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Trade Secrets: GUN DOG Classics

This “Point” column originally appeared in GUN DOG Magazine Volume 1, Number 1 in the September/October 1981 Issue.

Trade Secrets: GUN DOG Classics

This “Point” column originally appeared in GUN DOG Magazine Volume 1, Number 1 in the September/October 1981 Issue. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

This “Point” column originally appeared in GUN DOG Magazine Volume 1, Number 1 in the September/October 1981 Issue. 

“Meat dog” is either an insult or a compliment, depending on who says it and where. Generally, for better or worse, it means a dog that doesn't allow classic style to interfere with the business of bagging birds. It features trade secrets a dog learns for himself.

Sometimes the methods used by such operators are above and beyond the call of the dog’s duty, even to the point of violating established pointing dog rules—but then those rules have changed from time to time. Remember when pointing dogs were supposed to stick their tails straight back and look like arrows with one foot up?

Staunch pointing is the product of centuries of careful breeding and it may be heresy to suggest that any dog could be too staunch. When birds run, of course, a dog is supposed to follow them through some mysterious scent message, but he's not to follow them too closely and if they go up while he's trying to pin them some perfectionist is likely to throw down his shotgun and cry foul.


Now, Murphy, my big pointer with orange polka dot ears, had built-in point that sometimes immobilized him almost permanently. I was trying to keep track of him one day while after Hungarian Partridge in western pastureland. Most of the time he was a hopelessly small white dot on a too—distant ridge But when he finally pointed he looked like a permanent outcropping of some kind. I walked past him, both of us showing the whites of our eyes, and no Huns flew, so I continued over a rise and out of Murphy's sight.

As you know, Huns run. They do not scuttle like quail or trundle like woodcock. They run. Well, these went up a couple of hundred yards away on another ridge and I trudged back to Murphy, who hadn't moved a hair.

I had no professional-sounding command to fit the situation, so I said: “Forget it, you big jerk!”

Some of the best Hun dogs I have known would follow them for a quarter mile if necessary with the gunner panting alongside, but these specialists would never outdistance the hunter much, knowing there would be no shooting if the gun was left behind. On occasion, some of these same dogs might skid into a point from a dead run in the approved “bold” style that's supposed to freeze birds. Huns though don't often freeze for very long under a dog’s snout. So good Hun dogs often point from considerable distance and move up cautiously when the armament arrives.

Since most gunners can't smell birds very well, there is no way of training a dog to point Huns at long range. He learns it himself. Trade secret.

Following running birds for long distances is a special dog skill. Long distances? With binoculars, I once watched Max Stevenson, the Pennsylvania hunter, follow a dog for more than a mile with a bunch of sage grouse moving ahead of them. Some finally flew although most of the bunch had peeled off the route on the way.

Trade Secrets
Charley Waterman's "Trade Secrets" from GUN DOG Magazine Vol. 1 No. 1 Sept./Oct. 1981

I, and probably you, have seen a number of worldly-wise pointers and setters who would circle running quail and pin them between the gun and the Piney woods. Again, this is a self-learned tactic. How would you teach a dog to circle and hold game? With a blackboard?

Now ruffed grouse behave differently where they have been haunted very little and we don't know how much of it is hereditary. For special reasons, these “tame” birds are sometimes as hard to come by as the harried residents of hard-hunted coverts. Rat-Faced MacDougall, a shifty-eyed, liver Brittany Owned by Fred Terwilliger (who names all of his dogs after trout flies), Has spent most of his long life pursuing ruffed grouse in up tilted Rocky Mountain covers and has some special methods.

It is common for those mountain birds to flutter up into a tree when a dog points. The idea is simply to get above the varmint, which must appear to be a spotted coyote or something.

Well, Mac’s bell stops back in there where it's too thick to see him and then he barks treed. So we go stumbling and crawling through the willows, brambles and snow slush and the grouse is sitting in a tree with Mac waiting below. Of course when the bird dives out of the tree I miss him (I'd do better if he surprised me). But that's not all.

There was the time when we heard Mac’s bark down in there but couldn't get to him very fast. The barking sounds changed to disgusted growls, grunts and whines. When we arrived Mac was four feet off the ground and climbing a tree with the help of matted vines. The grouse was somewhat above him and making astonished noises. It flushed and we spilled it, whereupon Mac grunted a couple of times, fell out of the tree, retrieved the bird, sighed loudly and trotted off for another one.

And the palmetto dogs of the South who learn to boost quail with their noses when you can't move them otherwise. A palmetto patch can hide a dog, no matter how high he is at the withers or how stiffly his tail sticks up. Some of the veterans stop pointing immediately when a covey scatters into such a place and, after the proper command, go in there and nose up the birds one at a time. They usually hold like ticks and coming up through palmetto a quail sounds like a turkey.

My dogs have reputations as lousy retrievers. I put gravy on their dog food, buy them squeaky toys and polish their collars, but they don't seem to care about bringing me game. I've had pretty good luck teaching them to hunt dead, though, and I've had two that would bring birds only if I couldn't get to them myself. This is practical, however exasperating. One went over a cliff after a ptarmigan and emerged with it after I'd assumed he was crumpled wreckage somewhere down there in the fog.


I now have an awkward, big-footed old Brittany named Tex, who ordinarily considers retrieving a menial task beneath him, but twice he has disappeared to the rear and returned with a ruffed grouse I'd given up on after long searches. In both cases I assumed I'd missed the bird in the brush but old Tex didn't give up. Then when I saw the bird he'd spit it out, glare scornfully at me and go on hunting.

But my favorite piece of pointing-dog savvy concerns pheasants, birds that some consider the ruination of fine dog manners. I have known two dogs to learn this trick. The first time I saw Ben Williams’ Michael MacGillicuddy do this one I thought he had stripped a mental sprocket but I got the pheasant.

The bird ran and Mike followed it with his usual caution, trying to hold it. Finally, he drove it into some brush that neither Mike nor I could penetrate and the bird could obviously make his getaway by walking off through the brambles.

Mike pointed at the spot and I came up beside him. He rolled his eyes, apparently to see if I was ready, and then jumped straight up beside me. Woof! The pheasant flushed, I somehow hit it and Mike dropped back in his tracks, after which he retrieved the bird as if it had all been standard procedure.

I don't think pointing dogs are supposed to do these things, but then I know of a professional coyote hunter who uses German short-hairs. On their day off they are good on sharptails.

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