MARQUETTE - Living in an area like the Upper Peninsula, one can't help but want to get out in the woods in the fall. And why not? There are great opportunities to exercise and soak up some fresh air. What better way to experience the vast forest areas than by upland hunting?
In this area, upland hunting consists of two primary birds: the ruffed grouse and woodcock.An even better way to enjoy the upland experience is with a bird dog.
Dennis Stachewicz, owner of Aspen Thicket Grouse Dogs in Gwinn, said pointing dogs generally are larger animals so they can cover more ground. The most common breeds of dogs used as pointing dogs are English setters, English pointers and German shorthaired pointers, he said.
Dennis Stachewicz's bird dog Gunner is seen in the field during a upland bird hunting trip. (Dennis Stachewicz photo)
These dogs typically run further out and cover much more ground than flushing dogs. They will travel out anywhere from 70 to 80 yards in front of the hunter searching for a bird scent. Once the scent is picked up, the dog will stop in place and "point" in the direction of the bird. The hunter then has to flush the bird out from the ground cover.
"We use bells and beepers to find the dogs. So when the dog is running you can hear the bell and as soon as the bell has gone silent you know the dog has stopped and pointing at something," Stachewicz said. "Then you have to go find the dog by listening for the beep from the beeper to locate the dog.
"Pointing is a genetic instinct that over years of breeding and training becomes instilled in the dog. The point is the pause before the leap. If you have ever seen a cat stalk a ball, they get to a certain point and then they sit there for a while before they pounce on it," he said.
"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole."
The second type of bird dog is the flushing dog. Both the breeds and the hunting styles used are different with these types of dogs. The most common breeds of dogs used are Labradors and springer spaniels. These are a much closer-working dogs, usually keeping within 10 yards of the hunter. Stachewicz said the intent of these dogs is to actually put the bird in the air.
"Flushing dogs will more or less keep their noses to the ground and scent for a bird. Once they scent a bird they dive in and put it in the air for you," he said.
The similarity between pointing and flushing dogs is that they both should be able to retrieve the downed bird.Stachewicz said this is a really good thing because you reduce the number of crippled and lost birds.
"It aids in the conservation of the game because you are not out there wasting game by wounding animals that you can't find," he said.
Safety is another aspect of upland bird dog hunting. For safety purposes, a hunter would generally want the bird in the air and flying to shoot. He said he has a rule when hunting:?He won't shoot at bird that is below the shoulders.
"That is a safety issue for us (the hunter), because you obviously don't want to shoot one another and it is safety for the dogs," he said. It also makes for good sport to shoot flying birds, birds that are "on the wing."
Training is a very time consuming process and is done year round.
"A lot of guys will run their dogs in the woods from July 8 until the opening part of the season to get their dogs conditioned and get them into bird(s) and train them on the scent of wild birds," Stachewicz said.
There is also a lot of obedience and yard training work throughout the year.Obedience and yard training teach the dog the necessary commands before actual field training, he said.
There is also much wintertime training a hunter can do with their dog. Drills like retrieving and obedience can be accomplished in a basement, garage or backyard during the winter season.
This year-round process of training a dog, although a big time investment, produces a great product, Stachewicz said.
"There is a sentimental aspect of hunting with a dog. I think that just about anybody who hunts with a dog - whether the dog is topnotch or just what you would consider your average hunting dog - there is a special bond between the hunter and that dog," he said.
I know, speaking for myself, if I was unable to hunt with a dog I wouldn't hunt ever again, he said.
"It is a very special and unique bond. I would really encourage people to try it. I think once you try it you'll never turn back," Stachewicz said.
Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.