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Learning to Read the Wind

Let your pointing dog work out the scent.

Learning to Read the Wind

A seasoned pointing dog needs to identify scent from every direction.  (Emily Tucker photo)

One of my pet peeves is jumping through too many hoops to work a dog into the prevailing wind regardless of perfectly rational reasons for doing otherwise. The following is a hypothetical example gleaned from decades of having endured this particular compulsion among acquaintances and friends, on more than a few occasions.

It Will Work Out

Let’s say your buddy’s dog points a covey of Huns in the southwestern corner of a full, 640-acre section of land. The birds flush and fly 400 yards straight away, as Huns are known to do. But your buddy, who owns the setter you’re hunting over, insists on bringing his dog in downwind of the covey.

In this example, since the wind is in the wrong direction, working your dog into the wind would require walking back to your buddy’s truck, driving two miles around the perimeter of the land to get properly positioned, then releasing the dog once more and hoping the covey, in the meantime, will have patiently waited for all of this logistical maneuvering to transpire. The alternative? Walk the 400 yards to where the birds landed and let your dog work out the scent on his own—even if the wind direction isn’t optimal.

Sooner or later, your dog has to learn to work the wind from every direction. It’s simply impossible to structure a hunt with the larger objective of constantly keeping the wind in your dog’s face. And even if it were possible, wind direction can change. Sometimes by the minute.

Learning from Mistakes

There are exceptions to my laisse faire approach, of course. When I begin working a puppy on planted pigeons, I always work the pup upwind into the birds. A young dog needs all the help and encouragement you can give him, and planting birds upwind gives you complete control of the situation, which is not possible in the field. In fact, during the first few weeks of that pup’s inaugural season, I try to work him into wild birds from downwind whenever it’s convenient to do so. But if it’s not, I don’t.

German Shorthaired Pointer On Point
When training, try to give your pointer an advantage by working into the wind until they begin to learn to read the wind from all directions. (Chris Ingram photo)

So, let’s say that you ignore the wind direction and your young dog blunders into a covey and bumps them. I’m not going to argue that’s an ideal situation. But will it ruin him? Of course not. Will accidentally bumping a covey predispose him to flushing birds? Nope. What it will do, however, is jumpstart the process of teaching him to work the snippets of scent that reach his nose at oblique angles, something that every pointing dog has to learn sooner or later. Over the course of a season, there will be dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ways he learns to handle scent, and each time he misjudges the birds, he runs the risk of bumping them. But each time he bumps birds, he learns. And by learning, he gets better.

Let your dog be a dog. All good dogs make mistakes. Not unlike, I suppose, all good dog trainers.

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