Blue Heeler Pheasant Hunting

Certain canine breeds, such as setters, Labrador retrievers and pointers, have been bred for centuries to flush and retrieve hunters’ game birds. But I have had scant experience with, nor ever owned, such a breed — until Bubba.

I have visited exclusive wing shooting concessions where I have “hunted over” expensive bird dogs — the kind guests are warned, “If you shoot a dog, you own it.”

Sally and I rescued Bubba, an Australian cattle Dog (a.k.a., blue heeler), from an east Texas puppy mill more than years ago, and I have never been disappointed with his pedigree.

Blue heelers are considered working dogs, associated with ranch operations and the herding of livestock — cattle, horses and sheep. But few would classify the breed as a “bird” dog. Mine is — and much, much more.

I tell people Bubba is the smartest dog I have ever had. Certainly, he is a lot smarter than his owner. Bubba has taught me more than I could ever hope to teach him. And over time, I have learned that he is a better, more enthusiastic hunter than me. He is, to borrow the title of a hunting magazine, a huntin’ fool.

On the farm, Bubba eagerly retrieved squirrels and rabbits for me. Sure, it took a little coaxing, but he inexorably relinquished the critters to me, a little slimy, but no less worse, for the wear. And I always rewarded him for his efforts and obedience. I soon learned he not only was a retriever of fur-bearing critters, he also loved to ‘chase’ circling birds (crows, hawks and vultures), as if he could actually catch them.

When it was dove season, Bubba accompanied me on our west Texas ranch forays, and he quickly developed the knack for locating and retrieving downed doves in thick cover. I usually put his special boots on his paws, for the grass burs and mesquite thorns, and he couldn’t have been a happier camper, hunting with dad.

Bubba also was thrilled to swim out and retrieve ducks I downed over the ranch stock tank. But he was no less eager a retriever of the towering, 3-foot-tall sandhill cranes I knocked down, too. However, with the 15-pound or heavier cranes, I was careful not to allow Bubba to approach wounded birds that might have injured him with their sharp, pointed beaks, wings and inch-and-a-half-long spurs.

On one occasion, toting my Remington 870 over my shoulder to open the gate, I spied a formation of sandhills lining up on approach to an adjacent wheat field, and quickly took a knee on the caleche road. When I stood for a shot, I selected a single bird and let fly with a load of No. 2s. The bird crumpled and plummeted to earth, but as I watched it descend, I noticed a second bird fold and succumb to gravity. Two cranes with one shot — my personal best, yet to be beaten. As ever, Bubba was at my side, and when the ‘double’ fell to earth, he was quickly upon them. One bird, the first I had hit, was dead and was no concern to me insofar as Bubba’s life and limb. The second, however, was alive and kicking and posed a potential threat to my blue heeler, “retriever’s” health.

And if his hunting skills were not enough, Bubba has saved me from numerous rattlesnake encounters.

Bubba may only be a heeler, a working dog of farm and ranch animals, yet he is every bit the pedigree champion retriever, in my book, as an expensive German short hair. On a particular deer hunt in Pecos County, I shot a buck at dark and watched helplessly as it bolted for the cover of west Texas thick brush. Fearing that it might be lost to the night, I got Bubba out of the truck and let him sniff around the shot scene. Without hesitation or training, he picked up the buck’s blood trail and with me in tow, flashlight flickering, led me effortlessly to the downed 10-pointer. Yes, sir, that dog will hunt! Bubba fancies himself a hog-dog, too — but I don’t let him mess with feral hogs, those tusked devils.

Each day, I learn how incredibly smart and resourceful my dog is, and with time I have learned how useful dogs can be, if we properly care for them, and don’t stunt their development with preconceived notions. I think like people, dogs can be put in boxes they should not be assigned to, and suffer for it.

Bubba has his eye on a female heeler owned by church friends, and I hope to extend his lineage soon. Drop me a line if you have a hunting or fishing story you’d like to share: [email protected]

How do I train my Blue Heeler to hunt?

Any herding breed should start their training as young as possible, usually between two and four months of age, or as soon as they are weaned from their mother. Puppies should be socialized to tolerate and recognize a variety of sounds, scents, and locations. The more environments your puppy is exposed to, the better prepared he will be to be your hunting companion.

Here are some common steps to training a Blue Heeler to hunt:

  • Train your dog in basic obedience and manners
  • Hold daily practice
  • Familiarize your dog with different locations, terrains, and bodies of water
  • Introduce your dog to the scents of the game you wish to hunt
  • Encourage your dog to follow scent trails on a leash
  • Drag tethered game or fowl to activate your dog’s instincts to chase
  • Continue practicing daily and always reward correct behavior
  • Reinforce your dog’s off-leash recall
  • Familiarize and desensitize your dog to loud noises like gunshots
  • Your first few hunts with your Blue Heeler should be considered “practice runs.” Hunting dogs must learn to walk quietly and patiently with their owners until you’ve given the command to go. Fortunately, as herding dogs, Heelers are very adept at this skill.

    What kind of game can Blue Heelers hunt?

    Blue Heelers can hunt any variety of small game animals, including but not limited to squirrels, moles, gophers, rabbits, raccoons, and foxes. For hunting birds, they can easily identify and retrieve game birds like quail, ducks, geese, pheasants, and cranes.

    There are first-hand accounts of packs of Blue Heelers taking down coyotes and wild boars. However, the risk involved in these encounters is very high. Both wild boars and coyotes are known for their viciousness, so using your Heeler to bring down these animals could be risking their life.


    Before delving into the nature of a blue heeler dog, you should understand that it is a herding dog and loves to handle specific tasks. How can I train my Blue Heeler to be a hunting dog is among the questions most people ask me. Hunting is not in its nature but if you train it when it is still a pup you can get more from it as a hunting dog as well.

    Blue Heeler puppies are also known as Australian Cattle Dogs and they are cute both as puppies and adults as well. If you don’t know much about these puppies, I suggest you get one because such kind of experiences are better felt first hand rather than hearing from me how my dog is intelligent.


    Can Blue Heelers be used for hunting?

    Registered. A good hunting dog is either well trained or natural hunter, heelers aren’t natural hunters. The up side is they are one of the brightest breeds around and easily trained.

    Can Australian cattle dogs hunt?

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