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The Good Reasons We Do Not Have Bird Dogs

The Good Reasons We Do Not Have Bird Dogs

A bird hunter holds up a pheasant.

You don’t need a bird dog to be part of the uplands; it’s just a different method of the same pursuit

Yes, I said it. There are good reasons people do not have bird dogs. I have been there and despite owning a bird dog now, I have yet to arrive at a god complex that does not let me hear the logic and reasons why others do not. If we just stop and listen we certainly will say, “Okay, that makes sense. Maybe not for me, but I get it.” Start with the fact that we all know a couple people here and there who are better off leaving their dogs at home (brutal honesty) and we can start to see the light.

Bird recovery is based on personal ethics. Those who put in major efforts to recover downed game with or without a dog are those who are the ethical ones.

Before anyone starts with the whole “more birds are lost without a dog” rant I want to set the record straight. Bird recovery is based on personal ethics. Those who put in major efforts to recover downed game with or without a dog are those who are the ethical ones. There are many dogs that are far from good retrievers and sometimes a simple dead point and on to the next living bird can result in many lost birds. In fact, one can argue that people hunting without a dog are more apt to proactively put more time and effort into bird recovery because it always takes some leg work.

Now some of us have a bird dogs with some strong retrieving skills, we get it. I am not saying people without dogs recover more game. But I am pointing out that just because someone has a dog does not automatically equate to them recovering more game. We should not think that dogless hunters are the bane of the world when hunters with dogs are losing game as well. That is a fact. I do not know how the saying goes exactly, but something like the measure of a person’s true character is what they do when no one is watching . . .  

The largest fact of all is that there are more dogless bird hunters than bird dog hunters.

The largest fact of all is that there are more dogless bird hunters than bird dog hunters. No matter how much any of us kick and scream, that will not change (certainly not through bullying). These folk will always use the land and the resources. They should be welcomed in our organizations and communities that go the extra mile to give back to habitat work. If we hunt with a bird dog or without, we are de facto members of the same organic community.

Read: Tips on Hunting Sage Grouse without a Dog

They just don’t have the space

For plenty of my life I have lived in small spaces. That is true for many people, college students, city dwellers, and by virtue of just plain financials. It is in fact a respectable decision to not bring a bird dog into a home that is not equipped for it. That is in no way a prerequisite for giving up on bird hunting. Bird hunting is a wonderful escape and sometimes even more so in living arrangements that do not support dogs. So making the ethical choice to not put a bird dog in a living space it should not be in and will not accelerate in, is a very good reason to not have a bird dog.

dogless hunter
The author in his pre-bird dog days. . .

They can’t afford it

Bird dogs cost money. I should not have to write much more past this but for the sake of this being highly relevant to the focus of this article I will elaborate. Food, gear, toys and vaccines carry with them a whole realm of added expenses. Add in the curve balls like the unforeseen veterinary bill that can either cripple someone financially or cost a dog its life.

On top of that, add in the possibility of the cost associated with training a dog. For a reason mentioned in the first paragraph (and the next point) some people may need a professional trainer to help them navigate their way to a decent bird dog.

They are bad at training dogs

I can make films and take photos. Some people who follow Project Upland can do the same. Some cannot do either of those things. We all do them at different levels. Like all things, some of us are good at something while others are not. So goes the way of training bird dogs.

Sometimes people’s personalities and dogs’ personalities just do not vibe. Maybe we just did not inherit that gene; maybe we are slow learners. None of those things make someone a bad person, but they may make someone better off not having a bird dog.

Upland Gun Company Dog Engraving

They or loved ones are allergic to dogs

This is real life. My wife is allergic to dogs. It is very complicated and turns out that Wirehaired Pointing Griffons are not hypoallergenic. For some people this can be a crippling blow that is just unsolvable. If someone is allergic enough there is no allergy shot or home remedy that makes living with a bird dog a reasonable act.  

Bird hunting is not their number one priority

I used to be whitetail-obsessed. The whole works — armies of trail cameras, treestand sets I would lose count of. That was my vibe at the time. But I still loved bird hunting, I still went north and hunted grouse in the camps of my youth. I did it without a dog for the value of escaping the city and the same excitement of hearing the thunderous rise of wings (yes, I shot them on the wing . . . most of the time).

In those days I never would have invited the responsibility of a bird dog, never mind the idea of dog scent on my obsessive scent control routine. More so, I could not imagine explaining to my dog now as I walk out the door that I am going hunting without him. It just is not possible. I cannot disappoint him like that.

They just don’t want a dog

Why would we as a community alienate those who have the same love for upland birds because of methodology?

Its simple. “I just don’t want a bird dog.”

Maybe it’s cleaning up hair, routines, responsibility, too many kids, “I got bit by a dog once,” whatever it is. You do NOT need a bird dog to be an upland bird hunter. It is not a prerequisite. We share the same covers, the same parking spots, the same game. Why would we as a community alienate those who have the same love for upland birds because of methodology?

By no means am I saying to not spread the holy word of bird dog obsession. Just remember it’s okay if someone chooses not to. Still invite them along, still share a place at the table. There is a huge benefit to us all being part of the same upland community.  

View Comments (25)
    • Yes! Bingo! You win the internet today with that single sentence!
      I think the article is a bit of a strawman too. Are there really hordes of dogless hunters suffering emotionally from rejection at the hands of those who hunt with dogs? No. I didn’t think so.
      I think the truth is the opposite, that many, if not most of us who hunt with dogs started out without a hunting dog and were invited along with someone who had a dog. That’s how I got introduced to the sport and I would wager I am not unique in that regard.
      I have also invited plenty of dogless people to hunt with me and my dogs and I think there are a lot of dog-owning hunters who do the same.

      • I think that article was more of a making people feel ok for not having dogs. There’s a lot of people that get into this and think they need to have a dog to bird hunt. We try to be minimalists since we don’t have a ton of money and still hunt and have to put in the miles.

        The bond is totally true too. I can’t wait till I can get another dog to train up. Even the training dogs is a huge part of hunting that not having a dog makes you miss out on.

        • What I got out of it is that regardless of if you have a dog or not, trying to find a bird is a point of ethics. As a duck hunter I see people lose birds in the reeds all the time and do nothing other then walk around for a second to find a duck. We like to add any lost birds as part of my bag limit so that I’m not shooting too many birds but that’s all.

  • The best thing a dogless hunter can do is become friends with a hunter with a dog. Upland hunting is pretty friendly community, it’s not that hard. Time in the field is more productive and enjoyable with dogs. Watching a good dog work or the switch going on for a pup is a thing of beauty.

    While there maybe species of birds that are mostly recoverable without dogs, I haven’t hunted them. Saying you can find as many birds as a dog is like saying you can out run one. You can try, but it will never happen.

  • Yeah, ya don’t. I hunted for years with out one until I was fortunate to have one. A really good one. (I now have 10). But I believe your lecture is misplaced. I never was left out and I have never left out anyone because of a lack of a dog.

  • I think it all comes down to actual numbers. The argument that “more” birds are lost when not using a dog. I’ll grant that some are lost, but. How many bad shots are taken? How many “wounded” birds, per year or per hunt, fly off? Are we talking 1 or 2 per year, per hunt, per day? If the latter, then maybe more practice at the range would be better than a dog. Growing up, when we didn’t have a setter, we still hunted. We still collected our birds. I really can’t remember loosing one. So, lets flip it a bit, should deer hunters use dogs? I know first hand of several “lost” deer due to poor shooting, poor tracking ability, and other reasons. Foot hunters, dogless, are still upland hunters. Why ostracize them, look at them sideways, or otherwise discouraged them? Embrace them and thank them for their contribution to conservation.

    • FYI I know that to hunt deer in some European countries it is a legal requirement where you have to prove you have access to a tracking dog. You also need to pass hunter exams i.e. to prove you can identify species, seasons and also place humane shots.

      I have seen birds ‘pillow cased’ and therefore rendered inedible, not cool!

    • Regarding deer and dogs, I actually stopped hunting deer for a few years, one reason being I did not have a functional dog (too old) to track them when they run–sometimes 100 yards or more–even after a good shot. Perhaps I’m lazy but I never saw good reason to learn blood tracking when, hunting my own land, I could simply go home after shooting a deer (muzzle loader), usually in near darkness within 5 minutes of closing, have a Scotch, get my dog (Labs in the past, a Griff now) and return to the place I shot the deer and command “Find!” They could do in about 30 seconds in the dark what would have taken me perhaps hours, if I found it at all. I’ve never lost a deer using a dog to find a downed one. And, BTW, never had a problem with dogs chasing deer.

  • So what you’re saying is you’re better off without a dog if you have an untrained mut? I think that’s a fair statement, you could also substitute mut for lab ;). With a well trained bird dog you will not only find more birds, but you now have a chance at recovering wounded birds. No man without a dog that I know could catch a Chukar running up hill with a broken wing.

  • I’ve been on both sides. Started hunting grouse without a dog and had fun and found most of my birds. Then owned dogs for 30 years and really appreciated the experience of hunting with a good dog and the bond you have, and them finding birds you never would have found. I almost always looked for a friend to take along that liked to bird hunt but didn’t have a dog. I hope to own one again, but I will simply not do the dog injustice sitting in a kennel most of the year just to take on the few times my schedule allows me to go right now. With as few bird hunters as there are left, we need to encourage others to experience the challenge and excitement of hunting wild game birds, with or without a dog.

  • I really like everything about Project Upland BUT you really missed the boat on this one. I do not think that you can truly experience the essence of upland bird hunting without the presence of the dog. The interaction of the dog and game is truly the heart of the experience. When a good dog strikes bird scent, trails that scent to its origin and holds the quarry until you arrive to flush you have truly experienced upland bird hunting. I welcome ALL hunters but you can not have the total experience of upland bird hunting without the dog.

    • 100% agree that is a lot missed without a dog. Both very different experiences. Your last statement “I welcome ALL hunters . . .” is the reason we create articles like this. Because not all people in our community are accepting like you. We wish more could agree with that and still preach bird dogs!

      “By no means am I saying to not spread the holy word of bird dog obsession. Just remember it’s okay if someone chooses not to. Still invite them along, still share a place at the table. There is a huge benefit to us all being part of the same upland community.”

      Thanks for the input ans support Terry.

  • This is an interesting subject. We shouldn’t exclude people for not having a dog we should encourage them to hunt with someone who has so they can see the benefits.
    Here in Scotland we have the same debate around wildfowling duck and geese (waterfowling) and deer hunting in forests.
    I would welcome everyone into the hunting community and encourage them to learn all it’s traditions , hunting with people who have dogs until they can see if their lifestyle is suitable to having dogs. If not they should continue to hunt with friends who have dogs.
    It isn’t acceptable or humane to hunt and not be able find wounded or dead game. Whether it’s your dog or a friends doesn’t matter , but a good dog is must .

    • Our small group of four hunts with two pointing dogs, a Britt and a GSP, and two Labs. The older lab has a 99% retrieve rate, even in CRP quarter sections in South Dakota. I would guess the retrieve rate without her on wounded birds would be close to zero in the heavy stuff. If I could take only one dog, I would take the Lab, as her tail wagging speed is almost as good as a point in locating a bird. The pointing dogs will lose interest in tracking a running bird in the thick stuff, the Lab will run it to the next county. All in the genes.
      If I couldn’t take a dog, I would stay home and shoot clays and watch football.

  • I am going to have to, not exactly disagree with other replies,but something like it. When it comes to upland game, a dog adds another element, sure. They find birds that we don’t, they retrieve birds we’d rather not, they’re often full of unique personality. But to say that anyone is doing it wrong, or worse yet to think yourself better, because they lack dog power is a sin and disservice to the community. I hunt with and without dogs. Depending on the location, weather, and hunting pressure, I’ll choose to leave the dog at home. In fact, my holdout field corner, my honey hole, where I can nearly always kill a rooster, has rarely produced a bird in the presence of a dog. Why? Beats me. My point is that dogless hunting (particularly solo) can be just as satisfying as with a dog, and nearly as successful. Taking responsible shots is as important with a dog as without. And for those that won’t look for a bird the dog couldn’t find, simple shame. If you can walk that far to kill it but won’t bend to search for it yourself, shoot skeet and stay on the pavement.

  • No one should be alienated from enjoying bird hunting due to the lack of dog power, but to say there isn’t an ethical dilemma concerning bird hunting without a dog is naive at best. While the act of bird recovery may be based on “personal ethics”, in reality, bird recovery is based on the percentage of birds recoverd. Once an individual makes the transition from a casual bird hunter to a dyed in the wool bird hunter, they should be willing to use a dog for the sake of the birds we love.

  • I have never hunted but am very interested in learning…in fact, this post has encouraged me to try harder. I live in a metro area and don’t know any hunters willing to take me out. In addition, a dog of any sort is not possible for us, and a bird dog would be doubly so. While I appreciate the fact that hunting with a dog is part and parcel of a well rounded upland experience, I doubly appreciate the fact that someone is willing to encourage new hunters… Here’s a thought: for all of you say the only way to hunt is with a dog, I challenge each of you to take an interested newbie out with you and your dog each time you go into the field for the rest of the season. If you are not willing to do that, perhaps you are part of the problem of declining hunter numbers and the resulting potential loss of habitat and hunting and gun rights that accompanies the decline of shooting sports.

  • Interesting article AJ. I wonder what the loss is like without a dog and wonder if you can get that info. Tom Roster, who worked with the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education program (CONSEP) has been doing research on wounding loss for 30 years. His info Is really good stuff. I personally participated in one of his trainings in Missouri. He had folks from all over the country in the class and I served as “dog handler” for two days. It was a really interesting class and if I remember correctly, this class went from recovering about 30% of wounded birds (without a dog) to better than 90% recovery of wounded birds (without a dog) through extensive training. P.S. we recovered all birds deemed by Tom as “wounded” in the field with dogs. So for sure, a good retriever is worth their salt.

    • Very interesting stuff! Would be a great article to get that information out there. And as always thank you for the continued efforts you folks are doing at PF and QF on mentoring!

  • Nice article. I personally feel that losing birds is never ok. It’s a commitment to training reliable retrieving and taking clean shots. i understand it doesn’t fit with everyone’s lifestyle. You are welcome to come hunt with me and my dogs!

  • I, think everyone is missing the point.. its not about the killing a bird, its about watching one of best athletes on earth do what he was born to do. If you have never thrilled at seeing a bird dog go from full speed To an unimaginable full statue stop, and stay there unmoving until his owner gets there. You probably can’t understand why a guy like me lives where I do so i can keep bird dogs.

    Having a dog that can find dead birds should be required. I get A little sick when I see a group of rabbit hunters blasting away at our dwindling supply of quail. I’m unable to hunt these days and it hurts to hear people talk about hunting without a good bird dog.

    After keeping bird dogs for over 50 years. I can’t imagine someone trying to justify bird hunting with no dog.

    Tx Dan

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