When I first hunted with bird dogs wearing bells, I thought they spooked birds. Pheasants have very acute hearing – it’s underestimated and equal, if not more remarkable than, their ability to run – and it would reason a noisy bell would unsettle a bird that’s ears are always on alert. But consider me a convert on this theory.
I don’t use an e-collar on my English cocker spaniel, as, the occasional straight-line runner notwithstanding, she’s usually in gun range. I’ve ran her with a bell this entire season, on public and private land, areas with great pheasant numbers, areas with so-so pheasant numbers and areas with just a bird or two. I realize it’s my own two eyes and a small sample size, but I honestly haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe her bell is causing birds to bust out early.
On a recent hunt in South Dakota, the guide at the outfit I was at raised a brow when I said I used a bell, he harboring the same concerns I used to. I obliged and ran “Sprig” later in the day by herself in a different area without our full group of hunters. But with gunshots ringing out, multiple dogs and a line of hunters, do I think my bell would have added much noise to the mix, at least an incremental amount impacting birds in range? No.
This doesn’t mean I’m a loud-mouth, truck-door slamming, decibel-busting machine as I work through the field. Quite the contrary, in fact. My dog’s bell is typically the only noise I tolerate on a pheasant hunt (other than a cackle followed by a gunshot) and by being quiet in all other regards, I think it lessens the bell-ringing in roosters’ ears.
If there is one exception to my use of a bell, it’s a dead-quiet day during the last two weeks of the season. With a complete absence of wind, I can hear well enough to locate the dog, or can see the thick cover move as she works through it. I find pheasants hardest to get close to on these days, and I do believe stealth mode in this situation is warranted.
I’ve actually come to enjoy the bell, its addition a soothing sound to the hunt. And if it’s use really does cost me a bird here or there? Well, at least I know where my pup is at all times. Because the thought of anything happening to her on a hunt other than flushing and retrieving is spooky enough.
Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.