- by Randy Lawrence
The highest compliment any serious gun dog enthusiast will ever pay another person is to ask him or her to bring a gun and walk along on a hunt with a first season prospect. That means the invited person Gets It – capital “G,” capital “I.” He or she understands that the hunt is about one thing and one thing only: constructively supporting a young dog as it finds its way on wild game. If you’re ever honored enough to be invited on such a hunt, here are a few tips to make certain you are invited back.
1. Stay the course. The handler sets the pace and direction of the hunt. The guest’s job is to stay in touch with the handler, stay even with him or her or just slightly behind on the line of march. Spacing is up to the handler, too, and is likely dependent on how wide that youngster is meant to range. Those who like a bigger going dog might want more distance between hunters to widen the dog’s reference; still others may ask a guest to walk behind the whistle with an open gun.
2. Stay alive (quietly). It should go without saying that the companion guest not speak to, whistle at, commiserate with, or otherwise handle the dog. However, as a member of the support team, an alert guest can help keep track of the dog’s beeper or bell, can discern when the dog is making game, perhaps help locate the dog on point. Because they are alive to everything from likely cover to wind direction, the best guests are able to provide thoughtful intel on bird contacts that happen away from the handler, reporting on dog/bird interaction or marking flight lines for any birds that get up wild away from the dog or handler. And speaking of birds…
3. Stay with the program. The kind of guest we want on any hunt is thinking gun safety, partner safety, dog safety at all times. When a dog is working scent or standing a bird, good guests are quick to position themselves as per the handler’s direction. Should they be asked to help flush, especially on a point well away from the handler, they move briskly and assertively and quietly upwind of the dog. When possible, they step back in at an angle to, rather than passing and moving away from, the dog’s stand to encourage staunchness. Again, never do they caution or cue the dog (personal bias: I’d rather the handler didn’t speak to the dog on point, either, but…).
4. Stay the trigger. Surely the toughest thing for some guests, particularly when the day is long and bird contacts are sparse, is to only shoot birds the dog handles correctly. Wild flushes or birds the guest walks up get a pass and are marked in case the handler wants to work the dog in that direction.
Blessed be the handler who has a hunting accomplice who can stick with the regimen and be a real help in hunting a young dog. To the right person, sharing in the challenges and successes of that youngster’s progress is not just a privileged responsibility, but a darned good time as well.