A few days ago I wrote a post “Making Grouse Dogs” in which I stated that three factors go into making a grouse dog. They are genetics, shoe leather, and grouse. The shoe leather and the grouse are fairly obvious — you have to spend untold hours in the woods with a dog for it to become an elite grouse dog and during those many hours the dog has to find and handle 100s and 100s of grouse to really get it. That’s not to say that most dogs can’t point a grouse. Most pointing dogs, given the opportunity, will point just about any game bird some times on their first try. The first time I took Wild Apple Jack to Texas he wasn’t a year old yet and he pointed the first covey of wild quail he found and then went on to point three more while the experienced adult dog he was with only found one. I would imagine that he would point sharptails, huns, pheasants, etc with equal aplomb. What he might not do right away is handle a running pheasant or huns on one of those days when they flush out plum thickets 200 yards away and rocket down a howling prairie wind into the bottom of coulee or even worse over the top into the next coulee.
But pointing a grouse doesn’t make a grouse dog. Yesterday was the perfect example of what it takes to be a virtuoso grouse dog. It was cold and windy when we broke Jack away yesterday morning in a cover none of us had hunted before. It was a big cut with lots of raspberry canes in the skidder roads that will be dynamite in a couple of years. As we got deeper into it I was thinking about cutting our losses and heading back to the truck. Then the Garmin beeped and Jack was 165 yards away on point. He’d dug out a pair of grouse and kept them pinned on a hillside until we got there. Then he started working birds in an area with more open cover and nothing on the ground to hold the birds. On three separate occasions we got to him only to find the birds had run out. As we flushed he would whimper a little to tell me the birds had moved when released he moved up on each bird until he had it pinned and we were there for the flush. We ended that hunt with six grouse pointed and one walked up when I had the dog in heel. Jack is almost 9, and has learned his craft through many, many repetitions but equally important is the natural ability and intelligence the dog has displayed throughout his career. That’s the genetic aspect of the equation, you can’t teach it and ten thousand grouse won’t impart it to the dog.
Yes, most bird dogs worth feeding will point a grouse but very have the full package. The young dogs we’ve been hunting his fall may become as good as Jack in the future, but then they have the genetics that I’m talking about. LJ is Jack’s son. Frankie is a frozen semen breeding of one of Dave Hawke’s bitches to Stokely’s Al B who was one of the best grouse dogs I’ve ever hunted over — definitely in Jack’s class. Trash is out Stokely’s Ginger B by Quail Trap Tom both are proven grouse dogs in front of the gun and in competition. And the Little Thudster isn’t exactly riding the short bus, His sire Beaver Meadow Benjamin is also the sire of Chasehill’s Little Bud, Sunkhaze Maggie Mae, Sunkhaze Fastbreak, and a number of others. The point being that if you want a great grouse dog you have to start with the right genetics and then put in the hours and have the grouse for them to learn on.
Speaking of which in addition to the 7 grouse we moved with Jack yesterday we also moved 9 with Little Thud, 6 with Bee, and 10 with Frankie for a daily count of 32 grouse, but let me tell you, grouse at this time of year are holding advanced seminars for grouse dogs.