Grouse Dogs and Grouse Hunting Tactics
The question I get the most from people who want to hunt grouse is, “What kind of dog do I use?” Most people hunt Ruffed Grouse with what they have. I don’t have a breed preference, more of a dog preference. Just because a dog is good on quail doesn’t mean it will be good on grouse. They say it takes a lot to make a good grouse dog. The first thing that I want is a cannon nose, so at the first scent the dog locks up. Grouse are skittish and don’t hold very tight. The second thing that I want is a medium distance but wide ranging dog. The dog needs to cover all the ground from side to side. Slow and methodical works great. The dog needs to sight point, too, because some grouse will be on the open forest floor.
I get asked if the hunter should use a pointer or flusher, as well. I’ve killed a pile of grouse over Labs. Yes, they were Pointing Labs, but they were still Labs. My Labs seemed to find a lot of birds, but they foot tracked them, where most pointing dogs go off of body scent. There is a difference in how the two types of dogs hunt grouse.
When using a pointing or flushing dog, I will put a bell on the dog. But remember, if the cover is thick, you might not hear the little cheap bells that work when quail hunting, especially in thick timber. I also use beeper collars and am switching to the Garmin Astro to keep track of the dogs in thick timber. It is easy to lose track of a dog and grouse don’t hold if you are hollering at a dog.
Moving on to tactics, use the wind like in hunting any bird, but stop and let the dog work an area really thoroughly. I’ve seen three dogs go right by the same bird. Grouse don’t put out a lot of scent, and if they suck their feathers in tight, even less. After hunting a likely area, go over it again because you and the dog might have went by birds holding tight and when you left they went on about their business, leaving scent for the dog to pick up. Always remember the pattern of the birds where you’re hunting as well. The dog can’t find birds if you don’t drop him where there are birds.
Don’t talk or yell if you can help it. The whistle doesn’t bother the birds, so it’s a good idea to have a dog that takes whistle commands. Let the dog fan out and cover the whole area if you re running a pointer. If you are using a flusher, crisscross as you hunt, working all of the cover. If you find birds, slow down. There will usually be more right around that area. Hunt with a dog you trust. Even though you heard birds flush and thought maybe the dog bumped them, that might not be the case. Like I said, grouse are skittish. If you think you have a dog that is bumping birds, turn on a beeper collar on point mode only. You will be surprised at how long the dog is actually holding point.
Grouse will run just like a pheasant sometimes, so circle the point to keep them from running off if you can. Let the dog even hunt unlikely areas; you might pick up birds moving from one spot to another.
I hope these ideas help you in chasing the King of All Gamebirds. Just remember to make it fun.
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Article By Professional Dog Trainer Ed Hall
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