Bob St. Pierre

Bob St. Pierre is director of marketing and public relations for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. A lifelong bird hunter, he chases upland birds each fall from Michigan to Montana with his German shorthaired pointer. He's often on the FAN Outdoors show, 6 to 8 a.m. Saturdays on 1130 AM.

Posts about Environment

Bird Dogs, Scent and Finding Birds

Posted by: Bob St. Pierre Updated: April 28, 2014 - 3:46 PM
ScentCone3
With their incredible noses, bird dogs are easily able to distinguish between different environments and bird species, and different species within the same environment. Photo by Bob St.Pierre / Pheasants Forever

I spent a number of days this spring running my German shorthaired pointer, Trammell, through woods I know hold timberdoodle on their migration north. It was interesting to watch Trammell navigate the scent determining when to point and when to press. It got me thinking about the incredible ability of a dog’s nose, so I reached out to Bob West of Purina Dog Foods and a professional trainer with 50 years of experience to teach me more about bird dogs and scent.

The Scent Cloud

“Although the bird dog world has referenced it as a ‘scent cone’ for years, scent doesn’t follow a geometric shape. Scent more closely resembles a cloud,” explained West.

West explained that scent does indeed get bigger as it disperses downwind from the source, but the air current, temperature, humidity, and individual animal’s body heat are just some of the factors influencing the path of scent particles.

Scent 1
Bird scent more closely follows in the form of a cloud as opposed to a cone. Photo courtesy Bob West / Purina.

Using smoke bombs to simulate scent, West has observed the unpredictability of these scent clouds. “I’ve watched scent travel in a path similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. There are indeed holes in scent that one dog can shoot through and another just a few feet away will encounter.

Temperature & Moisture

The temperature of the environment, the body heat emanating from the bird, and the moisture of your dog’s nose are all critical variables as well. Cool, moist days are better for dogs to locate bird scent. Scent seems to hold tighter to the ground longer under cooler and moister conditions.  Likewise, Bob West’s field trial research indicates before 10AM and after 4PM are the optimal times of day for dogs to locate birds, which generally coincides with the cooler portions of the day.

Moisture is also important in your dog’s nose. A dog’s ability to scent requires the sensory receptors in the pup’s nose being clean and moist. This is one of the reasons abundant water is necessary in the field.

West also believes dogs have the ability to sense, or perceive the body heat of a bird. “Birds are warm blooded animals and I believe our dogs have the ability to determine a bird’s location by using more than just the sense of smell. I believe bird dogs also factor in heat from other animals, as well as disturbed vegetation.”

Hot Spots

The combination of a concentration of scent, disturbed vegetation and the bird’s body heat create “hot spots.” Oftentimes, these hot spots are the cause of a flash point or a flusher’s increased tail motion. It’s perfectly okay for your dog to focus in on these hot spots. The key is for the dog to process the clues mentally and decipher the bird’s subsequent moves forward.

Dog’s Health

A pup needs to be in good physical condition to accurately process scent, heat and disturbed vegetation. “It’s my job to talk about nutrition because of my role at Purina, but it is in fact critically important to your dog’s success in the field. A dog that’s appropriately nourished, well hydrated, and in good physical condition for the rigors of hunting is certainly more able to find birds as well as mentally process scent and clues,” added West.

Bird Identity

I’ve long believed my shorthair had the ability to observe the difference in habitat between the grouse woods and the pheasant fields, then to know what bird she was scenting for during a particular hunt based upon the cover being hunted. What I wasn’t anticipating was that she’d be able to distinguish different species by scent in the same environment, but that’s exactly what happened on a recent hunt club visit when Trammell locked up on a rooster pheasant with a bobwhite quail in her mouth during a retrieve.

West confirmed the photo’s story, “There is no doubt dogs know the difference between species of birds. They also can differentiate between individuals of the same species. For instance, I’ve observed dogs point roosters with a rooster already in their mouth. Dogs definitely know the smells of different species and individual birds being hunted.”

West also went on to explain that dogs do not get desensitized to smell like humans. “If you walk into a room with fresh cut roses, you’ll notice them for the first few minutes but then the ability to distinguish that rose sent fades. That fade doesn’t happen with dogs. Their noses are exponentially better focused than our sense of smell.”

Hunting Dead Birds

West also reports that dogs can tell the difference between a dead bird, crippled bird and a living/healthy bird. So, when you drop a bird in the tall grass that isn’t immediately retrieved, just stop. The worst mistake a hunter can make is barging into that spot and start breaking down that vegetation. “Let your dog work the cover and scent. If that bird has been hit, imagine the scent from broken tissue or a ruptured digestive track. Your dog will find that scent if you don’t tamper with it. Don’t underestimate your dog’s ability to read disturbed vegetative cover too.  They can piece together the puzzle.”

Up Wind, Down Wind, Cross Wind

“Hunt em all,” proclaims West.  “You’ll never encounter a day where hunting up wind will always lead you back to your truck. Dogs are used to hunting through variable wind conditions and these different wind directions can make your dog a better bird finder in the long run.”

Just Add Luck

As we finished off our conversation, I asked West to break down into a percentage how much of a dog’s success was the result of its training/master and how much was the dog’s ability. Here’s how he broke it down for me.

Locating Birds (finding): 30% Human influenced / 70% Dog’s Natural Ability

Handling Birds (pointing, flushing, working a runner): 25% Human influenced / 50% Dog’s Natural Ability & 25% LUCK

“You simply can’t forget about luck,” Bob finished.  “Sometimes all the training and dog power can’t equal a dose of good luck.”

If you’d like to learn more about bird dogs and their scenting abilities, Bob West was a guest on FAN Outdoors radio on Saturday April 26th.  Listen to the KFAN podcast.

 

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

Wolters’ Gun Dog: A Great Place to Start for New Bird Dog Puppy Owners

Posted by: Bob St. Pierre Updated: April 16, 2014 - 2:14 PM

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve received dozens of messages from bird hunters excited to welcome a puppy into their lives for the first time this spring. Most of these messages have revolved around one central question:

“Do I have any tips for starting off on the right foot in a pup’s training process?”

Yes, yes I do. Although it was first published in 1961, it’s my opinion Richard Wolters’ book Gun Dog remains the gold standard for beginning bird dog owners.

  • Fundamentals of Obedience. While the book covers more advanced elements of your hunting dog’s education (introduction to guns, birds, and water), it’s Wolters’ focus on the basics of obedience that keep me pointing folks toward Gun Dog as a wonderful foundation upon which to create the bird dog of your dreams.
  • Visual Learners. Gun Dog is also filled with photos and easy-to-understand captions of the training process. Like a good cookbook that includes a snapshot from every step of a recipe, Wolters does a wonderful service to the reader including photos to bring home his text for more visual learners.
  • Bowties & Bird Dogs. Speaking of photos, I always get a kick out of the photos of Wolters training his English setter in his bowtie. The point being, Wolters’ training exercises are short and easy for the bird dog owner after a long work day.
  • Breed Agnostic. It doesn’t make any difference if you own a Lab, springer, or German wirehair, Gun Dog is a versatile training guide for retrievers, flushers or pointers.

As you progress in the training process, you’ll encounter folks who disagree with some of the finer points of Wolters’ instructions. For instance, some pointing dog trainers nowadays don’t want to teach their dog the sit command out of concern a point will slide into a sit. Additionally, Wolters’ text came prior to the advent of e-collars as training tools. There is no doubt some things have changed in the 53 years since Wolters wrote Gun Dog. The basics haven’t changed and that’s where Gun Dog shines.

I’ve used Wolters’ principles to help me establish the fundamentals in two German shorthaired pointing bird dogs that have also doubled as obedient members of our family. I plan to use Wolters’ guidance again on my pup to arrive this summer. If you’re looking for the first building block in training a bird dog yourself, then Wolters’ Gun Dog is a fantastic place to start.

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

Recipe: Pheasant Harvest Soup

Posted by: Bob St. Pierre Updated: November 27, 2013 - 3:39 PM

 

I realize pheasant breasts are the “Holy Grail” of wild game succulence, but don’t overlook a rooster’s thighs and legs. And for goodness sake, don’t just breast the bird and garbage the remainder. Pheasant legs are certainly tougher to cook, but a rooster’s legs and thighs actually produce quite a lot of tasty dark meat when handled with care.

Perhaps the easiest way to put those pheasant legs to good use is in soup.  As I’ve written before, I enjoy spending my summer in the garden. Consequently, I find great pleasure in marrying early season roosters with late harvested garden veggies.

While I’m not skilled in making my own stock, this soup recipe is tasty and simple.

Ingredients

  • 2 sets of pheasant legs
  • ½ cup of wild rice
  • 3 cups of sliced carrots (I am a fan of planting multi-colored carrots in my garden)
  • 2 cups of diced potatoes
  • 2 sliced jalepenos
  • ½ cup of Petey’s original seasoning (substitute your favorite soup seasoning or boullion cubes)
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 1 cup of Brussels sprouts

Steps

1)      Start by slow boiling the pheasant legs in water for roughly 15 minutes / or slow cooking in a crock pot for an hour.

2)      Remove the legs from the broth and let cool.

3)      Reduce the remaining broth to simmer.

4)      Cook wild rice for 45 minutes in broth on medium simmer.

5)      Add Petey’s spice to broth.

6)      Add carrots and potatoes to the broth after wild rice has cooked for 30 minutes.

7)      After the pheasant legs have cooled, pick the meat off the bones being careful to remove any BBs, feathers and tendons from the lower leg meat.

8)      Add the pulled leg meat to the soup.

9)      Simmer the soup on low, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes as the flavors mix together.

10)  Dish the soup into bowls on top of fresh broccoli and Brussels sprouts.  This will ensure these green veggies stay crunchy and retain their color.

11)  Serve with your favorite soup cracker.

This preparation is definitely not fancy, but it’s certainly not difficult.  And I promise, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll begin looking forward to saving the legs from future roosters.

 

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever's Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

BOOK REVIEW: “A Bird Hunter’s Table”

Posted by: Bob St. Pierre Updated: November 13, 2013 - 2:11 PM

 

I seem to collect wild game cookbooks these days in the same addictive manner I once accumulated baseball cards. The newest addition to my pantry bookshelf is “A Bird Hunter’s Table,” by Sarah M. Davies.

During the day, Davies is the Senior Director for Western Development at Trout Unlimited.  Although in the same conservation industry, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Davies.  However, after consuming the pages of her new game bird-focused book, I do have a sense of who she is and I’m certain I’d like her in person. Her passion for dogs, bird hunting, and festive game bird dinners with friends are all easily relatable to me.

While the book is a celebration of pheasants, quail, grouse and ducks as the table’s centerpiece, the pages are truly an ode to her father. In fact, she writes the following:

“I dedicate this book to him and know he will always be with me. Dad had a wonderful way of seeing and painting the sky, and I see his skies nearly every day. His art is infused throughout this book.” 

Ms. Davies can be proud of this book as a worthy tribute. It’s filled with her father’s stunning artwork, as well as beautiful hunting and bird dog photography. Likewise, the recipes are straightforward and consumable for the “want-to-be-a-chef” guy like me. My single wish would have been for a greater number of photos of the dishes next to each recipe. I am a visual learner and always appreciate knowing what my end goal is supposed to look like when in the kitchen.  However, the book stands on its own without those photos.

Davies’ first book successfully captures the connection between the land, dogs, birds and food. In fact, Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever’s President and CEO wrote the following endorsement which appears on the book’s back cover:

“In the spirit of Aldo Leopold’s classic writings, it’s important for all of us to remember where our food comes from – the land.  Wise conservation of our natural resources protects our outdoor heritage, water resources and the food on our tables.” 

I’d call that a ringing endorsement. It’s also worth noting that Davies plans to donate a portion of all book sales to Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. Thank you, Sara!

Learn more about the new book and order a copy: “A Bird Hunter’s Table”

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever's Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

BOOK REVIEW: Hank Shaw’s “Duck, Duck, Goose”

Posted by: Bob St. Pierre Updated: November 1, 2013 - 8:41 AM
The author, Hank Shaw, will also appear at National Pheasant Fest 2014 in Milwaukee
The author, Hank Shaw, will also appear at National Pheasant Fest 2014 in Milwaukee

Over my careers working for Pheasants Forever, in the front office of a minor league baseball team, and co-hosting on KFAN radio, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some relatively famous people.  (WARNING – NAME DROPS COMING)  I’ve had the good fortune to pitch baseballs to the likes of Bill Murray and Andrew Dawson, play catch with Alan Trammell and Rollie Fingers, manage press pools for President George W. Bush, organize meet & greets with Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Michael Stipe of R.E.M., and interview four different members of the Swamp People. Out of all those experiences, I’ve come to value a person’s genuine friendliness above all else.

 

While Hank Shaw doesn’t yet have the name recognition of a Grammy winner, he recently added a James Beard award to his resume as the country’s best food blogger. More importantly, Hank is a guy anyone could drink a beer with while talking about the day’s bird hunt and becoming fast friends. Hank has a way of emulating your oldest drinking buddy.

 

Much to Hank’s chagrin, I always attribute his friendliness to the fact he served as a political reporter while Jesse “The Body” Ventura was Governor of Minnesota and then as beat reporter for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before embracing his culinary career. Anyone having to endure those tenures as a journalist was bound to come out the other end either jaded by the world or able to see the good in humanity under any situation. Thankfully, Hank escaped as the later.

 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten to know Hank through his appearances at National Pheasant Fest where he speaks on the event’s Cooking Stage. During the show when he’s not speaking, Hank hangs out in the Press Room with me and my cohorts. He tells us of his favorite hunts, evening’s dining plans and the scuttlebutt across America’s wild game food scene. More importantly, he jumps in and helps whenever he can. On a moment’s notice, he’s helped me do a live pheasant cooking demonstration for a television station and then the next moment he’s helping haul boxes to a special banquet event upstairs. Want to grab a beer after the day, Hank’s buying.

 

And did I mention, he won the James Beard Award this year as the country’s best food blogger. Basically, he’s the MVP of food writers. And his new book Duck, Duck, Goose lives up to the standard you’d expect coming from the Heisman of honker cooking. Duck, Duck, Goose is filled with exciting recipes featuring wild edibles like morel mushrooms and ramps, as well as fun new approaches like duck sliders and buffalo duck wings.

 

However what I found most interesting was Hank’s review of different species of ducks and geese as table fare. Did you know a specklebelly goose is nicknamed “ribeye in the sky” for its exquisiteness on the plate? I’ve heard the sandhill crane called the ribeye or “flying fillet” before, but never the speck. Hank’s favorite waterfowl for dinner at his own home, the canvasback.

 

Duck, Duck, Goose is a marvelous addition to any bird hunter’s collection. It’s filled with beautiful photography and a good mix of both simple and complex dishes. It’s hard bound and perfectly suited as a gift for the upcoming holiday season. Equally as important, Hank is an independently employed good guy. Your purchase of this book doesn’t furnish a beach house in the Bahamas or a bank account in the Caymans. Your purchase of this book helps a guy like you pay for his hunting license, a box of Prairie Storm and a six pack of suds to wash down a dinner of roast duck.

 

Hank Shaw on a diver duck hunt
Hank Shaw on a diver duck hunt

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

 

Hank is slated to speak on the cooking stage again at National Pheasant Fest 2014 in Milwaukee on February 14, 15 & 16, 2014. His topics include:

  • Happy Hour: Pairing beer & wine with wild game
  • Getting the most from your upland birds
  • Wild game sausage and other curing techniques

 

And lastly, you can listen to Hank with me this Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors. “The Captain” Billy Hildebrand and I will be interviewing Hank about the new book and his fall hunting & book tour across the country. I’ll also do my best to persuade Hank to begin writing an upland-oriented book for his third hardbound endeavor. So far, he’s refuted my advances, but we’ll see if 100,000 watt radio can change his mind. Tune in at 6:30AM this Saturday on FM 100.3 or anywhere in the world at www.KFAN.com.

 

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever's Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

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