Around mid October, I often hear this complaint from grouse hunters and, according to some legends of the grouse woods, with good reason.
The ruffed grouse is the wariest of the species hunted by bird dogs, the wisest and hardest to handle.
~ Henry P. Davis, famed field trial judge and author of Training Your Own Bird Dog
From my experience, dogs bump birds for many reasons. First determine why your dog is doing it and then take proper steps to correct the problem.
Cover and weather conditions.
Early season cover can be thick and heavy or weather can be warm and dry. These conditions can make scenting difficult for both veteran grouse dogs and those less inexperienced.
How to correct: This will usually correct itself as conditions change and improve.
Seeing grouse on the ground.
Frequently, dogs see grouse on the ground. The temptation is just too much for some dogs and they will try to catch the bird which results in a flushed bird.
How to correct: Whoa/steadiness training with a bird visible on the ground.
Lack of experience.
While the occasional dog will be a natural and show an innate ability to point grouse with just a few contacts, generally, repeated exposure over several seasons are necessary to make a good grouse dog.
How to correct: More grouse contacts.
Lack of training.
The dog doesn’t understand it is not supposed to flush birds.
How to correct: Train the dog using the “whoa” command and teach “stop to flush.” Both are critical means to communicate to the dog what we want it to do.
Planted game birds.
The dog has been over-exposed to planted game birds. A dog can get very close to a planted game bird before it stops to point. Grouse, on the other hand, are just the opposite and will flush if a dog gets too close.
How to correct: Give the planted bird contacts a rest and provide more exposure to grouse.
The dog lacks the ability to find and point grouse due to a genetic reason: bad nose, bad pointing instincts or physical limitations.
How to correct: Next time you’re in the market for a grouse dog, thoroughly check out the breeding.
As you can see, some reasons dogs bump grouse are out of our control but many others can be corrected by a sound training program designed to teach the dog what we expect of it and to correct the dog when it makes a mistake. Ultimately, plenty of opportunity to point them is critical.