I learned to bird hunt behind a Brittany. I don’t remember my dad ever teaching me how to “approach” a pointed bird, but it has always felt natural because it’s how I got my start. What’s interesting and more than a little humorous is watching my various hunting partners the last few years who have only hunted behind flushing breeds react to my German shorthair on point.
In almost every case, I’ve witnessed “human vapor lock” as these friends look at me with twitching eyebrows, tip toe with caution as they approach the dog, then stop behind the dog and look at me again. Are they waiting for the weasel to go pop? Honest to goodness, I’ve witnessed pure fear on the face of a fellow hunter.
“When a rooster flushes in front of my Lab it’s all instinct and excitement,” one friend explained last season. “With your darned pointer, it’s like watching a Friday the 13th movie and you know Jason is around the corner with an axe.”
I’ve also been told by pointing dog purists to never walk up directly behind a pointer, but rather come in from the front or at an angle. The pointer purist worries about inadvertently causing “creeping” by approaching a dog from behind. “Creeping” being the unwanted broken point and creep forward of the dog toward the bird.
With this subject in mind, I called Purina’s “top dog” and pro trainer Bob West for his guidance on how best to approach a dog on point. “There is no clear cut, best way to approach a dog on point. You have to factor in the dog’s level of ability, the scenting conditions that day and the species of bird you anticipate being pointed to properly make the best approach for the situation,” explained West. “When hunting pheasants, it’s not uncommon for me to make a big 20 yard circled approach in front of a dog on point in an attempt to prevent a rooster from running.”
West went on to explain to me that he does believe young dogs could be caused to creep by approaching them from behind and an angled approach would be advised; however, he didn’t think a seasoned bird dog would be susceptible to the same problem. He stressed repeatedly in knowing your own dog’s tendencies and making the best decisions with your dog in mind rather than what some “expert” advised.
West did add that “perhaps more important than what angle to approach is the speed at which to make your approach. It’s critically important, especially with pheasants, to approach a dog on point at a pace as fast as safely possible. That bird isn’t going to hold all day and the conditions of the scent and scenario are also constantly changing for your dog.”
Lastly, West reminded me that the bird isn’t necessarily where the dog is looking. “It’s important to be ready the entire time you approach a pointed dog and be alert in all directions. The bird may be exactly where the dog is looking, but it oftentimes is not. Where the dog is looking simply is where that dog picked up the scent to lock into a point. That dog has been trained not to move any closer than the moment the scent reached a level to cause the dog to freeze. Its eyes should have nothing to do with it.”
To learn more about the pointing instinct and a variety of dog training questions, tune in to FAN Outdoors radio this Thursday evening at 7:45PM (CDT) as Bob West joins the show for a live interview with me and host “The Captain” Billy Hildebrand. FAN Outdoors airs live on 100.3 FM in Minnesota and can be streamed live across the globe at www.KFAN.com.