Confessions Of A First Year Gun Dog Handler & Wild Bird Hunter
September 25, 2017 I brought home my future hunting partner and first gun dog, Yeti, a 3 month old liver and white American Brittany.
Yeti and I pictured in our first photo together
It's hard to believe the first year of training, hunting and owning my fist gun dog has come and gone. The age old saying is true, time flies. Our first year was all about learning. Myself, learning how to handle a dog. The dog, learning commands and translating that into field work. And the two of us learning how to hunt wild birds in our home state of Michigan together. We had some exciting times together in the Fall of 2018 and the months of training leading up to our first hunting season. Things didn't always come easy though, and our first year certainly had a learning curve to it.
The following are my confessions as a first year gun dog owner and wild bird hunter.
1 - Dogs Are NOT Machines
Seeing a pointer haul ass and kick dirt through a field quartering side to side is a beautiful sight. The first time you experience it you realize this is what that dog was bred to do. The athleticism, drive and skill they exhibit make them seem like they could continue on forever in that state without skipping a beat.
It was October 4th, 2018 and Yeti and I were 5 days deep into an 8 day long trip to northern Michigan grouse hunting. The cover was thick, the weather was warm and I noticed a difference in my dog as the week continued. Yeti was losing weight, his stomach was cut and scratched from busting through the thick early season cover. He was moving slower and his range was diminishing. I wanted to push on, I wanted to keep hunting because that's how I have always hunted. But at that moment I realized my dog was not a machine and he could only handle so much. It was time for some well deserved rest even though that meant sacrificing hunting time.
Yeti cooling down on a sandy road after several days of hunting in the early season heat
2 - I Shot At A Bird Over My Young Pointer When He Broke Point & Flushed The Bird
They call this the sin of all sins when it comes to training a young dog, and I have to confess, I am guilty of this one.
It was Saturday September 22, 2018 and Yeti and I were out in search of grouse and woodcock. It was our second weekend hunting wild birds together (Grouse season opens Sept. 15th in MI) and we were both anxious to get our hands, and mouth, on our first bird together. It was a warm day, pushing 70 degrees, but the sun was setting and the day was cooling bringing the air back down to a comfortable temp for that time of year. We pushed back through a swamp to a young section of aspens and oak. We had just cut onto an old logging road where I paused for a minute to get our bearings and the direction we were heading when Yeti went on point right next to me. I stood in disbelief as he was just feet from me. But his tail quivered with excitement and his head staunch as could be. I trusted his nose smelled something to put him in that pose. As I stood there contemplating my next move Yeti broke point to turn 90 degrees towards the scent cone. The bird busted and erupted to the sky. I quickly threw my gun to my shoulder and rushed off two shots. I had told myself not to shoot at a bird that my dog had flushed, I knew what the consequences could yield. But the excitement had gotten the best of me and I threw all caution to the wind (this was the first grouse I had ever gotten a shot at). Luckily for me I missed as the bird disappeared swiftly into the green canopy of young aspens. I knew I had made a mistake by shooting. I just rewarded my dog with the sound of gun fire for busting a bird. There wasn't anything else to do but keep hunting though, so we pushed on. A half hour later Yeti went on point again. I approached in effort to flush the bird. Yeti was different this time though. He was so staunch he looked as if he was worried that even blinking an eye would flush the bird. It took several minutes to flush the bird, this one held tight, and so did Yeti. When the bird finally flushed, Yeti remaining staunch, I hopelessly chucked shells into the air as the fast moving grouse escaped into the thick canopy cover once again. We hunted for the rest of the evening and ended up shooting two woodcock, which Yeti pointed solid. Thinking back I can only wonder what would have happened to my dog if I hit that grouse. I've never been happier to miss a shot in my life.
Two Woodcock from our hunt on the night of Sat. Sept. 22, 2018
3 - I Pushed My Dog Too Hard At Too Young Of An Age
One of the biggest things I realized (quickly) was that training a dog is not an over night process. I became frustrated at times when my dog couldn't fully understand what I wanted him to do. I had to take a step back and look at the picture in whole, and even go back to the beginning steps of some processes again to re teach and re learn together. I pushed him too hard at too young of an age at times, and came close to causing some serious damage to our training path. But I turned the ship around and made the process fun again - something you cannot lose sight of when training a young dog.
4 - Not All Aspen Covers Hold Grouse
I learned this one the hard way. It seemed easy at first glance when reading about grouse hunting. Find some aspens and start walking, and keep walking till you find birds. Well I did plenty of the finding aspens and walking part, but I lacked the finding grouse part the first few weeks of season. Eventually after finding a few birds here and there, I took note as to why that bird was there. I learned the hard way (but inevitable way for a first time grouse hunter), and I eventually learned that not all aspen cuttings and covers hold grouse.
Looks can be deceiving. No grouse called this covert home.
5 - The Birds Will Always Humble You
Just when you think you've got things figured out and an upper hand on the birds, they always seem to humble you.
It was the Saturday of December 1, 2018 and Michigans second pheasant season had just re opened after a two-week break for the states gun deer season. Yeti and I were hunting with good friend Justin Berkley and his Brittany, Forrest. Two hours deep into the hunt and we had already bagged 3 roosters, just one bird short of our 2 man limit. My watch had just struck 11 o'cock and I thought we'd stumble across our 4th and final bird in no time. Fast forward four hours and we had only moved one more hen. The dogs were tired and bleeding from thick cover and crusty snow, and rain was creeping in on us overhead. It was time to call it quits. The birds had humbled us once again as we left the fields one bird short of our limit that I was so sure we were going to get.
3 roosters and 2 tired Dogs later, the birds humbled us. The dog on the right (Forrest) had cut the tip of his ear in a briar patch. The dogs gave it their all that day.
6 - Deer Hunting No Longer Holds The Top Spot Of My Favorite Outdoor Activity
For as long as I can remember it was hard to compare anything else to drawing a bow back on a deer you scouted for, ready to release an arrow to harvest the meat for your freezer. Deer hunting was all I had slept and breathed the previous 15 years of my life. It was something I obsessed about. Trail Cameras, scouting, hanging stands and finding new places to hunt - I loved every aspect of it. Then one day I brought home a gun dog and I had a change of heart. As I spent more time with my dog and learning about bird hunting, my focus shifted. My dog swept me off my feet and I found myself anxiously awaiting the next time I could see him work. Anxiously waiting for that next shot at a bird. Don't get me wrong I still love to deer hunt, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. There is not much that beats a freezer full of venison - It's as good as gold, money in the bank. My wife and I will eat 3 deer a year no problem. But I definitely see myself allocating more time to bird hunting in the future over deer hunting. I've been bit by the bird dog bug. Lord help me, another hobby to consume my time and money, just what I needed.
Hind sight in life is that you always find things you'd change or do different, but I've found that is part of the learning process no matter what you're setting out to accomplish. It's been a great first year Yeti, and I can't wait for what the future holds for us in the field over the coming years.
Yeti and I taking a moment to celebrate the hard work that went into finding our first Wild Public Land MI rooster - a day I soon won't forget
Yeti displaying a steady point on woodcock - A sight that now gets my blood pumping
About the Author: Cliff Enzor
Resident of the mitten shaped state of Michigan, founder of Uplander and outdoor enthusiast. Supporter of public lands, conservation efforts and the growth of hunting. When not chasing the flush with his Brittany, Yeti, Cliff can be found kayaking public waters with his wife, sitting in a treestand with a bow in hand or wetting a line with friends. Enzor has spent his entire career in the outdoor industry working as an outdoor television producer, photographer, graphic designer and marketing manager.
Follow Cliff on Instagram @fulldrawcliff