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You have to be smarter than the dog

My dad used to always tell me, "Brian, you have to be smarter than the dog."

He told me this when I was about 5 and he was still telling me 20 years later. The first time I heard this remark it puzzled me. Even then I knew people were smarter than dogs. After all, we went to a real school where the teacher made us sit up straight, pay attention to her and sometimes give us a gentle reminder that she was the boss. All dogs got to do was go to obedience school.

We are moving back into the upland bird and waterfowl seasons now and a lot of hunters will be learning just how good old Shep is.

Don't be arrogant about your dog's abilities. If they are good hunters and retrievers let them know -- the rest of the world does not need this information.

I remember a guy bragging and bragging about his wonderful black lab, Buddy. We took Buddy with us on a pheasant hunting trip one afternoon and as I remember the dog went AWOL the minute we got out of our trucks.

Another story I love is one about Rex, a brilliant animal who went along a duck hunting trip once and when he got a chance to retrieve a crippled duck, merely stood on shore and barked at it. The owner and his pal, who were about to start digging into their lunch pails, had to jump in a boat and chase the cripple. The chase lasted some time and when the exhausted pair returned to their hunting spot there was old Rex, just finishing up the last of their lunches.

Right after we were married my wife and I got a chance to own our first dog. Talk about blundering into a good thing! He was half Brittany Spaniel and he pointed the birds. I have always said that he taught me how to hunt pheasants.

We were hunting pheasants one afternoon when a rooster flushed in front of us and we knocked it down. We marked the spot and went after it quickly. We found no bird. Worse than that, we found no dog. I stood there fuming and finally realized the dog was about 100 yards away. He was working like crazy and a moment later he came up with that running, crippled rooster. After that episode I decided that he probably had a better idea of where the bird was than I did.

A couple years later we got another taste of humility. My pal had Digger's brother, another good hunting dog, and we were guiding for three other guys without dogs.

Our dogs finally got on a hot scent and we followed them at a quick march. It was pretty exciting but then a few hens flushed and we turned back for the pickups, quite disappointed. We had not gone far when we realized the dogs were not with us. They had lagged behind and they were still sniffing that hen scent like mad. Disgusted, we started back to get them but before we had taken a dozen steps they flushed a pair of roosters -- out of range.

Just a couple of years ago I was hunting with my lab pup, King, and my older German Shorthair, Deuce. A rooster flushed from a small patch of cattails and I folded it up in a cattail slough and marked it. We walked right to the spot but Deuce could not, and would not even look for the bird in the spot where I knew it to be. I got mad and called her back to the spot twice but neither time did she come up with the bird. It was looking bad when I suddenly realized the four-month-old pup beside me was growling at something. Looking down, I saw King pulling on a pheasant wing with all of his might. He was having a tough time because his owner was standing on top of the bird.

King and I were goose hunting on a very hot summer day recently. The sun was pretty mean and I was sweating by the time the decoys were finally set. I wanted King under some cover with me but he sat on the other side of my decoys and panted. I called him to get down beside me but he did not move. Okay, let him have his way, I thought, there are no geese flying. A couple minutes later he was knocking down decoys and throwing dirt all over the place. Then I got it. King had been using my decoys for shade. The hole he was digging was his way of cooling off even more.

So take it from a guy who should know, but often forgets, one thing hunters should pay attention to is their mutts. When it comes right down to it, the dog might have a few ideas that you can use.