Running grouse are difficult. There is a balance between trying to get around the bird, block cover and not have your dog push the bird and of course not have the bird flush prematurely. It is a tight rope walk of tracking, releasing the dog, re-acquiring scent over and over till you either in position and the bird flushes on its own for you or you are able to block the bird and force the bird to flush.
When birds are running and stopping and running again they are looking for the right cover to lose you and the dog. Tag Alder, Swamp conifer, Tamarack bogs all areas that are difficult to work and lessen your percentages of being successful. Anything to put distance between you and the bird while they seek to escape to protective cover.
If you think about the grouse cycle, there are more years that are like this than there are years when the birds hold for you like you see in the paintings. So in essence maybe it is time to change our training of our grouse dog to reflect the worst case scenario of grouse hunting instead of the best case scenario.
Teach a dog to point on less scent
One of the training techniques we use for guiding is to teach our dogs to work less scent. The reason being it will help the dog pick up scent from a running grouse. A running grouse leaves very little scent behind. Technically the grouse is washing scent on every, fern, grass, moss etc. But there is very little left for the dog to work.
Then the next thing the grouse will do is stop for a bit thus leaving a little bit more scent behind but not as much as the bird would leave behind if it was just loafing in an area before you showed up with your dog. With these type of points your dog will lock up and give you the body language... "Yes, I have a great point! then in about a minute or two the scent will start to fade, the dog will start shifting its eyes and the muscles will start to go soft and then the head will start to turn and look around. The look your dog is giving you is "Where in the heck did the scent go... it was just here and I could smell it!"A dog that has been only trained on a lot of scent will typically react as follows: release from a point to fast...almost frantic to find the bird and many times range too far out...push the bird and then flush the grouse before the hunter even has a shot or chance to get into position. How often have we seen the dog pick up its pace and increase it's range when they can not get a bird to hold.
A dog that has been taught to work less scent will over time learn what amount of scent to ignore and when to stop and point. This gives the hunter an indication that there is a bird up ahead before being right on top of the bird and it flushes right away or runs and flushes wild.
A woodcock holds giving off a lot of scent and easy to work. Pen raise quail also tend to hold and produe a lot of scent. Pigeons in a trap a lots of scent. Pheasants big birds and a lot of scent and yes they teach a dog to push becasue they tolerate a dog pushing them. All of these birds for the most part are different from the grouse. The grouse will not tolerate being pushed, will run and put off very little scent and flush wild if it feels the need to.
This is where tracking drills can help. Teach your dog to work a little bit of scent and not a lot. The dog will become savvy at picking up scent, changing direction when the grouse try’s to bolt in a different direction and in the end it will greatly help when locating wounded birds that try to bury themselves in log piles, or thick weeds to avoid being found.
The more a grouse is in a particular area the more scent is in that area and the wind will catch the wafting scent carrying it on that ever so light of a breeze and the dog then picks it up a good distance from the bird and goes on point. Obviously with a running grouse we are dealing with very little scent and the bird is moving. There is not enough scent to go very far.
Set up tracking exercises, in various cover, different wind angles, changes in temperature and humidity. In the end you are teaching your dog how to work a running grouse and then in the end everything else will be very easy for them to work.
Patience and Denial
We also work at teaching patience in release from the point so if there are multiple birds we do not bust the covey up and to also learn that not every point will result in a bird. In other words, train your dog that every point does not mean there will be a bird there every time. Make the pup work for the bird, track the bird, relocate and then after a couple of points while showing cautiousness and good tracking reward it with a live bird. These exercises teach a young dog that they need to be patient and that not every point will result in a bird. Thus we are also teaching denial. How many times do we hear... moved 25 birds and bagged two grouse.
Teach your dog the techniques to work these jittery birds
How many times have we heard that this dog or that dog is great at working woodcock, pheasants and quail but not grouse. There is a reason for this and it all comes down to a dog not knowing of how to work this type of scenario. Our dogs need to be calm, savvy in their handling of grouse and in control when working these birds.