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Tips for the Dogless Bird Hunter

Cinque Terre

There’s no denying it—a well-trained pointing, flushing or retrieving dog gives you a distinct advantage when hunting waterfowl or upland game birds. But if you want to bird hunt and don’t have a four-legged companion, it simply calls for a change of tactics.

Tactics for Forested Cover

  • When hunting ruffed or spruce grouse, hunt in pairs or threes. Key in on areas that offer quality food—like buds, berries and clover. Move quickly through areas with little food.
  • In pairs, work the edges of promising cover where clear shooting lanes are available. Walk parallel on opposite sides, remembering that birds will often flush upwind before turning downwind to escape.
  • With a third hunter, take turns walking through the heart of cover. Whoever is in the thick stuff must refrain from shooting—safety first.
  • Mark your down bird carefully and don’t take your eyes off the landmark that identifies its location. Find your bird before continuing to hunt, even if this means passing up opportunities on other birds.

Tactics for Grasslands

  • Where topography allows, sitting up high allows you to spot birds moving from roosts to feeding cover. You can often walk down right on top of them.
  • In linear cover, such as hedgerows, creek bottoms or coulees, either walk in parallel on opposite sides or towards each other from opposite ends. Pheasants, in particular, will run when pressured. Walking towards one another often results in close-quarter flushes.
  • In cultivated landscapes, where birds are feeding on grain, they’ll often seek refuge in abandoned homesteads, willow patches and slough bottoms. Work these covers in parallel. Be on alert for birds that flush late, as sharptails and Huns are prone to do.
  • Pay close attention to where flushed birds fly if they aren’t hit. It’s often possible to relocate them as singles and pairs before they covey up again.

Tactics for Waterfowl

  • When field hunting, collect all downed birds immediately after the shooting subsides.
  • If you have wounded birds that sail, watch carefully. Once down, they seldom move far. Take turns running after them while your hunting companions remain in the blind awaiting additional incoming flights.
  • On small potholes, retrieving birds is generally easy, especially with hip waders. However, wounded birds will swim to cover and are prone to moving, so get after them as fast as possible. Prudent hunters shoot wounded birds on the water to anchor them immediately.
  • On large bodies of water, wind and waves can carry birds quickly. Have a canoe or boat close by and retrieve downed birds right away. If they come down wounded, shoot them on the water to ensure they don’t dive and swim out of sight before they can be retrieved.

Bird hunting on a cool autumn day is one of the great pleasures of Alberta hunting. Don’t let the absence of a dog keep you from getting out.

Looking for more tips to put wild game on your table? Check out our articles here.

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