It took me a while to learn from my dog in the field. While the dog was constantly doing the work, I kept my focus elsewhere. The sky. The edges of the fields. Down the corn rows. I don’t have any real reason for this other than excitement and anticipation. I slowly began to realize that I was missing birds that I should have, and could have hit, had I been paying attention to my dog and getting myself into the best possible shooting position. It was a bit of a learning curve for me and I had to break some unsavory habits. Once I really started to focus on my dog and how we could best work together when he was locked on a bird, I started to find some great results! So here are some upland hunting tips and the cues from your dog that you should follow to enhance hunting success.
When your dog is acting “birdy”, and even locked down on a bird, here are a few small tips that have helped me improve my game when my dog has already done half of his job:
Step on the Gas
I had a habit of stepping back and waiting on the dog to flush. Truth is, I needed to get myself up on the dog and the bird… and quickly before the bird had a chance to run or flush before I was ready. I had once read that walking right into where the dog AND the bird were like a boss was the best bet. I doubted this, as it seemed to fly in the face of my own reason. However, this turned out to be sound advice. Who knew that the experts would actually know better than I did! So to sum it up, when your dog is on point, move quickly and efficiently to where the dog and bird are located. Simple enough!
I think every bird hunter is guilty of taking a shot before getting all points set on the ground. As I started working on this, I realized that often I was taking shots in a “mid-stride” stance. I’m not sure why, but clearly lack of focus was a huge part of that. As simplistic as it sounds: if you have time before the bird flushes, square up and get in a good stance.
Listen & Plan
Often, you can hear the bird whether it is the rustle of groundcover or actual clucking. It gives you a clear idea as to how far from the dog the bird is. This helps you plan your shot better. It took me some time to do this. Sometimes there is nothing to hear, but sometimes there is. So, listen and plan.
Note your dog to see where he is actually looking. Also, note if he seems to be changing where he is looking. This could mean the bird is beginning to run. Be prepared. I found that when I approached my dog on point, I kept looking to the sky for a flushing bird. Obviously, this makes no sense, but I was doing it. I believe I was trying to prepare myself for the shot without really paying attention to what was happening on the ground. Watching the dog closely can give you many hints on when or where that bird will break.
Flank Your Dog
Flank your dog for a better position and feel for where the bird may flush.
It’s like opening a can of biscuits… you know it’s coming, but it still surprises you every time. Don’t startle when the bird actually lifts. Pheasants are slower fliers so you have some time and don’t need to rush the shot. I am guilty of frequently rushing my shot due to being startled. I am working on this constantly.
You and your dog are a team.
Trusting in your dog will help improve your outcomes in the field. Some of these tips will be quick fixes. Some of these tips may be long term works in progress. Either way, teaming up with your dog will result in more success and less frustration in the field.