The Value of Steadiness

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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The Value of Steadiness

by George Hickox

I must admit to having many fond memories of days spent hunting over dogs unsteady to wing and shot. Yet, I cannot deny that I am a strong proponent of training dogs for steadiness. In presenting my case, I must assert that a dog cannot be considered truly finished unless it has mastered this ability.

There are those who do not share my opinion. These people perceive steadiness as a handicap. Their argument is that, upon flushing the bird, the dog should be in hot pursuit of the quarry so when the bird is shot the dog will be on the mark more quickly. Thus, the dog will have a better chance of retrieving cripples.

I disagree. The dog that sits at the flush and concentrates on marking the fall will succeed more often. As an example, say a dog is tracking through high grass when a bird flushes. The dog does not have a visual mark on the bird, which hooks right and is dropped by the outside gunner on the right. An unsteady dog will continue pouring down the field in the line of the bird' s original flight. Not only will the dog fail on the shot bird, it is more likely to put up all other game that might be in the area.

With upland flushers or retrievers, it is necessary they pattern to the gun in order to produce birds within range. Oddly enough, it is often the owners of out-of-control dogs that argue most vehemently in favor of dogs not being steady to wing and shot. When hunting driven pheasants in the Dakotas, with blockers posting at the comers and ends of cornfields or shelterbelts, it doesn't matter whether four-legged bird-busting Scud missiles are steady. However, if you are hunting solo or with several partners walking abreast, your dog must be in absolute control - and that means steady to wing and shot.

My dogs can be stopped on running birds with a single whistle blast or voice command. Why is this an advantage? Say a dog comes across the track of a running rooster and goes off in hot pursuit-with you in pursuit of the dog. If you are unable to stop the dog, it's likely you'll end up huffing and puffing and eventually watching the bird flush and fly off far out of range. (The good news is that you'll have plenty of time to catch your wind, as it may be some time before Fido returns.)

Now say you've trained your dog to stop on command. When the dog is tracking the foot scent of a running bird and reaches the edge of gun range, you can give a single whistle blast for "Hup," "Sit" or "Whoa," move up to the dog in a gentlemanly fashion, then release the dog to hunt on. This way the bird eventually will be produced with an opportunity for a fair shot. A dog that is steady to wing and shot-in other words a dog that is in control-is much easier to teach to "Hup," "Sit" or "Whoa" when it is pursuing a running bird.

It's unavoidable that a certain percentage of birds are going to volunteer, or flush wild, before the hunter is in position for a shot. A pointer that gives chase to such a bird is at best wasting its time. The dog is no longer effectively searching for new birds, and any birds put up while the dog is chasing are now lost opportunities.

Another reason for steadiness is that all birds do not flush as towering rockets. Some are low flyers. Whether you're hunting quail in Georgia, pheasants in South Dakota or chukar in Idaho, some birds are bound to get up and take off low to the ground, and if your dog is in hot pursuit you might have to pass up the shot. The problem is that in the adrenaline-pumped moment of excitement poor judgment has prevailed more than once-with tragic results. Watching a dog jump for an airborne bird is a compelling argument for steadiness.
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