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Mismatch in the grouse woods (advice requested)


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boon hogganbeck

Looking for advice from seasoned grouse-hunters & dog men...  I'm wondering if you have had high-octane, big-running dogs from western field trial lines that seem like a mess & buck-wild in their first couple seasons, but eventually turn into respectable grouse dogs. This isn't a training question, but more about how your dogs developed over time. Do they mellow out or stay high octane?

 

First off, I only hunt for ruffed grouse.   I'm on my first setter and his second hunting season is nearly over, except for the 10 days the state gives us in December.  

 

My dog is really high-octane in the woods (extremely fast ground race, physically bold, & big prey drive), and it seems like his skill set doesn't quite match up to my hunting style.  When grouse-hunting, I sometimes feel like I'm trying to drive a nail with a hatchet.  You definitely would not call him a cautious hunter, and he tends to hit the woods in all out, balls-to-the-wall fashion in a way that sneaky grouse just will not tolerate.   His dam was a little horseback trial dog out of the midwest, and his sire was RU Ch on prairie birds... and he runs like that & looks quite stylish doing it!  I didn't really know the differences in setter lines when I was starting out, and I figured the dog would acclimate to the type of birds he was hunting.  But yeah, in practice that doesn't seem to be happening.  I've got a couple nagging problems:

 

1) Man alive, this dog is constantly tearing up his body in the grouse woods. Because he doesn't check his speed, I am constantly at the vet and missing lots of the season.  I don't mean nicks and cuts... I mean like go to the emergency vet on a Sunday, whip out the checkbook, and get him stitched back together.  You'd think the grouse woods would slow him down... but not really!  I keep hearing, "A smart dog will acclimate to the cover," but I don't know, he is just balls-out no matter where I put him down.  After a couple hours, he slows down, but he tends to be pretty banged up & exhausted at that point. 

 

2) Because of his fast ground race, he bumps a ton of birds. He has pointed a handful of grouse, but for the most part, he blows by them & flushes birds he does not scent (he is not blinking or ripping them). Doesn't seem to have a great nose, and the speed doesn't help, he just seems to out-run the scent cone.  I think he'd do a passable job if he'd check his speed... 

 

I don't have an issue with a dog running big, by the way, as long as he handles his birds.  This isn't a range question. It's more about speed and temperament, I guess. I keep hoping that, after bumping so many birds, he'll start being more cautious in the grouse woods... but it seems antithetical to his nature.  This dog just lives to rip across a big open landscape with the throttle wide open.

 

Does such a dog mellow out eventually? Will the grouse teach him caution? Or should I just accept that this is a mismatch and a lesson learned?  (When I buy my next pup,  I definitely want something from proven grouse lines & a dog with a more cautious nature around birds...) 

 

 

 

 

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Boon,   So, I was in the exact same situation.  I've been hunting grouse since 1986.  Up until now all of my dogs were easy handling and had what I felt was an ideal range for grouse (for me

He won’t slow down and you should hunt him on the prairie where his talent and breeding were designed for    or find a guy that wants that type of dog   Not what you wanted to hear

My first experience with a pointing dog was much like yours.   I grew up around hunting dogs (beagles and the occasional lab), but I was never around a dog with as much drive or range as my first sett

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boon hogganbeck

And here's ole peg-leg the sailor after the latest mishap...

 

c8dFmDb.jpg

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MichiganMan

My first bird dog ever was an English setter out of tekoa mountain lines. (Now understand he is only 6 now, so it's not like iv been at this forever.)He was a dog bred with lots of horsepower behind him. As a guy with little to no bird dog knowledge, I saw a pedigree filled with field trial champions and figured it must be good. The first season was a nightmare. Every time I let him loose I sincerely wondered if I would ever see him again. I only killed 2 pointed grouse over him that first year. He bumped/ran over probably 500 birds. So much run in him. 

 

Fast forward to his second season. I got a GPS collar and firmed up recall so it wasn't such a PITA to run him. He still bumped plenty of birds but had a good handful of days where he was starting to show his potential. Still Tons of run.

 

From his 3rd season on he has been dialed in. With that said, he has never slowed his pace. He still covers ground extremely fast and when he hits scent slams on point. When I put him on the ground I know that every grouse there is to find, will be found. When he relocates he is full speed ahead and when he hits the scent again slams on point. The only time he does slow down is when he hits scent but doesn't know exactly where the bird is, he slows down while he sorta it out...Very rarely does he mishandle a bird. 

 

I thought the same thing as you, that there was no way he would ever figure it out. Well he definitely did, and has a couple hundred grouse killed over him to show for it. 

 

Yes injuries have been somewhat of an issue. He has a thorn permanently embedded in his eyeball. His eyes are always filled with crap from busting brush. He has had some pad injuries along the way. But he really is a joy to hunt over.

 

You could consider sending him to a trainer in a region with a more abundant grouse population next late summer, and ask them just to put him into as many wild birds as possible. If they had him for a month it wouldn't break the bank and could definitely tell what he is made of.

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shoot-straight

My PP goes Mach 3 in the woods too and bumps grouse. 
 

Here is my novice take on it. Yes they can likely figure it out, but It takes grouse to make a grouse dog. That's a problem for many of us. (I'm in md)

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Greg Hartman

Well, I have Britts, not setters, so maybe none of this is valid.  But, my dogs are from Wyoming horse field trial stock - bred to run big in the vast western high prairie.

 

We spend months out west hunting prairie birds (Huns, prairie grouse and wild phez) each fall and my dogs run really big, fast and far - which is what you want out there.


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Joy started out her hunting career only in small eastern covers for her first couple years, because my wife was very ill then and I was a 24/7 caregiver - could not travel.  After my wife passed, we could go west again.  Joy would follow her breeding and hunt big in big country,

 

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But, she would very quickly revert to staying close and careful stalking/relocating when we came back east.


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Then came Bliss, from the same Wyoming line. Her first season at 3 months old was months of big sky hunting.  


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That year, she ran wild when we brought her back east.  Same thing the next year - her second season.  I was getting pretty frustrated.  This year is her third season, even though she’s not yet three years old.  Despite the fact that she has spent more hours working wild birds in the west than here, this year the light finally came on.  She is now a close and very careful worker here in the east.  I have no doubt that she will tear up the prairie next fall once again.

 

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So, I’d say don’t give up.  Dogs are very smart about some things.  Every dog I’ve ever had figured out how to hunt differently in different places for different quarry.  Some quicker than others.  I’d guess yours will, too.

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CheckCord

Not a seasoned grouse hunter or dog man but I’ve owned several setters and do hunt grouse in the upper Midwest.  
 

I feel your pain as the owner of a 3yo 42lb setter who thinks they are a juggernaut in the grouse woods.  We are at the vet more than I’d like, so you are not alone in that regard.  

No advice to offer necessarily, just letting you know you’ve got company!  

 


 


 

 

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boon hogganbeck
1 hour ago, MichiganMan said:

My first bird dog ever was an English setter out of tekoa mountain lines. (Now understand he is only 6 now, so it's not like iv been at this forever.)He was a dog bred with lots of horsepower behind him. As a guy with little to no bird dog knowledge, I saw a pedigree filled with field trial champions and figured it must be good. The first season was a nightmare. Every time I let him loose I sincerely wondered if I would ever see him again. I only killed 2 pointed grouse over him that first year. He bumped/ran over probably 500 birds. So much run in him. 

 

Fast forward to his second season. I got a GPS collar and firmed up recall so it wasn't such a PITA to run him. He still bumped plenty of birds but had a good handful of days where he was starting to show his potential. Still Tons of run.

 

From his 3rd season on he has been dialed in. With that said, he has never slowed his pace. He still covers ground extremely fast and when he hits scent slams on point. When I put him on the ground I know that every grouse there is to find, will be found. When he relocates he is full speed ahead and when he hits the scent again slams on point. The only time he does slow down is when he hits scent but doesn't know exactly where the bird is, he slows down while he sorta it out...Very rarely does he mishandle a bird. 

 

I thought the same thing as you, that there was no way he would ever figure it out. Well he definitely did, and has a couple hundred grouse killed over him to show for it. 

 

Yes injuries have been somewhat of an issue. He has a thorn permanently embedded in his eyeball. His eyes are always filled with crap from busting brush. He has had some pad injuries along the way. But he really is a joy to hunt over.

 

You could consider sending him to a trainer in a region with a more abundant grouse population next late summer, and ask them just to put him into as many wild birds as possible. If they had him for a month it wouldn't break the bank and could definitely tell what he is made of.

 

Thanks for the feedback here.  This is extremely helpful, exactly the kind of insight I'd hoped for.  Gives me a lot to think about.  

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boon hogganbeck
1 hour ago, shoot-straight said:

My PP goes Mach 3 in the woods too and bumps grouse. 
 

Here is my novice take on it. Yes they can likely figure it out, but It takes grouse to make a grouse dog. That's a problem for many of us. (I'm in md)

Yeah, it's tough. I hunted pretty hard last season to get him 50 grouse contacts.  This year, between all the rain and the dog injuries, it's more like 20.  Hoping to get him on a few more in the December season, because I know where those birds are, but he's gotta get healthy.  

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boon hogganbeck
23 minutes ago, CheckCord said:

Not a seasoned grouse hunter or dog man but I’ve owned several setters and do hunt grouse in the upper Midwest.  
 

I feel your pain as the owner of a 3yo 42lb setter who thinks they are a juggernaut in the grouse woods.  We are at the vet more than I’d like, so you are not alone in that regard.  

No advice to offer necessarily, just letting you know you’ve got company!  

 


 


 

 

 

LOL.  That is good to know.  My vet actually refers to my dog as "the problem child."  

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LabHunter

My 7 year old GSP is out of some pretty high performing NAVHDA lines.  She still likes to "blast off" once or twice a trip.  It's obnoxious when she is out there at 400 yards...but usually she blows off the steam and then settles down.  When she was younger she would definitely bump a lot of birds.  Today she found, pointed, & held 2 coveys...then at every opportunity on the follow ups she pinned those birds just as tight.  She has definitely matured.  Part of it is slowing down a bit & I think part of it is experience. 

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NW River Mac

I have a setter that's now almost 13.  He was as hard charging a dog as any I have seen on the ground.  One speed, fast!  It troubled me that he was sooo fast and ranged a bit more than I though he should.  Then I had the opportunity to walk behind a 5 time national champion grouse dog.  That was an experience and opened my eyes and changed my way of thinking.  Walking 150 yards to a point was better than not having a dog point at all.  That dog always checked in with the trainer and I'm sure he got the vast majority of the birds in the area we hunted.   My dog always checked in with me and I'm sure that he pointed the majority of the grouse within a 100 yard radius around me. My hunting partner always said that he wasn't "hunting for the gun."  I said I don't care because he was pointing a chit ton of birds, double what his 40 yard dog was doing.   My point here is that maybe you need to change your mindset and enjoy the fact that your dog is covering a great deal of ground.    My point here is that maybe you need to change your mindset and enjoy the fact that your dog is covering a great deal of ground. 

 

It also sounds like your dog needs to see more birds and experience.  Often times a dog will have a bird flush because he just doesn't get the scent of it.  You can't knock that because it happens to the best of them. Get the dog onto more birds year round.  

 

BTW "Jack" still runs very hard and has never learned to pace himself.  He'll slow down when he gets tired and that's it. Best of luck and don't give up... a 2-3 year old setter in the average man's hands is not going to be a broke dog.  

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Brad Eden

Not just pointing….If I am completely and totally honest about Cash my Springer Spaniel I’d admit he can be a real pain in the ass. Although he has a very good On/Off switch as far as family/hunting dog, when it’s clicked On he is a load of dog to handle. Still is at over 10 years old. His athleticism and enthusiasm and outright drive doesn’t match up with my age and bad knee and overall slowdown. My other two from the same breeder had more brains and cooled their jets early, and were much more tuned into me. Cash although not full field bred required more advanced training and control than I provided. He wears me out. But he’s mine and I’ll still feed the bugger.

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Tony Moore

Mac, I think your buddy was right, its a team effort, most of the dogs being described are self hunters, its a problem that needs fixing.

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Rockford Setters

There is a big difference in setters bred for trialing and those bred for grouse and woodcock hunting. Don't confuse athleticism with the range that the dog will hunt. 

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The only paragragh I would like to answer is your very last one of your original post. My finding with my first two shorthairs would render a yes & yes answer.  That said we all want instant results . All in good time. 

JMHO

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