When it comes right down to it, are you the better hunter, or is your hunting dog superior?
Here's a question that you may not have ever asked yourself: who's the better hunter, you or your dog? When it comes right down to it, a good upland game dog or duck hunting dog is the best friend and hunting partner that bird hunting fools like you and I ever had. And they work more than just birds.
These high energy hounds are not only great companions, but they have a prey drive like no other. The list is long: Labrador retriever, Chesapeake Bay retriever, English springer spaniel, German shorthaired pointer, American foxhound, and even the venerable bluetick just to name a few, are not only great hunters, but can be great family dogs as well.
Finding and training a good hunting dog can be a roll of the dice, but as my trainer once told me long ago, "They never make mistakes, they were only trained wrong." That can be difficult to swallow, but I live by that motto when it comes to our canine hunting companions.
And if you've ever been lucky enough to hunt over a finished gun dog, you'll understand exactly why the question of "who's the better hunter?" even comes up.
We'll go through a few factors to determine who gets the edge in each category, and total the score at the end of our list.
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When you consider the innate hunting drive of the human race, it goes back to our upbringing, and a cultivated desire to include ourselves in the wilderness of the natural world.
With the eagerness and enthusiasm that we have to get out there and pursue, we have to understand that it's a craving, a yearning, and a longing that we just can't( and don't want to) get over. We think about it relentlessly, prepare for it immensely, and are downright gleeful when it finally happens.
Even the subtle act of packing up your gear can flip the switch in your dog's brain. Watch the reaction a great hunting canine gets when they know the hunt is on! This is when they jump so high up into the truck that they almost go through the roof, and can barely sit still during the ride.
For those that use transport kennels, it's almost comical at the way they bounce off of the walls trying to get into the field once you arrive.
The bottom line is that if you and I acted that way, they'd put us in a psych ward. The reality is that we just hide it better!
Ultimately, the score may still stay even after this first measurement.
2. Bird finding ability
We can't compare our nose to that of our favorite hunting companion, but remember, it was us that lead them to this spot in the first place. I spent many of my early years hunting without a dog (they can be a little, uh, expensive) and any success that I did have was probably as much determination as it was luck. Bumping a nice rooster pheasant in a hedgerow was as much about being in the right place as it was about good fortune.
But once you take your dog out there and let them do their stuff, the answer becomes pretty clear. Even if we could get inside of that thick cover and find a bird, how would we ever get the shot off?
As a lifelong grouse hunter, I can attest to clawing my way through a thicket at the same time as a bird would flush, but with a well-heeled gun dog holding or moving birds, you can position and prepare for the shot.
In the dog versus man category of bird finding ability the edge clearly goes to your four-legged hunter.
3. Retrieving your bird
Quasi apporting a black grouse. Hunting in woods 2008.
In my younger days, just the sight of a bird going down was so rewarding and exciting that I would forget to mark where it fell, which naturally led to more difficulty tracking it down.
In the days I duck hunted without a dog, I have to admit a number of ducks ended up floating away dead after I couldn't recover them. More than once I went over my chest waders in frigid water to get my hands on a downed puddle duck or diver, pretty much ending the session in the process. The cold water I was in was just too dangerous, and I was openly risking my well-being for the good of the harvest.
Getting my first dog was a godsend. Even though she was an upland bird dog that had to be taught to retrieve, she took to it like a fish to water.
A German Shorthaired pointer, I watched her swim through three-foot rollers in Lake Ontario to bring back a beautiful drake mallard in the early part of October. She tracked down a pheasant that I shot in the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area that had buried itself in the cattails almost a foot deep trying to get away.
Once, after I doubled on a pair of mallards in a swamp near my home, I sent her on a blind retrieve into the marsh and she came back separately with both.
This doesn't count the time that I winged a grouse near Naples and she chased the runner down and brought it right to my hand. Priceless.
It's no contest; your favorite hunting dog is vastly superior at retrieval.
4. Getting wet
We've come to a time in our history when hunters have access to some of the greatest gear ever produced. Our ability to go afield and stay there for extended periods in wet snow, rain, ice, and sleet has given us an edge on the other predators of the world.
At one point, I bought a pair of waterproof chaps--that I still use to this day--to keep dry running the wet grasses of October while we chased pheasants.
I think my dog was laughing at me.
Dogs don't know what getting wet is, and they don't care. They pound through the goldenrod and standing corn with a ferocity that belies their desire. For labs, Chessies, and the like, floating ice chunks may as well just be toys in the kiddie pool. Putting a neoprene vest on a dog is protective and sometimes necessary, but it's like a big red ribbon on a bear: maybe it looks good, but it just gets in the bear's way.
In the battle of weather resistance, we give it to the dog.
Hunting has crossed over into the physical fitness world, which comes as no surprise. Because some of the best hunts come with a physical price to pay, we have an eye on training like we never had before.
The men and women of the world who hunt have a profound understanding of what the pursuit means and how crucial fitness is to it. We climb hills and mountains, carry equipment, and stomp through the thickest cover to get to our favorite game. Humans can be incredibly relentless.
But if we're being honest, dogs can hang with the best of them. Remember when you were throwing the fetch dummy to your dog and had to stop because he wouldn't? Yeah, it's like that.
Our canine hunting companions are the most unabating, non-stop, enthusiastic energy balls that we know of. Once we've unleashed them into a field where a bird might be, they won't stop until we tell them to.
My good friend Kevin had a black lab named Shea who I swear could find any pheasant within a mile. One time duck hunting she disappeared into the fog after a swimmer and we thought we had lost her for good. She came back more than 10 minutes later, having swam the entire time, with face full of duck. We never doubted her again.
In the endurance category, dogs and humans are both tough as nails, but it's sort of an uneven playing field. We'll call this one a push.
~ Best friends taking a break from grouse hunting. ~
We have to win this one, right? We've developed the modern world, we've wirelessly connected every corner of the globe, and our society is the most powerful it's ever been. Not only that, but we picked that puppy out of the litter, gave it a name, and have provided food and shelter ever since.
Though they have undeniable instincts, we still trained them to hunt, either by ourselves or with a professional.
As they got older, we took them to our favorite hunting grounds and set them loose, knowing full well that we had given them every opportunity to succeed. They learned obedience, discipline, and the power to think for themselves.
Dogs spend their lives trying to please us and gain our love and admiration, and if they're hunting at the same time, it's euphoric.
Our dogs are smart and hard working. They live to hunt as much as we do and surprise us with the amazing brain power that they possess. They will follow us to hell and back, and all because they are simply the working class of hunters that we all hope to be.
And as the alpha dog, we had better set a good example.
When it comes to brainpower, we have the advantage, but don't say so in front of your wife. She may disagree.
So what's the final tally? By our count of three to one, dogs dominate.
We should try to remember that humans and dogs have been hunting together since we domesticated them, and maybe even earlier. They are the glue that holds together the chase, and even though their hunting ability sometimes leaves us in the dust, we're the lucky benefactors of all those advantages they award.