Scott Rall: Flushers and pointers: Both have a place
The Globe outdoors columnist
Last week I started a two-part series about hunting with flushers and pointers. Here is part two:
I am a flusher guy and these are the dogs that find a bird and try to catch it. The bird flies and the hunters shoot it.
Hunting with a pointing dog is very different. Although I have only owned one pointing dog in my life that I saved as a rescue dog from the pound, he was very bad at hunting. That was over 25 years ago and I never went back to that breed.
It was not the breed’s fault nor the dog’s. It was just the conditions he was in before I got him. It was a prior human problem.
Pointing dog breeds include Brittany Spaniels, German Shorthairs, Pudelpointers, English Pointers, Drahthaars, English Setters and many others.
In general, pointing dog breeds tend to be more excitable. In some cases, way more excitable. Some pointing dogs I have seen could be kicked out of the truck three miles from the hunting spot and when they get there they would be just ready to hunt with a normal amount of energy. This can be a drawback for some owners.
A pointing dog quarters back and forth in front of the hunter looking for a bird scent. When it smells one, it follows that scent until it gets close to the bird. When it senses the bird is very close it will stop and stand very still on what is called a point.
“Still” means like a rock sculpture of a dog. They don’t move or twitch. It allows the hunter the time to walk in close and ready themselves for the shot.
It is why I call pointing dogs a gentlemen and gentle women’s dogs. They allow the hunter the time to prepare.
A flushing dog gives the hunter very little time to get settled in for a shot.
In some cases, the bird is so locked down by the dog on point that the dog might stand there for several minutes or more.
The battle between the dog’s patience and the bird’s nerves can seem to go on forever. When the hunter is ready he will give the command to “get it” or the hunter might walk in and flush the bird himself. The success ratio of a good hunter is generally higher with a pointing dog than with a flusher.
The ability to walk in close for every shot improves the success rate. And that fact draws many hunters to the pointing breeds. I can say that watching a great flushing dog or a great pointing dog both have a satisfaction that you cannot fully appreciate until you have done it. I love and appreciate both kinds of breeds even though I choose to hunt with only one of them.
The following is my opinion and is not backed up by science and will be the subject of great debate in some circles:
First, I think a pointer has a better nose than most flushers. They can be running at 25 miles per hour and stop on a dime when they connect to a scent trail. They can also run more miles in a day that a flusher/retriever can. They tend to be leaner and lighter weight and this might account for the difference.
Pointers of many breeds can handle hunting in the heat better than a flushing thick-coated Labrador can. Shorter coats and thinner skin might be the reason for that as well.
Pointers are not without their challenges, though. Pointing dogs usually range out much farther them most flushers. It allows them to cover more ground, and thus, they might scent more birds because they cover more square miles in a day.
The negative is when a rooster won’t hold tight. In order for a pointing dog to actually stop and point a bird, the bird has to hold still. Many Minnesota roosters will not cooperate. When the pointer is running 100-200 yards ahead of the guy with the gun, they often flush birds out of range.
Pointer guys will say that’s just a fact of life with pointers. It’s OK if there are a lot of birds, but what if you only flush two birds that day and both are out of range?
Many pointing breeds and a few flushers often require grooming. Haircuts for a dog 2-3 times a year is a hassle to me. If you don’t groom them they can turn into cockle burr collectors. Without a trim they collect everything except the kitchen sink.
Pulling burrs out of a dog for an hour after the hunt has ended is also a hassle to me.
Pointers often wear beeper collars. They are collars that beep when the dog goes on point. It is necessary because if the grass is tall you might have no idea where the dog is. I think a great evening hunt just near sunset can be deteriorated by a beeping collar that sounds like a garbage truck backing up.
As I said at the beginning, all sporting dog breeds have their place. I love and appreciate them all. I just opt for the maintenance-free versatility of a flushing Labrador. Maybe when I get older I will change my mind.