Every bird hunter dreams of the perfect day afield with crisp, cool fall mornings and antsy dogs anxious to wind that first bird of the new season. Picture perfect points, flushes, shots and retrieves to hand cloud our minds. However, every seasoned bird hunter experienced the desperate disappointment of losing a downed bird even though every aspect of the hunt had been flawless to that point.
Start Search Near, Then Go Far
|When hitting a bird, watch the trail of floating feathers to help give you an idea of its location.|
Game birds are a product of their environment. Eons of time have designed birds, which remarkably resemble the cover in which they hide and thrive. Much bird cover is thick, almost impenetrable. Lady Luck plays a key role in hunters being able to see a bird flush from such coverts, much less knock one down. Judging distance is difficult in the thickets. A good rule of thumb to remember is that your fleeing quarry is usually closer than you might think. If you are not sure where your bird went down, begin your search by looking near to far.
Mark Your Spot
Fools rush in where seasoned hunters fear to go. The thrill of the moment overwhelms excited bird hunters. You make a perfect shot and watch the bird tumble from the sky. Instinct urges you to rush in and claim your prize. Haste makes waste in bird hunting situations, too. It is astonishing how quickly surroundings can change if you don’t locate your bird immediately. First, before taking a step, note the exact spot where you stood when you took the shot. This will be your reference point for the duration of your search. Mark the spot with your orange cap, trail tape, toilet paper or anything visible.
Look for Floaters
Keep your eyes trained in the direction of the shot. Look immediately for feathers floating on the breeze. If the wind is blowing left to right and you shot the bird to the left, align the left edge of the drifting feathers with a landmark, such as a tall tree to give you a line to strike for your search. If you have a hunting buddy along, the search is much easier. Have him stand at the point of the shot, while you strike the line to find your downed bird. You can easily return to your marked beginning as many times as needed.
Use Your Senses
|A retriever greatly improves the enjoyment of any bird hunt and reduces losses of birds as well.|
Wild birds use all of their senses to escape predators. As a hunter, you must utilize all of your senses as well in order to consistently find and retrieve your downed game birds. You have already observed your bird’s path of flight. Listen closely for sounds of the bird falling through limbs, branches and forest floor litter. You may hear a muffled thud when the bird strikes the ground. Also listen for the continued wing beats or thrashing of the bird once it goes down.
Search Here, Search There
If you fail to locate your bird where you thought it was, begin a dedicated search. Look around near the spot you thought the bird fell. First thoughts are surprisingly correct and your bird may only be a few feet away. Hunters are keen predators and possess a sense of the presence of game. Practice improves this helpful attribute.
Scan the area around you in a complete circle. Move out a few feet and repeat the process. Watch for any telltale signs of the bird: tiny droplets of blood, a faint feather or rustled leaves are clues to look for.
Change the angle or position from which you are scanning the cover. Crouch down a bit, then kneel down. Laying down on the ground gives you an entirely different perspective of the cover around you. When all else fails, look up. Retrace your steps to your point of origin, all the while scanning the trees and bushes from eye level up. I have retrieved doves, ducks and pheasants from trees. It is definitely worth the look.
They're Called "Man's Best Friend" for a Reason
There is no arguing that hunting with a bird dog greatly reduces losses of downed birds. Too, the hunt is more enjoyable while sharing the experience with a canine companion. However, as luck dictates, the dog is not always present at the shot. Your finder skills will greatly enhance the dog’s chances of locating the bird a this point. Combine your skills with the “dead bird” point of your dog and the two of you will be a keen dead bird down finding machine.