We’ve always considered retrieving an important part of a hunting dog’s job. Aside from being a nice addition to the enjoyment of the hunt, a good retriever knows how to search for and locate crippled birds that run off after hitting the ground, giving you a chance to recover birds you have little or no chance of finding without a dog. A couple incidents on our recent trip to Wisconsin served as a nice reminder just how important it is.
One morning I took Iris out and,towards the end of the hunt, we flushed a Grouse that fell at my shot. I marked it well but knew it wasn’t dead so I got to the spot as fast as I could. Iris quickly found a single feather on the ground and searched the immediate area for the bird. There was a lot of blood on the ground and a small spot of fresh grouse droppings so I knew I was in the right place. Iris acted like she smelled the bird a short distance away but we were unable to find it so I gave up and headed back to the truck. Having only had a handful of birds shot over her Iris just didn’t have the experience to know how to find a running cripple despite searching hard for the bird.
Since it was only a quarter mile or so from the truck we decided to take an experienced dog back to the area to search for the crippled Grouse. River is very good at hunting dead so he got the call and we took Violet along for the experience. Upon reaching the site both dogs quickly located the scent where the bird hit the ground and started searching for it. River began working in circles around where he first smelled the bird and soon located the same spot where Iris got birdy about ten yards away. He knew what that meant and started searching in a line beyond this second location. Twenty yards further on he pointed and there was the Grouse, still very much alive, hiding under a log.
A few days later I had Lizzie out and a Grouse flushed from over a small hill ahead of me. I threw a quick shot at it but lost site of it as I shot so I didn’t know whether I’d hit it. Two more Grouse flushed so I hurried over to give Lizzie a chance to point any remaining birds. She locked up so I snapped a few photos then walked in to flush.
We then followed up the other two birds and Lizzie pointed the first in young Aspens overlooking a wet area. The bird flushed out over the alders and I shot it. Lizzie beat me there and was searching excitedly about fifteen feet from where I marked it. She didn’t locate it so I called her over to where I marked its fall. She got birdy right away and searched hard in circles around my mark, repeatedly sniffing under clumps of grass and willow trying to locate the bird she could clearly smell. She then headed over to where she’d first smelled the bird and continued hunting on that line, quartering narrowly and several times sniffing the ground. I followed and she pointed the Grouse about forty yards ahead. Again it was hiding under a log and she quickly caught it. Needless to say she made my day. A point on the third Grouse, this time with a clean kill, added the icing to my cake.
Although there is disagreement about the value or necessity of retrieving, some even claiming it is a negative (the desire to catch the bird makes the dog less likely to hold point), for me there is nothing to discuss. We have an ethical obligation to do whatever it takes to recover game after the shot and a good retriever simply can’t be beat when it comes to locating downed birds.