Written by: Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.
It’s been a mild winter here in northwestern Montana, and the grouse population is in good shape. With light snow pack, holdover birds are healthy, able to move about with little stress, and finding plenty of food. Linehan Outfitting Company bird dogs Gracie and Maisy are finding several birds each afternoon on southern slopes and hillsides.
Seasonal game closures shouldn’t prevent you from hunting. It’s important to keep bird dogs in shape throughout the year, and getting your dogs out in the winter under different conditions also helps challenge them. The learning curve can be steep, and that’s exactly what you want.
Additionally, hunting your dogs during the off-season keeps their mental attitude in shape. It helps keep them inspired and helps them avoid the off-season slumps sometimes associated with long periods of non-hunting.
It’s often said that the reward for flushing dogs and retrievers is the bird in their mouth. But that’s only half of it. Working hard, finding a bird, and ultimately getting a close flush are just as much a reward for any solid dog.
And obviously for pointing dogs, the same principles apply. During the off-season it matters not if you’re knocking birds down. What matters is that they’re on the ground, doing what they love most which is pointing birds.
Hunting dogs during the off-season also keeps you and your dogs working as a team. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t professional dog trainers. We need constant improvement in the handling department. The other day, I thought my golden retriever Gracie was chasing a bunny, and I tried to call her off. Actually, she was working two birds that had split, and both were determined not to fly because of the sparse winter foliage. I was witnessing behavior I’d never seen from an experienced seven-year-old ruffed-grouse hunting machine. And that day, I learned the lesson. She doesn’t chase bunnies. She never has.
Just because you can’t shoot birds doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of hunting to be had. Get out there during the off-season and get those dogs on the ground.
Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. on the Kootenai River in Troy, Montana.