By Mark Fike
By and large, I am a meat hunter. That is the very reason I first valued using a dog for quail, pheasant, chukar and then most certainly for waterfowl hunting. I hate to lose or waste meat. It goes without saying that dogs that are trained are an invaluable asset when bird hunting.
If you are upland hunting for quail, pheasant, grouse, or chukar and your bird gets winged but not dropped, the dog will find it. That is a bird you do not lose. We all miss every once in a while and don’t fully connect.
It goes without saying that dogs used for upland often make their handler’s hunts far more successful because the dogs can work the tough cover where we might avoid and the dogs know which cover to work because their nose can sift out the scent of birds thousands of times better than we could ever hope to do.
When waterfowl hunting, a good retriever will go into places we would never make it to in order to retrieve a bird. Waterfowl retrievers are everything an upland dog is and a tad more. They can smell out a dropped bird in thick cover but they launch on command and swim to get your duck or goose much quicker than you could launch the boat and go get the bird.
Labs and other retrievers used for waterfowl hunting also allow hunters to stay hidden and be watchful of the next group of birds while the dog is busy doing its thing. While not 100% of the time, ducks are often unafraid of a dog swimming through the spread and will sometimes not flare off and leave.
I have had instances where the birds shy away but circle and when the dog gets back to the blind or in the blind they will come down low enough for a shot or even land.
All these things are good reasons to have a dog to bird hunt with. However, not long after I started using and appreciating the work dogs do for me while bird hunting, I found the best reason for having a dog was to be my hunting partner.
Dogs form a bond with you. You work as a team. The dog wants to please you (if it is well-trained) and you don’t want to let the dog down by missing the shot. My old lab used to look at me with a nasty look if I missed and he did not get to retrieve.
I soon found myself looking forward to working with the dog more than actually getting the bird. That is not to say I do not enjoy the meal afterwards, but watching the dog work and seeing it all come together is priceless.
This is particularly true if you are the one that did some or all of the training. If you do not have a dog but do any bird hunting, I would heartily recommend you consider a dog of your own. The great thing about bird dogs of any kind is that they also double as great family dogs.
Our labs turn our little house into a circus at times, particularly when we are pulling out camo or guns, but they are well-trained enough we can have them inside or out and in the truck riding shotgun or in the back in a kennel and they still perform in the boat and on the water.
I would go as far as to say that because our bird dogs are also family companions, they listen better in the field. We have a better connection and bond, and at the end of the day when the dogs are lying on the floor or near the woodstove, we have that experience that we shared. I dream often of one of the dogs dropping a duck into my hand.
There is something about that magical moment when a dog puts a hard-earned meal into your hands and looks up into your eyes as if to say, “Boss, is that good?” Some may criticize me, but after a good day in the field, my dogs get to ride shotgun or at least in the crew cab with the heater going to warm them up. They earned that much. A good rub down with a towel at the house and a good meal is another part of our day. Some of my best memories hunting have been made with my dogs in the field.
Consider one for yourself. There are tons of breeds out there that will do the job. I am partial to labs but pointers, Chessies and many others are great animals. Do your research and add another member to your family today!