Fall Turkey Dog Questions

Regular Strut Zone commentator "charlie elk" sent along some questions after our "Finding a Turkey Dog" post. My answers follow here:

Q. When you pick out a pup are there any indicators one should look for? Or is it the luck of the draw?

A. I tend to take bird (turkey) dogs as I choose them, then find a way to utilize their strengths and underplay their weaknesses. Again, I'm just one guy with my own experiences. Breeding is key with other sporting dogs, and it may be true with turkey dogs too -- at least solid bird-dog hunting lines can help. I've seen exceptional lines prove out and others fail to live up to the promise no matter what bird dog guys hunt. I imagine this is true for many if they're honest (and experienced); Labs, hounds, whatever.

Three of my English setters have been from New England woodcock/grouse lines -- two were sired by a former National Grouse Field Trial Champion, though I also use(d) them for fall turkey hunting. As with other gun dogs, luck in your pick is a factor. If possible, try to look at the pup early (and as often as possible), then at 7 or 8 weeks old or so if the litter choices haven't been spoken for. Take a walk with the pup through hunting cover if the owner will allow. Does the little dog key in on you? Is it confident and eager to find scent? If so, flash that checkbook ASAP! Again, all my English setters have had different hunting styles, but I've found a way to hunt autumn turkeys with them all as well (I don't train my dogs to be steady to wing or run, for instance -- a factor in turkey dogging; I train them plenty otherwise). My Luna, a California girl, is a work-in-progress, but I like that. She's full of promise, and natural "prey drive." Byrne dogs, bred and trained for fall turkey hunting, are a reliable bet, but also in much demand. There's a list of interested owners as always. Other guys have success with other breeds, even mixed (the Byrne dogs are of a setter/pointer/Plott hound line of course). I think it's equally important that the dog handler is also a fall turkey hunter. In the end, turkey dogs find and flush the flock. If you happen to find the flock on your own, the canine flushes it under your direction. The companionship is a factor for me as moving through hunting cover with a gun dog is a pleasure.

Q. Are your dogs able to break up a flock of turkeys in an open snow-covered field? Or does the flock still have a tendency to fly off the same way together? Those birds see me coming and always leave together. Wondering if a dog is helpful with this problem?

A. Snow or no snow, field breaks are generally bad, because the turkeys do exactly as you describe: they move off together as they can see each other moving off. It's often best to encourage the flock to ease into the woods, which they often do on their own anyway, then bust the group in as many different directions as possible, or to simply find them there in the big woods, and scatter (tougher to see their departing flockmates). Dogs can cover the distance and do that under your direction. That's the cool thing about turkey dogging -- more hunting tactics as part of the tradition we all love.