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Range In Gun Dogs

Range for flushing dogs is a given. The flushing dog needs to work well within gun range so that the shooter has time to mount, swing and shoot at flushed birds while they are still inside effective shotgun range. A maximum of twenty yards is a realistic expectation.

As discussed in a previous column, teaching your pup to quarter in front of you not only makes it a more efficient bird finder, but also, helps to keep the dog in range. Your dog can use its quickness, energy and enthusiasm without lining out of range and needing to be called in all the time. Springers have been and still are one of the ultimate flushing breeds because of their quickness when getting the bird into the air within gun range, eliminating long chases with a slow-footed ground tracking dog trailing the bird into the next county. Their relatives, the English cockers, work much the same way. While the retrieving breeds have become popular for upland hunting in this country (something for which they were not originally bred), they are not as animated flushers. However, they have gained a widespread following for other reasons.

A pointing dog's range is a much more heatedly debated topic, perhaps too much so. How far is too far? How close is too close? How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow? Within limits all of this is a matter of personal preference subject to the terrain and birds being hunted, age and physical condition of the hunter and personal preference. My answer to the question of range in pointing dogs does not involve yardage, rather a practical explanation of what puts birds in the bag.

First, a pointing dog generally must work beyond gun range. The entire idea of pointing is that the dog will find birds you would not find without it or even with a flushing breed, point and hold the birds until the shooter arrives on the scene to flush and shoot them. How far beyond the gun? Far enough that the birds have not been disturbed by hunter noise, allowing the dog to point and hold the bird that is theoretically focused only on the dog and hiding from it as it would from a fox or coyote. At the same time the dog needs to be close enough that the shooter is physically able to get to the scene to flush and shoot the bird. Given this scenario you can see that range should vary from steep, rocky, heavily wooded ruffed grouse habitat to the open fields characteristic of huns or sharptails. Pointing dogs with the right genetics can make that adjustment, quartering at perhaps forty yards in the most rugged grouse woods and two or three times that distance in open country. There are speed demons that cannot adjust to thick, rugged terrain and plodders that cannot get far enough away to be effective in any terrain. Neither will make a great companion pointing dog.

As I mentioned earlier, 'within limits' range is largely a matter of personal preference. Don't be bullied by proponents of one extreme or the other. Also, don't be fooled by the use of the word drive which is often misused today to mean pure speed. A dog does not need to be an out of control speedster to have drive. Drive means your dog is all hunt from the beginning of the day to the end of the day performing at whatever pace and range his genetics and conditions of the hunt dictate.

Experience has taught me that perhaps the most overlooked genetic component affecting range is temperament. Pace is largely a product of temperament that affects range, endurance and how effectively a dog handles scent. The pensive or thoughtful dog will pace itself so that it can effectively cover the terrain at an appropriate range, hunt day after day without tiring and handle even the most nervous birds by not overrunning its nose. A pensive temperament is for me the deciding trait in dogs that I choose to breed and keep as personal gun dogs. It will be the tiebreaker among a litter or group of pups who all possess the other necessary components to be grouse dogs. Of course, you need to purchase a dog for your use that fits the kind of hunting you do and the person you are. Don't try to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

As promised, I have deliberately avoided any discussion of range in pointing dogs that gives specific reference to yardage. If there was one correct distance at which a pointing dog should hunt there would be no need for different breeds and bloodlines. We all hunt different birds and types of habitat. We are all of different ages and physical capabilities. We all have personal preferences. Don't waste time and effort arguing range. Understanding what a pointing is supposed to do, simply buy a pup from a breed and bloodline that will hunt at your idea of functional range.

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