Bailey was a little knew at this game. Although she had logged countless training hours of retrieving dummies and tracking makeshift scent trails, this was her first true pheasant hunting experience in the field. Trying to get her act together was taking a little time.

Having other dogs around to follow their lead was definitely beneficial. It seemed to help this young dog realize that this was now more than just playing a game in the backyard. This was somehow different.

We were a couple of birds into the morning when the switch got flipped. She was a smart dog and suddenly seemed to understand what this was all about. Although she had lots of technicalities to work through, her demeanor and attitude changed in a moment. Just like that, Bailey became a hunting dog.

Although I am not a dog owner myself, I have had the pleasure of hunting and working with some exceptional animals over the years. I have learned to truly appreciate the benefits of having a dog along on the hunt.

When I was back in my youth, my brothers and I would frequently hunt pheasants, but we never had a dog. The birds were plentiful in those days and we would often do quite well. However, we never had any idea how many birds we were walking by.

I also remember the frustration of trying to find a downed bird. Even though we were careful about the targets we picked, we occasionally had a bird that would run when it hit the ground. Unless there was some snow, these roosters were gone.

With a dog, it is a different story. Their keen sense of smell doesn’t guarantee that a wounded bird will be discovered, but with good dogs working the scent, I wouldn’t be putting my money on the pheasant.

I remember one time that my brother’s lab got on the track of the downed pheasant and trailed it for more than a hundred yards before he caught up with that critter. We were all pretty amazed when he came back with that big rooster.

Another time, while late season hunting a big slough in North Dakota, we had a wounded bird sail on us clear across the cattails. My brother did not flinch and simple stated that the dogs would find it once we got around to that side of the slough. And they did!

Even though I don’t own the dogs I hunt behind, I have gotten very adept at reading their demeanor. Although each dog has its own way of showing it, I can readily tell when they are on scent and know a flush or point is about to happen.

Dogs that are well trained definitely change the bird hunting experience. They undoubtedly add a level of enjoyment that must be experienced to fully understand. Watching a good dog hunt is a pleasure.

Over the years, I have logged lots of pheasant hunting memories from my many days afield. Dogs certainly added to the quality of those hunts.

Jerry Carlson