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The Troubling Reality of Reflushes

What may seem as a simple second chance to bag a bird could quickly become a failed foot race full of frustration.

The Troubling Reality of Reflushes

Sometimes it’s best to stick to the plan and avoid distractions along the way. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

My anticipation for the morning’s hunt peaked as I threw the truck into 4-wheel drive and dug into the mud-covered logging road, just as a stunning grey phase took wing in front of me. I was heading in to meet my friend Josh and his handsome English setter, Yaz, to hunt for grouse and woodcock. After sharing pleasantries and swapping stories since our last hunt together a few years back, we ventured off into the cover on a picture-perfect late October morning.

After leaving the truck and skipping through a pine grove, we slipped into an alder run and it wasn’t long before Yaz struck a point ahead of us. Josh inched closer on the right, keeping watch from inside the thick stuff as I crept around to the left to guard the entrance to the open hardwoods. As I took my next step, a grouse exploded from underneath Yaz’s nose and raced right at Josh, then kicked on the afterburners and escaped back up into the pine grove from where we had just come. As our eyes tracked the first bird winging away, a second erupted from the point and hurriedly sailed off and away in the distance ahead of us to the left. Neither bird produced a shot but immediately left us with quite the quandary: Do we chase down the bird that went right, or follow up on the bird that went left?

The trouble with this story is that no more than five minutes into our half-day hunt, we deviated from our original plan and once we started down this road of distraction, it became difficult to impossible to get back on course. We followed the left bird, blew though prime cover, and likely missed additional bird contacts. Within ten minutes, we were in the middle of the best bird cover of the day but were left without a strategic way to work through it all intelligently. We continued hunting and produced a series of grouse and woodcock flushes in the end, but looking back now, I wish we would have stuck to a dedicated plan to more effectively work the best parts of the cover and hadn’t followed up on that first flush.

upland bird hunter looking out over a field
How far and long are you willing to go to chase a single bird? (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Busted on Birds

We’ve all been there. The gut punch of a hopeful shot—or two—that echoes as tail feathers tease you and disappear away in the distance. You missed! You want retribution and to prove to yourself that you still got it. You cast the dog off in that direction and make haste to follow up for a reflush.


The trouble is that flushed birds are already spooked, they’re on edge, and are much more likely to flush wild at a greater distance before you and your dog can locate them and get in position to shoot. Some flushed birds like grouse and ringnecks may even hit the ground running and stay way ahead of you. Even if flushed birds don’t take to running, they haven’t had time to lay down any scent, putting your dog at a big disadvantage. But still, you come in hot. You think you’ve marked their landing spot, but you can’t be sure. Can you get your dog properly into the wind for this reflush? Will he bump birds along the way? You swore that bird should be right here. You start to second guess yourself and your anxiety builds. Then, fifty yards ahead of you, the bird takes wing again and leaves you scratching your head in disbelief.

upland bird hunter in orange vest walking in field
We give our best guess as to where the flushed bird landed, but often find ourselves short on the actual spot or caught behind a running bird. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

The concept of follow up flushes are also important to consider when hunting covey birds. Busting up the flock and pushing singles farther away from the covey can impact their ability to regroup and can begin to hinder their chance at survival. Even pushing solitary birds like ruffed grouse drives them farther away from safety and leaves them more susceptible to predation and other dangers.

For me, my magic number is two. If I wasn’t able to get a shot off on the first go, it’s likely I’ll be moving in for a second chance. Or if it’s not going to disrupt from my course by too much, I will follow up on a bird. Typically, after two flushes I am being pulled off track and my frustration begins to rise after several spent shells and an empty vest. The choice is yours, but I’ll argue that you may be able to save the hunt and save your sanity by letting a few get away to live another day.


Best Laid Bird Plans

I’ll be the first to admit that I get pretty serious about bird hunting. Good dog work, fellowship, fresh air, and exercise aside, I am out to put some birds down and fill my belly after a hard day’s hunt. That being said, I can get a little emotional at times and get caught up in the moment. On several of my early hunts I would follow up on birds two, three, or even four times if I could, with nothing to show for it but a pile of empty hulls and a painful heartache of being outwitted by the birds. I’d find myself busting additional birds along the way—adding to frustration—and completely sidetracked from where I wanted to be going. These hunts quickly became a lost cause because my mood had shifted, and I was no longer hunting strategically.

upland bird hunter shooting at a ring-necked pheasant rooster
Frustration may start to take root after multiple reflushes and misses. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

If you’re not careful, following up for reflushes can detour you from your original plans. Have you thought about how many times you’ll reflush or how far you’re willing to go to kill one bird? If you started out to play the wind and put your dog in optimal conditions to pin down birds, how will calling audibles affect their performance? Or if you intended to hit specific hotspots, how will one or more deviations affect the time and path to get there? How many times will you push this one bird—and yourself and your dog—to the point of exhaustion? Unless you are a complete stoic and unfazed by subsequent misses, you might be best off to let this be the one that got away and prevent your mood from going south.

Because each and every one of us and the situations we find ourselves in are always different, there will never be a simple solution and no handbook on how to handle these second chance searches. Having a game plan in place will give you and your hunting partners something to fall back on when the emotions try to override the objectives. We all hunt in different situations and have individual expectations, but if you’ve ever found yourself lost in a flurry of follow ups and floundering in frustration, integrating a strategy for how to rationalize reflushes can help to keep you on track and stay focused during your hunt.

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