As the competition gets stronger the bad conformation will eventually be exposed, bad breed type will be exposed, and bad temperament will be exposed. The one thing about show dogs in our breed that I don’t like is the coats on show dogs can be over groomed. A good GWP breeder bench judge will see right through the over grooming and therefore a dog with a bad coat is not a great show dog, even if it does some winning. But, bench judges can be hard to understand sometimes.Since I feel a good show dog should have good temperament, good breed type, and good structure I think that is the start of a good hunting dog. In my opinion a lot of the hunting dogs have lots of drive and desire, but lack good structure, and thus they will hunt themselves into the ground very quickly. These dogs will always give you maximum effort on every hunt, and this is what most people want in a hunting dog. I’m no different. The only thing I want is to make sure that dog has the conformation to go along with drive and desire. Very few dogs have close to perfect conformation; all dogs have some conformation faults even if they are small faults. After a few days of hard hunting when the dog is tired and sore is the best time for me to see the conformation faults in a dog while hunting them. I have seen dogs I knew had a weaker front end being pushed by the rear legs while the front legs didn’t extend with enough reach or vice-versa. The dogs with lots of drive and desire along with great conformation have a chance to be outstanding. Dogs that don’t have both will never be able to be outstanding hunting dogs.

I tell people that taking dogs to a dog show will expose bad temperament faster than anything. I think most hunting dogs are comfortable in a hunting situation. They let their genetics take over and just roll with most of the adversity along the way because they are hard wired to handle it. When you take them to a dog show they are out of their element. Just think about a dog use to being in an open field running with a handler giving it some simple commands, but basically letting it run wild. When you go to a dog show you always have the dog on a tight lead, there are strange smells and noises everywhere. Most of the time when you walk towards the show ring people are coming up from all directions to see, or pet or just stare at the dog. Then when they get in the ring they run around with some other dogs in a line only to have some strange person look at their teeth and run their hands all over the dog. Some dogs just don’t do well in these situations. It doesn’t mean it is a bad dog if it has minor temperament issues in this situation, but it’s not a great dog if it can’t handle the pressure. The other thing is since it is a competition the best dog should win (once again politics play a role). I have attended far more dog shows than I have wanted to in my day, but from watching the results I think most of the time the best dogs win.

Ralph pointing wild Huns--January 2013

Ralph pointing wild Huns–January 2013

 

Now one thing to remember that probably gives show dogs a bad name is some aren’t good hunters. The reason they are not good hunters is because they don’t have good hunting dog genes, not because they are a show dog. If a line of dogs has been bred for a few generations for looks (show dog conformation) only and hasn’t been hunted or tested in the field it could very well not be a good hunter. I have noticed a loss of hunting abilities in one generation coming down from a few generations of good hunting dogs. Sometimes you breed two great hunting dogs together and you get average hunting dogs. It just happens. If you are only breeding for conformation you might not realize you just lost some hunting instincts. Then you breed some dogs with less hunting instincts together and get even less. This is how you can lose your hunting genes and someone gets a “show dog” that isn’t a good hunter. Pretty soon all show dogs are grouped into one category which is bad hunting dogs.

I like to use a football player as an analogy when explaining it too people. Let’s say you have lots of drive and desire to be a great middle linebacker in high school, maybe you are even all-state. You go to college with that same drive and desire and you are a good player, but you don’t quite have the conformation (correct size and strength) to become an all-American. Then of course you have no chance of becoming an NFL linebacker because that is a guy with all the correct conformation and the maximum drive and desire to go along with it. Truly great hunting dogs will have everything it takes to be a great show dog, with the drive and desire to run themselves into the ground. The difference between a great dog, and an above average dog could very well be the conformation of the dog. The all-state high school guy is the vast majority of the hunting dogs out there, with a few all-American college guys in the mix, but there are very few NFL dogs.

ralph running

Ralphie hunting hard–correct conformation helps Ralphie to be an efficient hunter.

When you are hunting with a dog that is a good looking show dog that moves across the terrain effortlessly, that has lots of drive and desire with a nice intense stylish point it just looks better than a generic hunting dog doing the same thing. Show dogs and hunting dogs should be the same thing.