Cripple play

Make sure your pup can find the scent when it really counts

A wounded upland game bird can run a long way and easily outsmart an inexperienced hunting dog. But if your four-legged hunting partner can zero in on the scent trail of a crippled bird, you’d better make room in your game bag. Here’s how to make that happen.

Mentorship program

While a rookie dog may get confused if it encounters pools of scent from other birds, an experienced dog can ignore such distractions to methodically track a wounded bird. And the more a dog chases grounded birds, the better it becomes at figuring out where they like to hide. So if you can pair a younger dog with a skilled older one in the field, it will learn to find these hideout hot spots faster. Otherwise, it’s up to you to watch for signs of life and direct the dog where to sniff.

Smell test

A dog is quick to see movement, but it can have trouble switching over to using its nose to follow the scent trail of a runner. To train your dog to make the transition, toss a scented bumper into heavy cover when it isn’t looking, then have it search for the bumper. Even better, drag a scented bumper through short and tall grass and shrubs, then plant it out of sight before commanding the dog to find it using only its nose.

Use your eyes

To find a downed bird, it’s critical that you know where it first hit the ground. Look for landmarks to help pinpoint the location and quickly guide your dog to the spot. With a bit of luck, your dog will bring you a dead bird. If not, let the dog start tracking. And don’t call off the dog too soon, thinking the bird couldn’t have gone that far. More often than not, your four-legged buddy will be right.