Bird dogs use the wind to hunt and find birds. Hunters use the wind to determine the best approach to birdy objectives, and dog trainers like us use it to help dogs navigate a variety of bird setups.
Basically, there are four wind situations: upwind, downwind, cross-wind, and no wind. Scent is carried on water molecules in the air and moves with the wind. If a dog is running upwind of birds, the wind is at his back and he cannot smell them. If he is running downwind of birds, so he is working into the wind, their scent is carried to him. If he is running cross-wind to birds, at right angles to the wind, he runs across their scent. Most good bird dogs try to run at right angles to the wind so they can hunt a larger area. Having a good understanding of the wind is key to achieving success in the field.
A bird dog demonstrates he is hunting when he uses the wind. Watch the dog run. If he runs on the downwind side of a tree line, he has positioned himself at right angles to any bird scent that might be there. Run him through a field into the wind, and he naturally quarters the field to stay at right angles to the wind.
Hunters plan their approaches using the wind. When heading to their favorite grouse coverts, they try to approach birdy objectives from the downwind side. If they approach from the upwind side, birds can hear them coming and have time to escape before the dogs detect them. Hunting singles after a covey of quail flush can be as simple as a downwind approach, so the dog quarters. It doesn’t take long before the dog becomes skilled at the singles game.
Dog trainers have to be constantly aware of the wind when planting birds or bringing the dog into different bird setups. We leave foot tracks every time we plant birds; four-wheeler tracks, too. Try coming in from the upwind side when you walk or drive a four-wheeler to plant birds so you’ll leave as few clues as possible for the dog to follow. Once you bring the dog to the field, try approaching birds so the dog is cross-wind to them. This way, he’ll run across their scent and immediately get a nose full. If you approach from downwind of birds, their scent builds as the dog gets closer, which may encourage him to creep.
The wind can be a fickle partner, often dying down or changing direction in a short period of time. Be sure to constantly monitor its direction either by feeling for it on your face or by tossing a small handful of grass and watching the direction in which it falls. Sometimes, the wind simply dies; when this happens, it’s smart to have a plan. After you make one or two passes without the dog indicating birds, take the dog on instead of trying to force the situation. Practice some check-cord work, or, if you have another bird planted, work him on it. You can always come back to the first bird if the wind picks up and scenting improves.
As you pay attention to the wind, you’ll become more in tune with nature, and, ultimately, you’ll gain a better understanding of the ways in which your dog hunts. In essence, you’re getting down on his level and starting to think like a bird dog.