Monday, November 15, 2010

Trust your dog

Trusting your dog. It's something we all know but have to be reminded of from time to time. There has been a lot of talk about what it takes to successfully take chukars. The number one consensus is a great dog. Of course, a great dog can be interpreted differently by every bird hunter. From many years of experience, my dogs have taught me that trust is probably more important in a chukar dog than most other bird dogs. The reason is simple. The terrain you hunt when chukar hunting requires that your dog be out of sight much of the time. It doesn't have to be that way, but if you want to see more birds that's what it takes.
Tucker taught me that. Before he came along, I would stop my dogs before they went over the ridge ahead or get frustrated when I saw a covey bust ahead of me because the dog had bumped them. So my dogs wouldn't have the freedom to really find birds.
I see my boys busting birds still. But I know that they are not doing it intentionally. The wind or other conditions might be wrong and the birds get flushed. It would be different if they were out there chasing them up through excitement, but that would be my fault for not setting the proper foundation in my training methods. Many times I have had a covey of chukar buzz me from 200 yards up the ridge. I trust my dogs enough now to know that it wasn't intentional, it just happens, the same as sometimes I miss. I sure wasn't expecting to.
This weekend was a perfect example of trust with a dog. It would take me forever to go through Saturdays hunt. I quit counting covey points by Riley at 15. There was an hour or so that we had a different point every ten minutes. Riley would be on point, I would approach the point, flush the birds, and than either get a bird or miss. If I happen to get lucky, Riley would make the retrieve. If I missed he was off to cover the next area. All I had to do was walk to the next ridge or saddle to find him on point 200 yards away. There wasn't a word spoken or a reminder on the e collar all day. He just did what he was bred to do and I tried to do my best to do my job.
The big thing is, we've been out enough together to learn to do our jobs. Riley has learned through trial and error how to do his part. I have heard it said that man is the ultimate predator. HOGWASH. If we didn't have the guns and other tools we have developed over time we probably would be extinct. When it comes to hunting birds the dog is a far better predator, so trust him to find the birds, don't try and guide him to where you hear or saw the birds go.
Yesterday, Riley and I had another fantastic day on the hill. We left the truck at 9 and walked the only trail we could find that would get us higher on the mountain. I walked the trail. Riley was all over the mountain. It wasn't long and through the drizzle I see Riley on point a couple hundred yards straight above me. The ridge was steep enough that I couldn't walk straight up to him. As I sidehilled back and fourth, I often lost sight of him. Five minutes later I was within 50 yards and Riley slowly turned his head to make sure I was coming and then slowly turned back towards the birds. When I approach Riley I like to try and come in on the left side of him if possible. Ten yards above Riley and he hasn't moved yet. After hundreds of points with Riley I know that means the birds are right there. As I slowly inched my way up the steep mountain, keeping my feet planted as much as possible the birds erupt. The covey flush was perfect. They flair straight up, creating some easy shooting. The first shot droppped two birds and the second another. Riley quickly retrieved the two birds that dropped stone dead and than I gave him the dead bird command and point down the slope towards where the crippled bird went. Riley soon found the scent and I watched the chase 150 yards down the hill. He finally caught up to the bird. I sidehilled around the hill so to make it easier for the retrieve. Two shots, three birds. Looks to be a great day.
The drizzle soon turns to fog. I couldn't see more than fifty yards part of the time. There was just enough breeze to keep the fog moving so we would alternate from having two hundred yards visibility to fifty. Every three minutes or so Riley would come back into sight of me and then back into the fog looking for birds. Pretty soon he didn't return. I hit the beeper and could faintly hear it at about the same elevation I was. I kept sidehilling around the mountain and soon saw Riley on point. The tail was not as rigid as usual and had a little movement. I knew that meant he didn't have the birds locked down. As I moved to his left he relocated about twenty yards and stopped again. Tail still not rigid. One more relocation and bamm, he locked in. His head was up higher than usual and I soon saw why. As I walked past him I could hear the soft sound chukars often make just before taking flight and then could see the birds as could Riley. Two more steps and the flush. Two shots and two birds retrieved to me. Four shots and five birds, Can't get much better than this.
After the retrieve Riley is off in the fog again. I soon find Riley in a cocked hard point. You could have knocked him over he was in such a twisted position. As I approached, a covey of huns exploded from below him. I got two shots off before they disappeared into the cloud but thought I had missed. Seconds later I heard that flapping wing sound of a heart shot bird when they fly straight up into the air and than drop dead. Riley stopped and you could tell that he knew what that sound was and off into the fog he sprinted. I could hear him running and panting in the fog looking for the bird but he came up empty. We searched for another fifteen minutes but never found a bird.
The fog finally lifted for good and Riley was ranging out to three hundred yards or so. I never knew until he would check back whether he was above or below me. Once, I heard the screech of chukars flying down towards me. I watched them do a fly by and sure enough here comes Riley from that direction. Years ago I would have been frustrated by that but now I know it just happens. It wasn't that he meant to flush them. Minutes later he was on point again. As I walked ahead of Riley a single chukar flushed , which I managed to cripple with two shots. It fluttered to parts unknown to me down the ridge with Riley in hot pursuit. Several minutes later I see Riley coming back up the hill hauling a bird in his mouth. The drive and instincts of hunting dogs is unbelievable.
Most of Rileys points were initiated well out of sight from me. But spending so much time together hunting has taught me to trust that he is doing what he is supposed to do and all I have to do is get to him. Easier said than done, but he trust me to know that I will be there. Several points and shots later we bagged our eighth bird.
The day for me was as good as it gets. Riley couldn't have made me more proud. It almost seems like all I have to do is take Riley on the mountain and trust him to find the birds and the rest is up to me.
On the other side of the canyon I heard another hunter shooting several times. I never saw him or his dog. I did hear his beeper quite often and a little yelling. I don't know this but I had the feeling he was trying to get his dog to work closer. That might work well for that hunter but I believe if you want to find more chukars you have to let the dog go. But that's just my way. Riley and I were on the mountain for four hours, I covered 5.2 miles, Riley 14.6 miles, and I gained 1620 feet of elevation. In all that the only words spoken were telling Riley dead bird. Once said he hunts for a dead bird until we leave the area.
Just as Tucker and Dakota before him, we have learned to trust each other and work as a team. A good team member knows there will be mistakes along the way and just gets on with the game plan.


Karl said...

Funny...I wrote a blog titled the same thing. They know more than we do about where the birds are.


larry szurgot said...

Sometimes when I stop on the hill and have a conversation with my dogs I realize they know a lot more about many things than I do.

jc said...

Its funny, the day we hunted with you we watched that process you describe here. I learned more about how to chukar hunt from watching that than any of the conversations I've had or the stuff I've read. lil' Neka thanks you.