I was advised I should have considered posting this entry as my first blog post. Noted. Now that I have scared everyone, let’s talk about the “dos”, rather than the “don’ts”. Here are few categories to help you, the neophyte hunter, through your first couple outings. There are a myriad of areas we could focus on, but let us look specifically at three: Dogs, Terrain, and Safety. Again, these are just some high level views intended to help you out. I plan to break down and focus on each subject area in greater detail in later posts.
As the “newbie” hunting without a dog, and hunting with another person who has a dog, consider having a few questions ready for your pre-hunt briefing. If you have your own canine, you should be ready to answer these same questions for the person hunting with you. Some examples of pre-hunt conversation starters would be “How long will Rex hold point?”, “Will he remain still until the sound of the shotgun, the fall of the birds, or until the hunter releases him with a verbal/physical command?” As the new hunter, you want a solid understanding of how the dog should behave around birds. It will help you know how to prepare for a shot opportunity. Once that shot opportunity presents itself, are you going to shoot non-pointed birds as seen in a covey that flushes wild? Some dog owners will only want you to shoot pointed birds to help reinforce the dog or dogs’ natural desire to point game. Establish a team sign for “dog on point.” Our group, for example, uses an arm straight in the air until we think everyone has seen us. Your partner(s) will then cue in and start working towards you and the dog for a possible flush. As you calmly approach any dog on point, try to come in from an angle if it is available. Some dogs get weird and feel extra pressure if you slide up right next to them as you move in to shoot. I have personally observed many hunters sprint up to and past their dogs, however I prefer to walk methodically past the dog until we get a flush. Slower is better, in my humble opinion. Once birds are on the ground, only the dog handler should be giving verbal commands, if there are any to be given. 90% of the time, the dog will bring the bird back to his handler regardless of who shot it. Calm down, you will get your bird. There is no reason to start hollering at Rex, Rex is working for his handler…and for you as well, so share a sip of water with him. An extra sip of water for the pooch is a nice thing to do and can go a long way to cement the relationships amongst the group.
You are probably rolling your eyes at this sub title, but in my humble opinion, it is the single most important factor that determines birds in bag at the end of the hunt, all else being equal. Let’s say your secret chukar spot holds a good population of birds, you have a solid dog or two, and you are an adequate thrower of lead (read: decent shooter). How you move around the hillside in relationship to wind, cover, dogs, and your partners can make or break your day. I prefer to hunt across the wind first, then into it, and quartering at my back if I have to. Depending on where you parked, and where you are going, you can almost always walk in a spherical pattern to utilize wind. Birds will be found in different areas at different times of day. Varying weather conditions, and time of year also affect bird movements. Read up on your targeted bird to establish what their daily patterns looks like. Apply this data to your hunting and assess if what you read was accurate. When walking afield, I usually like to keep abreast with my partner, with just enough distance between us that our shots will cover the space between us. When the dog goes on point, try to cut off the covey escape routes. Walking down the spine of a ridge gives you several shooting lanes, but if you walk the same direction on a side hill or in the bottom of a ravine, you will have severely handicapped yourself for potential shot opportunities.
Universal gun safety rules from Hunter Education are always in effect; the gun is always loaded, be sure of your target and what is beyond, etc.. I don’t know of anyone who enjoys having a weapon pointed them. These situations can be avoided with a shotgun pointed straight in the air or at the ground while hiking. Verbally establish shooting lanes with your partner. Talk with each other and agree that no birds will ever be shot on the ground, and birds must vertically clear cover like sage, or rocks before pulling the trigger. If you plan on being away from your rig for a certain time, and/or distance, you should have some essentials on you: water, snacks, fire starter, and a small first aid kit for you and your pup. You can get as crazy as you need to in your supplies, or be a minimalist.
Remember, these are just my thoughts as a long time bird hunter. If one line in this article resonates with you and helps you have more fun, more success, or be safer, then it’s a win. WWCFD. Word.
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