Points and pointers for hunting with gun dogs

byTom Davis - Sports Afield, Oct 2000

IT'S FUNNY: Millions of people have seen the movie Top Gun, but it's a safe bet that very few consider themselves qualified to fly jet fighters on the basis of this experience.

Why, then, does every person who's ever seen or read about a hunting dog think he's an expert on the subject?

The most common manifestation of this is the guy who insists on "helping" you handle your dog. This is invariably an individual you've never hunted with before, because if you had, you would have either set him straight or avoided the return engagement. Invariably too, it's a person who's done precious little hunting over dogs, the first rule of which is this: When the dog belongs to someone else, keep your mouth shut and let its owner do the handling.

It's common courtesy, and proper etiquette. And it's also the case that the more people there are hollering and tooting whistles, the more confused and less responsive the dog becomes. If things have already gone wrong, adding another voice to the din will only make them worse.

The second rule is that the person who owns the dog sets the rules-period, end of discussion. This is particularly important when you're hunting over pointing dogs, as it involves certain nuances that are simply non-issues with the flushing and retrieving breeds. For example, shooting at birds that the dog "busts" is frowned upon, as it reinforces what in a pointing dog is an undesirable behavior. Now, if the bird flushes of its own volition, without any involvement on the dog's part, it's probably okay to take a poke-although there are sticklers who don't want you shooting at any unpointed birds.

Some grouse and woodcock hunters only shoot woodcock over points, but will take ruffs any way they can. This is not the kind of distinction you have to worry about when you are busting brush behind a springer or hunkered in a duckblind next to a Lab; in these scenarios, you're pretty much free to take on all comers. If you shoulder your gun and see the dog anywhere in your "sight picture," however, hold fire.

This isn't rocket science-or even jet aviation. The person with the dog sets the rules, and you abide by them.

Copyright Hearst Magazines Oct 2000 Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved