A hunting dog's first grouse season is vital

  • Article by: BETSY DANIELSON and JERRY KOLTER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2013 - 5:45 PM

Lessons learned will set the table for a dog’s success later.

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The golden leaves of October lie crisp on the forest floor. The dog’s bell rings merrily as the hunt moves from one likely piece of grouse cover to another. Suddenly, the bell stops. With high anticipation, the hunter searches and, near an alder edge, sees the dog — body rigid and eyes intensely focused. As the hunter approaches, a ruffed grouse noisily flushes and the report of a shotgun swiftly follows.

To achieve that classic ruffed grouse hunting experience with your dog will require hours in the woods and years of effort, for there is no game bird more difficult for a pointing dog to properly handle than a ruffed grouse. It is wily, wary and often called “King of the Woods.”

The process of developing a puppy into an experienced grouse dog begins with the all-important first season. The dog is at an impressionable age and lessons learned will set the foundation for future success.

Here are important considerations to make the most of this time.

Be prepared

Before taking your young dog into the grouse woods for its first hunt, make sure you’re prepared.

The foremost consideration is proper introduction to birds and gunfire. A basic obedience command, HERE or COME, and an attention-getting command, such as calling its name, need to be understood. In addition, the means to enforce those commands, such as a check cord or e-collar, is necessary.

Your young dog also should be accustomed to the sound of a bell or a beeper and to riding in a vehicle. It should be at a suitable weight and in good health, too.

Exposure to grouse

Most of what a dog needs to know about finding and pointing grouse is learned from the birds themselves. Exposure to grouse — and plenty of them — is crucial.

Your puppy will learn key details about grouse.

• Where they are most likely to be found.

•  How to differentiate where the grouse is as opposed to where it was.

•  How close to get before the bird flushes.

• That it can’t catch the grouse.

• How to follow running birds.

The goal is to have your puppy hunt for and find grouse. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.

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  • At four years of age, Prancer, a pointer female, is a mature, experienced, fully trained dog. She’s wearing an e-collar.

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