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Scott Rall: Two kinds of dogs to love

This will the first of a two-part series on different dogs that hunters use in the field to hunt birds. My background is almost entirely from a pheasant hunting history, so this column will be using that background.

Almost all dogs used to hunt upland birds fall into two categories. That includes pointers and flushers. There are others called trollers, but that is a story for a different day. This column will describe the use of flushers and their distinct behaviors. Next week we will talk about pointers.

A flushing dog has several jobs, but the first of those is to find game and get it to fly in order for the hunter to shoot them. They do this by quartering back and forth using their noses to find a scent trail.  

That involves the scent a bird leaves behind on the ground and in the vegetation as they walk around looking for food or shelter. When the flushing dog finds this scent trail, or the scent of an actual bird, they will follow their noses until they find the bird. They will actually try to catch the bird in their mouth, but in almost all cases the bird will fly before they can grab it.

If the bird will hold tight and not run, it can take only a few seconds to accomplish. If the bird is a runner, a dog may trail that bird for a mile or more until it gets to a place like a creek where it can run no more and is then forced to fly.

In really bad weather when the birds are very reluctant to fly, a dog can catch them more often.

Almost all the birds a dog catches are females. The roosters are just too smart, and catching them is much harder. After the dog has flushed the bird, its next job is to go get it and bring it back after it is killed.

Flushing breeds have historically been better retrievers. Labradors are among the flushing breeds and are considered some of the best retrievers on the planet. Other flushers would be springer spaniels, flat coat retrievers and golden retrievers.

There are many others, but these are the most common ones.

Nobody ever taught a dog how to hunt. The human only teaches the dog to stay within shotgun range. The hunting instinct and the love of the “follow your nose” game comes from thousands of years of evolution and has little to do with human teaching.

Keeping a dog close is no easy feat. When they smell a bird, they want to go catch it. A flushing dog has to listen to the handler and obey commands. Flushing a rooster 75 yards out nets the hunter no birds. Keeping flushers close is the key.

The dog owner can tell when a bird is close. The flushing dog will tell you so, but not in words. They act differently. They might stop and take a big sniff, the tail starts to wag faster or they might go back and forth in a big circle trying to zero in on where the bird scent if coming from. In many cases, the hunter gets a few seconds to get ready if they are properly reading the dog’s signals.

But what if the grass is too tall to see the dog? You don’t get those few extra seconds to get ready.

This is the great big difference between hunting a flusher and a pointer. A pointer will stop dead in its tracks and wait for the hunter to get into position. This makes shooting the bird much easier.

Flushing dogs can bust a rooster at any second and the hunter must always be concentrating on what is going on. This, for me, keeps the level of intensity higher than when I am hunting behind a pointer. I call pointers a “gentleman’s dog.” Because they will stop and hold the bird, allowing the hunter to get ready, the shooter can be a little less concentrated.

Pointers allow for a more relaxed pace of hunting and allow for proper set-up for every shot. Flushers do not give that hunter the same time luxury.

The following is a generalization. All breeds can do all of these things, but in my opinion flushers excel on the following points over a pointing breed dog. They, for the most part, are better at retrieving. Most of the flushing breeds are considered retrievers. It is in their name because they have been trained to retrieve for many generations.

It might mean a short swim in icy water or through a bunch of tree branches. They have denser coats, so they can do better in very cold conditions when compared to their much shorter coated pointing breeds. I think that flushers tend to be a little less hyper as well.

The pointing breeds that we will cover next week can run a flusher into the ground when it comes to miles covered in a day and when working in hot temperatures. But the flushers excel in dense cover like cattails.

Both have their pluses. Pointers can do things a flusher cannot do, and I will share those talents with you next week right here. Pointers will have the spotlight then.