Point or Flush?

Illustration by Gordon Allen
Illustration by Gordon Allen
By Tom Huggler

Surrounded by gifts on your birthday, do you open the biggest present last? When the cake comes out, do you save the frosting for the final bite? If you, too, appreciate delayed gratification and are a bird hunter, you might favor a pointing dog over a flushing breed. To me, there is no bigger thrill when hunting pheasants, quail, grouse and woodcock than the anticipation of the flush. Hit or miss, once the bird flies, the game is over.

This is not a knock against flushing dogs. I have owned enough retrievers—goldens and Labs—to appreciate their ability to find, flush and return birds to hand. But I’m older now, and I want a partner that won’t chase birds and leave me in the dust. These days I hunt more methodically, and although some flushing dogs don’t run on eight cylinders, they also don’t hold birds long enough for me to savor the moment.

Yes, I know some Labs point; in fact, I have hunted behind a couple of good ones in South Dakota. In truth, though, practically any bird dog can be trained to hold. One of my own favorite yellows, a female long gone, always hesitated before she pounced. Her quirky behavior offered a brief prologue to the drama about to unfold; but nothing beats watching a pointing dog hit the brakes, turn to stone and become a public-park statue until you make that final step.

Using pen-reared birds, a competent trainer can mold a young pointer—or any pointing breed—to perfection: head up, foreleg cocked, tail straight as a broomstick. Wild birds, of course, rarely stay put long enough for handlers to be so creative, but you still can witness the lip curl, the watering eyes, the tail quivering like a tuning fork whenever a struck-to-stone pointer is sucking up scent. I live for such tension—like a stretched rubber band about to snap.

That said, if you want the best of both worlds, then hunt with both a flusher and a pointer. Many quail-hunting preserves rely on pointers to locate birds, and then call on retrievers to get them aloft. One of the best bobwhite hunts I remember occurred years ago in South Texas when alternating teams of range-lean pointers button-hooked through the brush while we gunners followed in the back of a pickup. The guide, sitting in a scoop bucket attached to the front bumper, shouted, “Point!” and then whipped off his Stetson and held it high. Scrambling out, we loaded guns and approached the immobile dogs.

Satisfied we were in position, the guide hollered, “Sausage!” and a black-and-white springer spaniel leaped from the truck cab and went to work, frantically flushing the covey and dutifully picking up the quail we killed while the pointers remained staunch.

These days I often hunt grouse and woodcock with my setter Ragan and his kennel buddy, a yellow Lab named Butterscotch. “Scotch” walks at heel while Ragan hunts. Whenever his beeper signals “bird,” it’s Scotch’s turn to tremble and salivate until released.

Such fun can make my own eyes water with pleasure.

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  • I enjoyed the article and understand your delema, for I was somewhat like you. Check out an American Water Spaniel. You can watch the dog work and know when it is going to flush and most likely where the bird is coming from. They tend to try and locate the exact location of the bird before flushing.

  • Iv never understood the flushing dog. It robs he hunter of the thrill of the flush. I guess this is just how I was taught, dog finds bird, hunter flushes birds and shoots, dog retrieves.
    It drives me crazy on videos how a dog points and hunters just stand behind the dog for many minuets waiting for something to happen. The dog has done its work, get in there and flush your birds. What are these guys waiting for? Its like they are hanging around so as not to offend someone if the birds get up. geezz just do it.

  • I trained my vizsla Deuce to do both. When he would go rock solid on point I would situate myself to the side of him, switch the safety off and shoulder the gun, then give him an “OK”. Then he would flush. I know some of the pointer hunters are whincing right now to this nontraditional style. But it worked for me.

  • I was raised in a family almost cult-ish in its endearment to the spinger spaniel; we had two and granddad had four. I learned early on that if you watched your dog and had him under control, that the flush was as predictable, and the moment just as enjoyable, as the points of our friends’ German Shorthairs. But now at almost sixty, and for all the reasons mentioned above, I find myself looking at a slow and steady wirehaired pointing griffon. RIP dad, but I’m going to the other side.

  • Well, you’re right, a pointing dog is beautiful sight, all locked up and shaking with anticipation. Once they reach a certain age and get over the head worms, they’re great as long as you have a good supply of Procaz handy.
    I’ve had three over the years but now I’m a lover of Labs, in particular….wait for it……the Pointing Lab. The most recent is a Fox Red out of Texas. Bodie works tight, quarters to hand, steady to wing and shot, hunts dead, soft mouth, whistle trained and is great in a duck blind. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. All my dogs have been companions, living inside and loving life despite furniture legs and shoes being eaten. I will say this about Pointers, they don’t have the appetite that a Lab does for just about everything.

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