When you think of hunting dogs, you probably immediately envision an English Springer Spaniel flushing a pheasant. Or maybe it’s a Treeing Walker Coonhound baying up a tree. Perhaps your image is a pack of beagles chasing a rabbit. Maybe even a retriever shivering with excitement as ducks circle overhead.
I’d be surprised if you thought of an Appalachian Turkey Dog scattering a flock of wild turkeys. While not as widely used as other sporting dogs, turkey hunting dogs can be extremely helpful in harvesting and retrieving turkeys.
Fortunately, more states are now allowing dogs for turkey hunting. In fact, it is legal to use dogs in 29 states.
Many of you know how hard it is to track a wounded turkey. It’s much harder than tracking a deer. A good tracking dog can help recover more wounded birds.
If you’re intrigued, keep reading as I cover the basics of turkey hunting dogs.
How do you hunt turkeys with a dog?
Turkey hunting with dogs is like a Frankenstein experience of mixing coonhunting with pheasant hunting with spring turkey hunting and with duck hunting.
To start, the dog will cast out in search of a flock of turkeys. Ideally, the dog will not range out too far from the hunter and will continually check back in with you. It is always a good idea to keep hunting dogs in GPS collars just in case he doeshead out too far.
Once the dog locates the flock, he should bust up the flock by barking and flushing. The barking not only helps spread the turkeys out, but alerts the hunter to the location of the bust (like a coonhound on a tree).
After the flush (pheasant hunting anyone?), the hunter will set up in the spot of the bust. He will usually cover the dog with a blind or put him in a bag. The dog will remain still as the hunter attempts to call the turkeys back together. This is similar to a spring turkey hunt, but instead of appealing to the sexual desires of the turkeys, you are appealing to their social instincts.
Most states allow hens, jakes, and toms to be harvested in the fall so you are just trying to get any of the birds from the flock to come back to the spot of separation. Kee-kees and assembly yelps are commonly used for this purpose. The more the turkeys have been separated by the dog, the easier it will be to call them in.
After a turkey is called back in, the hunter will shoot it. At this point, the dog is released to retrieve the bird (especially if wounded) like a retriever chasing down a duck. Turkey hunting dogs can be extremely useful for recovering wounded turkeys which may not have been otherwise found by the hunter.
What makes a good turkey hunting dog?
The most important trait of a good turkey hunting dog is a “birdy” instinct. He should want to chase birds with every fiber of his body. This can be encouraged at a young age with turkey wingbones.
You also want a dog with good obedience. If he starts to chase off-game such as deer or opposums, you need to be able to call him back. If he ranges too far out, you need to get him closer to you.
A turkey hunting dog needs to be fast. A turkey’s natural instinct is to run from danger. Turkeys generally will not fly until a dog gets very close to them. For a good bust up, the dog must run fast enough to get them in the air.
The dog must also bark at turkeys when he is close to them. This will help bust up the flock more effectively and also alert the human hunter to the presence of the birds.
Maybe one of the most important qualities for a turkey hunting dog to possess, is the ability to be still after the flush. The dog should get in the bag or blind and stay until after the shot. If the dog moves too much while the hunter is calling the birds, it could ruin the whole hunt.
What are some good turkey hunting dog breeds?
There are many dog breeds that make excellent turkey hunting dogs. Many are just misfit bird dogs that love chasing turkeys. That said, there are several breeds such as the Boykin Spaniel and Appalachian Turkey Dog (Byrne Turkey Dog) that were bred to hunt turkeys.
The Boykin Spaniel was developed in South Carolina at the start of the 20th century. They were originally bred for the purpose of hunting turkeys as well as waterfowl. The breed is now recognized by the AKC.
Boykins are smaller than the English Springer Spaniel, but larger than the English Cocker Spaniel. They are very high energy in the field, but make great family dogs in the home. The Boykin’s speed, energy, obedience, and flushing ability make it an excellent choice for a turkey hunting dog.
Appalachian Turkey Dog
The Appalachian Turkey Dog, also known as the Byrne Turkey Dog, was first developed in the 1970s by John Byrne. Byrne, a Viriginia native, bred an English Setter with an English Pointer/Plott hound mix to get his orginial breed stock.
There are now many Appalachian Turkey Dogs all over the country. A medium build with black and white coloring characterizes their physical appearance. The best of them fit the above description of a good turkey dog.
These dogs are born with a desire to chase turkeys. You’ll just have to teach them to be still!
Pointers, Setters, and Retrievers
Many of the best turkey hunting dogs out there were not specifically bred for the purpose. The fact of the matter is, many of the best turkey hunting dogs are pointers or setters that didn’t point.
As popular and intelligent as retrievers are, many have been taught to hunt by their turkey-enthused owners. The retriever’s drive for birds make them a somewhat natural hunter of turkeys.
There are a lot of dogs out there. If they display some of the attributes listed above and you are willing to work with them, you may be able to make a fine turkey dog out of them. Just like Mr. Byrne and Mr. Boykin did many years ago.
For many, there is no greater joy than hunting with a dog you have trained yourself. For those that love turkey hunting, the pleasure is doubled when you bag a bird with your trusty companion.
Turkey hunting dogs can not only help you be more effective in your hunting, but they can also help you recover wounded turkeys that otherwise may not have been found. To me, this is win for conservationists everywhere.