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The Reasons to Consider a Versatile Hunting Dog

The Reasons to Consider a Versatile Hunting Dog

A versatile hunting dog retrieves a bird to hand

The author explores all the parts in between upland game that make a true versatile hunting dog

We were searching for late season roosters on a frosty, foggy afternoon. Scratchy calls echoed around us, but the fog was disorienting and challenged any sense of direction or distance. It became clear that any success was going to depend on equal parts of luck and skill.

Suddenly the pup went on a hard point at the edge of the cattails and my heart began to pound. The marsh was thick with grasses and I hoped that the rooster would have a hard time running ahead of us. I charged into the cover with confidence, but I was immediately stopped by the impenetrable wall of cattails. I glanced back and saw that Piper, my Deutsch Langhaar, was still holding point. Realizing that I wasn’t going to make any progress through the tangle of brush, I released her and hoped she’d get the bird to take wing. She relocated a short distance and locked up again, focused on the ground right in between us.

You’re kidding, I thought. There’s no chance that a rooster is sitting there while we’re crashing around like this. But if nothing else, I’ve learned to always trust the dog.

On a second release, Piper pounced into the grass and started to dig. A few moments later, she emerged with a huge drake Mallard – freshly shot and still warm under his feathers. She proudly presented it to me and I admired the gorgeous bird before putting it in my vest. With this discovery, it was now official – the pup had found more of her own wild birds this season than I had successfully shot over her. Maybe she didn’t need me after all.

I knew that having a well-trained, versatile dog would improve our game recovery rate, which was one of the many reasons we’d decided to get a bird dog in the first place. I understood this from firsthand experience: I clearly remember shooting a duck in my first season and, after an hour of searching the reeds, I finally had to resign myself to empty-handed defeat. It stung to know that I’d taken a life and let it go to waste. I became hesitant to pull the trigger after that experience, being deeply afraid of another senseless waste.

But despite knowing that a dog would assist in my own bird recoveries, I had no idea how many birds we’d find that had been left behind by other hunters. In this past season alone, the pup found a couple of ring-necked pheasant, a few mallards, and a snow goose – all either fatally wounded or freshly killed – and thankfully prevented from unnecessary suffering or waste. To me, that’s true versatility: bringing home game regardless of the circumstances.

Read: A Introduction to Jump Shooting Ducks on Upland Hunts

Training for better conservation

Like most versatile hunting dogs, Piper came pre-programmed with a strong, natural retrieving instinct. To build on this, we worked hard to ensure that she was trained to understand the retrieve as a responsibility to bring any and all “treasures” back to us. This meant that we were often the proud recipients of disgusting, mostly-decomposed animal carcasses. We received these with a huge smile and praise for the pup before discreetly jettisoning the carcasses into the brush.

Force fetching can be a subject of controversy and sometimes misunderstanding. We took steps to force fetch the pup in accordance with her temperament; she required a lot of positive reinforcement and very light (but consistent) correction. This took no less than an entire wheel of cheese, much to the delight of the young pup and discerning cheese enthusiast. It’s not inaccurate to say we erred on the side of positive reinforcement before rounding out the lessons with necessary corrections. Our efforts resulted in a dog that fully understood that retrieving is a job that must always be performed regardless of the situation. All dogs are different and therefore must be trained with an individual approach. For us, a gentle but firm approach to force fetching was essential to complete her training as a true versatile hunting dog.

We continue to build on this training with regular games and exercises. Hiding items in the yard, shed hunting for antlers, and doing rabbit drags all build on this idea of “find the good stuff and bring it back to me.” It’s a great way to reinforce the retrieving concept while keeping it lighthearted and fun. It certainly pays off when it’s time to hit the uplands in the fall.

Versatility beyond birds

Since our pup is from the German versatile hunting dog system, we’ve come to understand the extraordinary importance that the Germans place on a dog’s work after the shot. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that this is even more important than the work done before the shot. There’s an intense focus on game recovery of all kinds.

The German testing system reinforces this priority with an emphasis on game recovery. A dog immediately fails a test if he or she ever leaves edible game in the field. We’ve trained hard for furred animal drags and blood tracking in addition to bird work, with the idea that the dog should be able to track down any wounded animal and make a successful recovery.

By contrast, blood tracking for mammals has been a controversial subject in the U.S. Many states still do not allow the use of dogs in deer hunting – understandably, the intent is to prevent the running of deer with packs of dogs. However, the use of a leashed dog in blood tracking is a valuable asset for conservation. In parts of Europe, it’s actually required that a hunter have access to a tracking dog so that any shot animal can be successfully located and collected.

Training our versatile dog for blood tracking has been a rewarding and fun experience for dog and handler alike. It’s another new skill to build and fun game to play. The ultimate goal is increased versatility and better game conservation.

It’s fair to say that I never expected to be calling around to local butcher shops and asking about buckets of blood. I also never expected to raise a flock of pigeons, nor place a mail order for frozen rabbits, nor devote refrigerator space to thawing ducks. But when I think back to that lost duck in the marsh, I’m determined to be a better hunter by ensuring that I have a way to recover any animals that I wound or kill. For me, that answer is a well-trained, versatile dog that accompanies me into the field and finds all the game she possibly can find. She’s my conservation ally and ultimately, my confidence in pulling the trigger.

View Comments (20)
  • I enjoyed this well written article. Not only does it explain why a versatile dog is a must in todays hunting climate it also shows how we as hunters need to make better decisions before pulling the trigger and do a more thorough job in searching for downed game of all species.

    I know this is Project Upland, but as a first time Large Munsterlander owner, if Jennifer were to write an article on some of the blood tracking training I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I like your idea of going into more detail about blood tracking. I’m certainly no expert but it has been a fun journey to build a new skill for the pup and further develop her trust in her own nose. In the meantime, I’ll send along some resources that I’ve used to this point.

  • Great article on why to choose a versatile hunting dog. As a hunter who has owned coon hounds and upland dogs, Redbone and Plott hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Brittany Spaniels, English Setters before moving to Versatile breeds eleven years ago. Now I have Large Munsterlanders and Bracco Italiano’s, and have been involved with LMAA, BICA, VHDF and NAVHDA and hunt test my versatile hunting dogs. Never regret getting my first LM and will always have a versatile breed, wish I wouldn’t have waited so many years. They are a true hunting companion. Aggressive in the field, calm in the house and good citizens with children and elderly. Wish I would have found them thirty years sooner.

    • Thanks! I couldn’t agree more with your comments about the LM. My Deutsch Langhaar is a cousin of a different color and is a force in the field but a couch potato at home (unless a rabbit dares to go by the window, haha). I feel so fortunate to have such an amazing companion. Glad you’ve found yours!

  • Jennifer, I enjoyed your article about a versatile dog. My Brits have also assisted me in recovering squirrels which I have enjoyed hunting. Squirrels are hard to find in the deep woods. I have left many lay because I could not find them until I took my bird dog.

    • It’s amazing how things can disappear in some vegetation, isn’t it? I bet your Brits love getting out for some bonus hunting time – plus, every walk in the woods is better with a dog!

  • Dale – First time new Large Munsterlander owner. PM me and I maybe able to help. Are you a member of Large Munsterlander Association of America? Where are you located, are you familair with NAVHDA or VHDF?

    • Got a Willow Hills pup B litter. Member of LMAA, and our pup is in the calendar on the back page. Member of NAVHDA, she got a 112 prize 1 in the NA test at just under 8 months old last August. My wife posts Lotti on the faceface LMAA page. I rolled back training this year a little and only trained for hunting, and will try for the UT test next year. I am in SE Michigan.

  • Dale,
    That is great! Nice nod on the Prize 1 NA test. I have 10 yr. old Herz und Seele’s Gunther and 15 month old Herz und Seele’s Ozzie. Ozzie is on the cover of June issue of Gun Dog magazine. Were you at the LMAA spring quail hunt at Wild Wings?

    • I had committed to something else so I wasn’t able to make the quail hunt, maybe next year. You have a great looking pup.

  • Ozzie is 7 months in the cover photo. Running him in VHDF AHAE test on 9/07. You missed a good event at the LMAA Quail Hunt, always a great time, good food, great hunt with good friends. I guide for Wild Wings of Oneka with my LM’s and Bracco Italiano. Next years LMAA Quail Hunt is In April. I look forward to meeting you and your LM Lotti, great calendar photo.

  • We have a young Cesky Fousek, and it is surprising how many birds she finds that we didn’t shoot. I hope versatile dog owners consider the rewards of being more “versatile hunters”. Having a versatile dog gives a hunter expanded opportunities for where and when to hunt. It also gives a dog more field time and more varied experiences. Try hunting a new species with your versatile dog this season.

    Jennifer, thanks. My wife and I have hunted for a long time, but our Fousek is our first dog as adults. It’s great to see newer and younger hunters in print.

  • Jennifer,
    Very nicely written article! When I went about searching for my first hunting partner, I really didn’t know that I needed or wanted a versatile hunting dog. I got lucky and stumbled across the Deutsch Langhaar on the web. I cannot imagine my life without one now. I no longer go out and hunt for ducks, geese, pheasants or grouse. I go out to spend time with my dogs and enjoy the partnership we have, the harvest is just an extra blessing.

    I’m very fortunate to have found such a supportive club as the DL-GNA to help us along with our learning journey. Meeting, training and hunting with all the great and dedicated owners of the many new-to-me versatile hunting dogs has very rewarding for me. We missed hunting with you, Joe and Piper this year in South Dakota but CONGRATULATIONS on Piper’s first litter! They are some gorgeous pups and you should be very proud of getting her breed certified and helping to contribute and grow our breed here in the US.

    Tom, Cooper and Diva.

    • Hi Tom! Thanks so much for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more about the community and, of course, the dogs. Never had any idea we’d end up here when we started our “what kind of a dog should we get” journey a few short years ago.
      We certainly missed joining everyone in South Dakota this year and can’t wait to be back with Thing 1 and now little Thing 2 🙂

  • Keep in mind, that unless you have non-toxic shot in your vest, what is described is illegal. Or, if you don’t have a waterfowl license, it’s illegal. I’ve had that happen to me and just killed the duck and left it in the swamp for the fox.

    • Hi Ken, thanks for your concern. This is one example of why I’ve switched exclusively to nontoxic shot. Here in WA many of our state wildlife areas require nontox, not to mention the constant possibility of a mixed bag hunt. I’ve often flushed ducks where I might expect quail. It’s best to keep my options open and always be on the correct side of the law.

  • Although not a continental versatile breed, my lifetime lab was as versatile as the come, woodcock, patridge, pheasant, rabbits and waterfowl. He was a meat dog and he excelled at it. He may not have won any awards, but he helped me provide for my family. In terms of finding down game One time I had actually bagged my limit and we were heading back to the truck. About 50 yards from the truck he barrels into the underbrush. I decided if he flushed another, I’d safely miss. Out he comes with a big, fat, and freshly dead rooster in his mouth. I take the rooster hoping there’d be someone looking for it. The local EPO pulled up as I was putting things away. I said, “Terry, I got three. The dog found a dead one on the way back. What do you want me to do?”. He says, ” Go home and teach your dog to count.”

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