I’ve been known to drift around from year to year, and hone-in on one species for a few years and then keep moving.
Throughout college it was waterfowl, then big game, another stint of waterfowl, and now upland bird hunting. Because of my nomadic obsessions, a versatile breed was certainly at the top of the list, and I settled on a Deutsch Drahthaar.
Annie came into my world when I was on “Duck Kick 2.0,” and she took to the life instantly. Over the following years, she honed her skills and became a terror to any duck that had ambitions of escaping. She is a big girl, bred for power, and while it might take her a while to get there, no matter how thick and nasty the water, she’ll do it with gusto and a smile on her face. My focus shifted to chasing upland birds, and I quickly realized the advantage of having two dogs versus only one.
On a trip to the Midwest chasing roosters, a thought popped into my head after about Day Two of the trip. It really shouldn’t have been a revelation. I needed more dog power. Why it hadn’t dawned on me earlier, I have no idea. After all, there is a reason why you see trailers full of bird dogs, scattered from Texas to Canada. I can’t blame Annie. At three years old she was in peak condition, but after the first 23-mile day, her nail beds started to bleed and it took some pep out of her step. After four days and 80 miles of thick cattails and CRP, the low-fuel light turned on, and she promptly ran out of gas.
The wheels started turning. More dogs equal more dog power. However, as much as I would love to own a 16-hole dog trailer filled with fire-breathing pointers, I live a much more suburban lifestyle. So unfortunately, that dream won’t be a reality in the near future. For me, dogs are both house pets and hunting partners, and as much as I would enjoy a house full of 16 dogs, my wife would likely murder me with an axe while I slept—and rightfully so!
Two dogs seemed well within the bounds of reason, and when Annie was almost into her third season, I added another Drahthaar named Herb to the pack. After two seasons behind them chasing ducks, geese, roosters, bobwhites, desert quail, sharptailed grouse, Hungarian partridge, prairie chickens, ruffed grouse, and woodcock, I have come to the conclusion that the “double threat” will be the only way I roll.
There are five distinct advantages I’ve found for stepping up from a one-dog household.
This was the underlying reason for originally going from one to two pups. If you’re like me and work a nine-to-five gig, you end up taking a week trip here and there, and some long weekends. You know the desire to milk every last drop of hunting time out of a trip. Even though my dogs would hunt themselves all the way to six feet under, it’s not effective, and frankly not the safest move. With two dogs, you’re now able to double the time spent in the field. This is especially the case when hunting pheasants in thick cover, where even the best-coated dog will get chewed up and spit out by the razor-sharp grass of the Midwest. The best bet to extend your dogs is running them independently on long trips, trading off and giving the other dog valuable time to recover. On shorter trips, I’ll run them in brace and am able to cover ground more effectively. I’ll also run them together on wide-open, short-grass landscapes, where you could be hunting for miles in search of a covey.
Hunting can be hell on dogs—there’s no doubt about it. Between barbed-wire fences, snakes, stobs, and miles of unforgiving landscapes, there are simply more occupational hazards for a hunting dog. Nothing will cut a trip short faster than an injured dog. If you’re rolling one deep, then consider the trip, or in some cases your whole season, over.
I ran into this problem before getting Herb on a combo duck and upland bird hunt in North Dakota. When Annie was just a little 14-week-old pup, she broke a bone in her front wrist but quickly healed from the injury. I thought it was fine, as it had never given her problems after the fact. The miles added up, and she began carrying her injured leg. If it wasn’t for the other dogs in our hunting party, my 3,000-mile trip would have promptly been over. It’s not uncommon by any means when you hear of a dog cutting a foot pad, and there is nothing you can do about it. That dog is laid up. It’s so much easier to simply rest that dog, drop the other pup from the box, and not miss a beat.
When getting number two, I didn’t realize how huge of an advantage it was for the pup to learn from an older, more experienced dog. You read about it, and people talk about the advantages, but until you see it firsthand, it’s hard to fully comprehend. Both for waterfowling and upland bird hunting, I could see Herb learning from his older sister what was desirable and what wasn’t.
The “ah-ha moment” was the first trip to the uplands with a six-month-old dog. There’s always a ton of anticipation when you’re taking a dog hunting for the first time, as the mind races with the myriad outcomes. Is he going to be a boot licker? Chase birds into the next county? Rip birds to kingdom come?
For the first trip, I ran both dogs in brace. Herb really had no clue what he was supposed to be doing, so he conveniently followed Annie around, perfectly quartering across the fields. As we made bird contacts, you could see the light bulb go off in Herb’s head. A young dog is no different than a child, in the fact that their minds are like sponges. Don’t think that a pup isn’t picking up either consciously, or subconsciously, on what the older dog is doing. On one of the last days of the trip, I ran Herb by himself, and you could already see some of the traits Annie exhibited manifesting in him.
A word of warning: Not only are desirable traits passed on, but also undesirable ones. If you run an older dog with a young dog all the time, that pup could end up just following the other dog without gaining any experience for itself.
Playing to Strengths
Annie is a foot-hunter’s dream. She cut her teeth in the uplands working roosters, and developed a tighter search pattern. Naturally, her style translated perfectly to grouse in the Northwoods. However, when we moved to the broader covers chasing Mearns or Sharpies, she couldn’t expand her range as far as needed. This is where a second dog came in handy. I knew her limitations, and tailored Herb to make up for those shortfalls. While Annie will scour every single inch of cover under 50 yards with fervor, Herb can be seen taking longer casts, ranging out 100 to 200 yards when applicable.
The case for two dogs gets even more airtight if you are a multispecies hunter. Granted, I have versatile dogs, and they are just as comfortable in the uplands as they are in the sloughs and brakes hunting waterfowl. However, Annie is a demon in the water and outshines her younger brother, so naturally she gets the nod when it comes to shooting ducks. This marks a great opportunity to buy a second dog, to overcome the shortfalls of the first. If you have a pointing dog and also spend a lot of time hunting ducks, maybe look at a Lab, or vice versa.
The Five-Year Plan
One of life’s greatest gut-punches is losing a good dog. As much as we hate to think about end of life, it’s inevitable.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine lost a great dog that had spent the past 10 seasons nose into the wind, pinning roosters like it was his job. He’s an avid bird hunter, and spends nearly every day chasing birds for at least an hour or two. Although his dog wasn’t a spring chicken, the loss took him off guard and left him unprepared.
As sad as it was to see the old boy go, what made it even worse was the calendar said August 27. He really had no desire to own two dogs at once, but the loss of a dog coupled with a season on the bench made it all the worse.
Now he has a system. Once a dog turns five years old, a new pup comes on board. It’s really a smart way to go about it! At five years old, a dog is in its prime, and once it turns 10, it’s nearing retirement. He’ll never go dog-less, and he gets to reap the benefits of letting one dog learn from the other. For a number of years, there will also be two dogs in their prime. Even more important in his mind, he’ll never go another season without a dog to follow in the field.
The answer is “yes.” There will be twice as much hair. Twice as many holes in your yard. And twice the shenanigans. However, the checks in the plus column far outweigh the ones in the minus column. Now, I can’t imagine a life where I don’t have two dogs to canvas the covers or terrorize the swamps.