I’ve done it, we’ve all done it…but we must stop ourselves! What am I talking about? Second guessing our dogs while hunting.
Trust your dog’s nose. It’s an F-35 Lightning II jet…yours is a wood cart with square wheels. A dog’s nose not only dominates its face, but its brain as well. Depending on the breed, a dog smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than nasally-challenged humans. The percentage of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than a human’s. A human nose has five million scent receptors; a bloodhound’s 300 million.
They follow scent, not your instincts. We are the masters, right? Yes, in town when we must protect a dog from cars, running away and checking out the neighborhood garbage cans. But in the field, follow the dog…he or she is in charge. You may not know why your dog is running around in circles, cutting back, going the other way or going the opposite way you want him to go, but he does. As a young hunter, I would make the dog go the way I wanted to go, as if I had a nose with 300 million scent receptors. Also, many hunters pay no attention to the wind direction at all when upland hunting with a dog. I used to assume experienced hunters knew this, but no more. Many times I’ve had to speak up, even with experienced hunters. Most folks listen, but some still think they know better…sooooooo follow the dog! Humility in the face of 300 million receptors is a good thing, folks.
Everywhere there’s sign. If a dog is barking, leaping in the air or running twice as fast as it was it usually does, pay attention, there’s a good reason for it. Look and listen to your dog. Springers love to yip and leap when they see a bird in front of them. I know when my springer does either of these things to get ready to shoot. When my dog does a bee line in the opposite direction I’m walking, I don’t hit the e-collar, I turn around and follow him. They aint looking for the car, they got a pheasant in mind.
If my dog is slowing down, not showing up, bug-eyed, wobbling, let’s out a sharp yip, is bleeding, tongue hanging out blood-red, following me or otherwise acting unusual, I pay attention and figure out what’s up. These are all signals a dog, which cannot talk, is trying to tell us something important. One of my greatest joys hunting a dog, especially one I’ve had for years, is being able to read it like a book; to communicate with it like a good friend, to connect with the beast as a fellow critter.
And let me tell you, dogs know if you listen to them or not. Listening to your dog will gain you its respect. Being well-connected to a longtime dog partner is a feeling like no other; it is being one with him, it is being a pack member on the predator trail. I love it.
-Mark Herwig is editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at email@example.com.