Stopping on Runnersby George Hickox
It is late afternoon in early December. A mild breeze is blowing as two hunters meander down a tractor path bordered by a woodlot on one side and a partially harvested cornfield on the other. Two dogs work the edges of the briars for one last rooster as the hunters ease back toward their vehicles. Suddenly, the dogs strike scent and, with guns ready, the hunters cautiously approach. Seconds later the rooster bursts from cover as one hunter raises his gun smoothly, swings in front of the bird and ....
A more likely scenario is: The setting is the same, only the breeze is probably a little more than mild. The hunters are dragging, having bulldozed their way through rose hips and hawthorn and stumbled over the furrowed rows around the edges of uncut corn They are hoping for one more rooster to fill their bag one young, dumb rooster that won’t play big boys’ games. They’re tired of acting as herding dogs, trying to cut off escape paths and watching birds flush out of range with their dogs tracking close behind.
Suddenly, Guido strikes game. The seasoned dog puts his nose to the ground, wags his tail furiously and starts unraveling the trail. The pheasant runs straight up the edge of the narrow woodlot as Fido continually gains ground and the hunters lose it. When the rooster finally flushes downfield, the hillsides echo with expletives from two frustrated, winded hunters.
Today’s wild pheasants would rather run than fly. These birds have survived encounters with foxes, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, feral cats and hunters with dogs. Not that pen raised birds are necessarily pushovers. Every day a pheasant lasts in the field it develops more "street smarts," which can frustrate hunters and dogs alike.
I won’t limit this discussion to pheasants either. A number of other species are masters of putting a lot of real estate between themselves and their pursuers. I spend many days guiding masochistic clients for grouse. It’s been my experience that ruffed grouse have evolved into even tougher adversaries than their ancestors. Put a few conifers, some early season poplar or any thick habitat between you and a grouse, and you’re looking at one formidable adversary.
Then there are woodcock, too, which are behaving less and less like the stay at homes they’re supposed to. And I keep hearing stories from fellows out West about a species of quail I hope never infests my Georgia grounds.
We all have experienced the frustration of watching dogs flush game out of range. One option is to get into Olympic shape so we can chase the dogsand birds down; another is to surround a field and let the dogs drive the birds to us. But my personal preference is to hunt with a well trained dog: one that can go head to head with a runner and come out the winner.
Photo by: Author
Teaching your dog to stop on running birds is a strategy that will guarantee more satisfaction, more shooting and more safety. As a guide, I hold the safety of my clients as the utmost priority. A hunter with a loaded gun chasing a dog that’s tracking a runner is simply an accident waiting to happen.
Being able to stop dogs on running birds is normally associated with training upland flushing breeds such as Labs and springers. However, I teach pointers and setters to stop on runners and believe that everyone can benefit from this.
Let’s say you’re out hunting and your Lab is quartering into the wind nicely. Suddenly, the dog begins making game and is obviously onto a running rooster. The dog unravels the escape path and is in full pursuit faster than you can safely travel. When the dog gets to the edge of your comfortable gun range you command it to sit, either verbally or with the traditional single whistle blast. The dog responds and drops its posterior to the ground. You move up in a safe and gentlemanly manner, then release the dog by saying its name, "Hie," “OK” or whatever command you have chosen. The dog resumes tracking. Every time it gets to the edge of gun range you sit it down and move up. In this manner the dog eventually flushes the pheasant within gun range and you are given a reasonable opportunity of taking the bird. Just as the coyote doesn’t win every time, your dog will not produce every bird. But the birds your dog does flush will be in range. Watching birds flush 60 yards downfield with your dog in full pursuit is hardly satisfying let alone effective.