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July 11, 2013
Would You Hunt Birds Without a Dog? - 17

I’m working on a piece for our October issue of Outdoor Life on ways to effectively hunt upland birds without a dog.
 
As I write, I notice I’m getting frequent sideways looks from my yellow Lab, Willow. She’ll be 8 years old on Thanksgiving, and she and I both know that our time together in the field is finite.
 
Honestly, it’s hard to imagine hunting without her. Much of the pleasure I derive from bird hunting comes from watching Willow figure out a scent trail, stay on the tracks of a running rooster, and put a bird in the sky. And her steady retrieving brings far more birds to my hand than I probably deserve.
 
But many of us don’t have the ability to keep a hunting dog. Or we’re between pups. Should that keep us from bird hunting? I don’t think so, but I want to hear from you.
 
Would you hunt birds without a dog? And if you do, what specific advice do you have for the rest of the dogless hunters out there?

Comments (17)

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from Brian Lynn wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Just to clarify for Josey -- bird hunting with a dog does not go back to the European aristocracy. Dogs have evolved with mankind, with the earliest known dog being the "Altai dog," which was confirmed via genetics to be more closely related to modern canines than wolves, and dates to at least 33,000 years. Dogs evolved as tools, each filling specific niches, mostly for hunting, since the beginning ('pets' are a modern societal change that began in the 1880s with the rise of the middle class). To be specific to your point as bird dogs dating to Europe's aristocracy, that's patently false; the ancient Egyptians used greyhounds and falcons to hunt birds well before the Europeans, and likely, other cultures did too. Successful hunting was likely the primary driver in the domestication of canines.

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from Tioughnioga wrote 1 year 6 days ago

I got going on my tirade there and forgot that Mr. McKean asked us for some tips. Everyone knows about stopping frequently to encourage flushes, and about following grouse for a second flush. One thing I've never heard of any other birdhunters doing is preseason scouting. If you don't have a dog to find them for you, it's good to have a little extra knowledge when you start out. When I'm picking blackberries in late August and early September, I listen for drummers (by the way, if anyone knows why grouse drum in the fall when it's not mating season, I'm all ears), look for tracks in the soft places, and look for woodcock poop (splashes of white, not solid droppings; often called "whitewash"). Their habits change as the weather does, of course, but in earliest autumn, they're still doing pretty much what they were doing in late summer.

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from Tioughnioga wrote 1 year 6 days ago

I live in grouse and woodcock country and have always hunted without a dog. Those who frown on it irritate me for several reasons. One, it's a hell of a lot more difficult to be successful without a dog, and if you're making it more difficult for yourself, wouldn't that fit the description of sporting? Two, I don't exactly blunder around the woods: I do a lot of reading about birds and habitat; I keep a journal that's practically become an instruction manual as the years have gone by; and I practice my shooting. A lot of effort goes into my bird-hunting. And three, the few birds I take every year get eaten right down to the heart and gizzard, it's perfectly legal, and my license fees contribute to conservation just like the dogowners' do.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Argosinu wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have hunted without a dog, but find it more fun (and sometimes more aggravating) to hunt with dogs (labs now). Depending on where you hunt, there can be a lot longer cold streaks without canine assistance.

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from Casey Walker wrote 1 year 1 week ago

In reply to Josey's comment. Yep my lazy aristocratic teacher wage earning behind is too lazy to go pick up the birds I harvest. Every one of my labs I have trained myself and have spent countless hours teaching, and working with them. God forbid I want to watch them with a sense of pride as they do what they were bred and trained to do. I spent numerous days afield when I was in high school and college hunting birds without a dog and enjoyed them but aside from a field hunt for geese my lab adds to the hunt for me and my children and is one more way for me to make sure that any bird that goes down to my gun I am able to recover and utilize like it should be. My daughter who is 9 helped every step of the way with his training and he is a part of my family and a companion to all of us. I guess Josey got the reaction he/she wanted from me hu! LOL

When I didn't have a dog I would hunt big CRP field right after snows and try to walk a random pattern to keep the roosters guessing also I would look for small out of the way patches of cover that would maybe be overlooked by others. Don't slam pickup doors and think of the birds as whitetails with feathers and basically still hunt with long pauses. More them once I have had a rooster lose his nerve when I would pause for longer then normal and they couldn't hear me moving to keep tabs on where I was.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Dwyer wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I've done it both ways and still do. I won't take my lab if we hunt over water on the coldest days. We take a fishing pole with some large hooks and don't have any trouble bringing birds back to shore. I also won't hunt with him if the heat gets over 90 for dove season. I'm sure some would say he should be able to handle it but he's also a member of our family and it's not worth the risk to me.

Even with those two exceptions we still get plenty of time in the field together. Hunting with a dog has been a real joy and something I have grown to love. On some days they are the best hunting partner you could ever ask for.

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from bustedclays wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I don't own a dog, don't know anyone with a bird dog, and finally moved to an area with lots of bird hunting so I'll be giving it a try this year.

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from HuntingEditor wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Good comments, all (well, except for Josey!). My buddy Bob St. Pierre at Pheasants Forever reminds me of a similar conversation. Check it out at www.pheasantblog.org/the-dogless-pheasant-hunter/
- mckean

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from Josey wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Hunting with a dog is cheating and lazy. I never hunt birds with a dog. Saying "The dog is fun to watch." is also saying I can't find birds on my own and I'm too lazy to go pick up the birds I shoot. Bird hunting with dogs goes back to the European Aristocracy and wealth and feeling of entitlement. In other words, rich and lazy.

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from Blue Ox wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I do not own a hunting dog- but nevertheless I manage to limit out every time.

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from superdough wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I grew up on a ranch. We had tons of pheasants, quail and cattle. Lots of cattle dogs, but no bird dogs. I never hunted with a dog, but I spent my winters hunting the edges of fields, tree rows, benches, and creeks. I always came up with birds and always had fun. These days, I hunt with a group of guys, sometimes we have a dog, sometimes we don't. It's fun to watch a good dog work, but it's more frustrating when the dog won't listen and flushes birds before we can get to them. I actually PREFER to hunt without one. It's not at all hard if you know how to read the fields and flush them yourself. I now have a Lab who loves to walk beside me and retrieve downed birds. She is more of a hunting buddy than a hunting 'tool'. Dogs aren't necessary to putting birds in the cooler.

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from GoldToyBox wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I'm hunting without a dog these days but it's just not the same. A day in the field with Mack, Freckles, Black Mack, Queen, Taffy or Honker was just special. I'm in my 60's now and will probably never have another hunting dog. Not sure I could deal with yet another loss of a loved one. All of the neighbor kids shot their first Pheasants over Queen and Taffy or had their ducks retrieved by Honker. My days in the field are less each year and it's probably due the fact I no longer have one "buddies" to take with me.
My advice? Find a pup, train it right, take it hunting. It's good for the soul!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DeerNick wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I used to hunt pheasants daily without a dog. It's hard and involves alot of walking but can be done. I echo the advice to going early in the morning and after a snowfall. You can use the snow to track the birds and focus on promising areas. Another tip is keep your ears open. I would frequently hear roosters cackle and could use that to hone in on them. Also, to cut down on runners think of the hunt like a deer drive and plan your route. I'd walk about ten yards in from field and marsh edges to keep the birds pinned and make them more apt to fly.

While it may be harder without a dog, I had tons of fun nearly stepping on birds. Maybe the best advice is bring a change of pants ;)

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from huntfishtrap wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I DO hunt birds without a dog, mostly waterfowl, but some upland. Is it more difficult? Maybe, but when you don't have access to a good bird dog, what's a guy to do?
As far as advice goes, for upland, get in shape and be prepared to bust some brush, and you still should be successful. For waterfowl from a boat, you just have to figure out a system to mark where birds fell, or go get them right away. And obviously you have to shoot all cripples again so they don't swim off.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

No. The experience would be similiar to non-alcoholic beverages, touch football or fixing the family printer. Confusing and fake. If I left my dog at home, I would hunt at first light, when it is coldest and when there is snow on the ground. It is always nice for people to experience what our best friends go through, but in the end you will be cleaning the crock pot alot less.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Lynn wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

would I? Yes, but it wouldn't be as enjoyable. Advice for the dogless hunter: find a buddy with a dog.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from J. Mark Ryckman wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I do not own a dog, and I would only conduct a field hunt for geese in the absence of a dog. I've considered hunting ducks and geese on my local river, but ultimately decided that it would be too inconvenient to move the boat to retrieve the downed birds after each flight.

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Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from superdough wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I grew up on a ranch. We had tons of pheasants, quail and cattle. Lots of cattle dogs, but no bird dogs. I never hunted with a dog, but I spent my winters hunting the edges of fields, tree rows, benches, and creeks. I always came up with birds and always had fun. These days, I hunt with a group of guys, sometimes we have a dog, sometimes we don't. It's fun to watch a good dog work, but it's more frustrating when the dog won't listen and flushes birds before we can get to them. I actually PREFER to hunt without one. It's not at all hard if you know how to read the fields and flush them yourself. I now have a Lab who loves to walk beside me and retrieve downed birds. She is more of a hunting buddy than a hunting 'tool'. Dogs aren't necessary to putting birds in the cooler.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from GoldToyBox wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I'm hunting without a dog these days but it's just not the same. A day in the field with Mack, Freckles, Black Mack, Queen, Taffy or Honker was just special. I'm in my 60's now and will probably never have another hunting dog. Not sure I could deal with yet another loss of a loved one. All of the neighbor kids shot their first Pheasants over Queen and Taffy or had their ducks retrieved by Honker. My days in the field are less each year and it's probably due the fact I no longer have one "buddies" to take with me.
My advice? Find a pup, train it right, take it hunting. It's good for the soul!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Casey Walker wrote 1 year 1 week ago

In reply to Josey's comment. Yep my lazy aristocratic teacher wage earning behind is too lazy to go pick up the birds I harvest. Every one of my labs I have trained myself and have spent countless hours teaching, and working with them. God forbid I want to watch them with a sense of pride as they do what they were bred and trained to do. I spent numerous days afield when I was in high school and college hunting birds without a dog and enjoyed them but aside from a field hunt for geese my lab adds to the hunt for me and my children and is one more way for me to make sure that any bird that goes down to my gun I am able to recover and utilize like it should be. My daughter who is 9 helped every step of the way with his training and he is a part of my family and a companion to all of us. I guess Josey got the reaction he/she wanted from me hu! LOL

When I didn't have a dog I would hunt big CRP field right after snows and try to walk a random pattern to keep the roosters guessing also I would look for small out of the way patches of cover that would maybe be overlooked by others. Don't slam pickup doors and think of the birds as whitetails with feathers and basically still hunt with long pauses. More them once I have had a rooster lose his nerve when I would pause for longer then normal and they couldn't hear me moving to keep tabs on where I was.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tioughnioga wrote 1 year 6 days ago

I live in grouse and woodcock country and have always hunted without a dog. Those who frown on it irritate me for several reasons. One, it's a hell of a lot more difficult to be successful without a dog, and if you're making it more difficult for yourself, wouldn't that fit the description of sporting? Two, I don't exactly blunder around the woods: I do a lot of reading about birds and habitat; I keep a journal that's practically become an instruction manual as the years have gone by; and I practice my shooting. A lot of effort goes into my bird-hunting. And three, the few birds I take every year get eaten right down to the heart and gizzard, it's perfectly legal, and my license fees contribute to conservation just like the dogowners' do.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from J. Mark Ryckman wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I do not own a dog, and I would only conduct a field hunt for geese in the absence of a dog. I've considered hunting ducks and geese on my local river, but ultimately decided that it would be too inconvenient to move the boat to retrieve the downed birds after each flight.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Lynn wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

would I? Yes, but it wouldn't be as enjoyable. Advice for the dogless hunter: find a buddy with a dog.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

No. The experience would be similiar to non-alcoholic beverages, touch football or fixing the family printer. Confusing and fake. If I left my dog at home, I would hunt at first light, when it is coldest and when there is snow on the ground. It is always nice for people to experience what our best friends go through, but in the end you will be cleaning the crock pot alot less.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I DO hunt birds without a dog, mostly waterfowl, but some upland. Is it more difficult? Maybe, but when you don't have access to a good bird dog, what's a guy to do?
As far as advice goes, for upland, get in shape and be prepared to bust some brush, and you still should be successful. For waterfowl from a boat, you just have to figure out a system to mark where birds fell, or go get them right away. And obviously you have to shoot all cripples again so they don't swim off.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from DeerNick wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I used to hunt pheasants daily without a dog. It's hard and involves alot of walking but can be done. I echo the advice to going early in the morning and after a snowfall. You can use the snow to track the birds and focus on promising areas. Another tip is keep your ears open. I would frequently hear roosters cackle and could use that to hone in on them. Also, to cut down on runners think of the hunt like a deer drive and plan your route. I'd walk about ten yards in from field and marsh edges to keep the birds pinned and make them more apt to fly.

While it may be harder without a dog, I had tons of fun nearly stepping on birds. Maybe the best advice is bring a change of pants ;)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Ox wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I do not own a hunting dog- but nevertheless I manage to limit out every time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Josey wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Hunting with a dog is cheating and lazy. I never hunt birds with a dog. Saying "The dog is fun to watch." is also saying I can't find birds on my own and I'm too lazy to go pick up the birds I shoot. Bird hunting with dogs goes back to the European Aristocracy and wealth and feeling of entitlement. In other words, rich and lazy.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Good comments, all (well, except for Josey!). My buddy Bob St. Pierre at Pheasants Forever reminds me of a similar conversation. Check it out at www.pheasantblog.org/the-dogless-pheasant-hunter/
- mckean

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bustedclays wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I don't own a dog, don't know anyone with a bird dog, and finally moved to an area with lots of bird hunting so I'll be giving it a try this year.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Dwyer wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I've done it both ways and still do. I won't take my lab if we hunt over water on the coldest days. We take a fishing pole with some large hooks and don't have any trouble bringing birds back to shore. I also won't hunt with him if the heat gets over 90 for dove season. I'm sure some would say he should be able to handle it but he's also a member of our family and it's not worth the risk to me.

Even with those two exceptions we still get plenty of time in the field together. Hunting with a dog has been a real joy and something I have grown to love. On some days they are the best hunting partner you could ever ask for.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Argosinu wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have hunted without a dog, but find it more fun (and sometimes more aggravating) to hunt with dogs (labs now). Depending on where you hunt, there can be a lot longer cold streaks without canine assistance.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tioughnioga wrote 1 year 6 days ago

I got going on my tirade there and forgot that Mr. McKean asked us for some tips. Everyone knows about stopping frequently to encourage flushes, and about following grouse for a second flush. One thing I've never heard of any other birdhunters doing is preseason scouting. If you don't have a dog to find them for you, it's good to have a little extra knowledge when you start out. When I'm picking blackberries in late August and early September, I listen for drummers (by the way, if anyone knows why grouse drum in the fall when it's not mating season, I'm all ears), look for tracks in the soft places, and look for woodcock poop (splashes of white, not solid droppings; often called "whitewash"). Their habits change as the weather does, of course, but in earliest autumn, they're still doing pretty much what they were doing in late summer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Lynn wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Just to clarify for Josey -- bird hunting with a dog does not go back to the European aristocracy. Dogs have evolved with mankind, with the earliest known dog being the "Altai dog," which was confirmed via genetics to be more closely related to modern canines than wolves, and dates to at least 33,000 years. Dogs evolved as tools, each filling specific niches, mostly for hunting, since the beginning ('pets' are a modern societal change that began in the 1880s with the rise of the middle class). To be specific to your point as bird dogs dating to Europe's aristocracy, that's patently false; the ancient Egyptians used greyhounds and falcons to hunt birds well before the Europeans, and likely, other cultures did too. Successful hunting was likely the primary driver in the domestication of canines.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)