Like most people in my circle, one of my most favorite pastimes is being in the field during hunting season. If that was not fun enough, there is nothing more exciting than taking “Man’s Best Friend” to add to the experience. Even if dogs are used by hunters for pointing, retrieving and tracking game, they are considered a part of their family.
Thus, dog owners, especially for those who take their dogs to the field, go to great lengths to protect them from harm. That is why there is an entire market dedicated to products designed to protect dogs while hunting. Safety equipment, for example, includes blaze orange vests, eye protection and hearing protection. Even Kevlar vests are made for dogs that are used for baying up or pinning wild boar, bear and mountain lions.
When taking our hunting dogs afield, there are many things that we must be aware of to keep them safe: gunshots, extreme temperatures both hot and cold, and predators like alligators and snakes. Lastly, even the strongest swimming dog is susceptible to drowning.
Gunshots are always a concern to dog owners afield because most of the time hunting dogs are situated between the game animal and the hunter. This is generally the rule no matter what you are hunting and what the dog is supposed to be doing. Hunters need to always control their emotions. This is especially true when bird hunting. For example, when hunting with friends, and a covey of quail flushes, birds fly in different directions, dogs are excited, and multiple people are mounting and swing their shotguns toward the game. Hunters can forget about their safe directions of fire. States keep accurate records of hunting accidents, and bird hunters make up the bulk of the hunting accidents.
When hunting birds, the rule of thumb is to never shoot unless you see sky. If you follow that rule, hunting dogs are less likely to be shot because they are no longer in your line of fire. If you are using baying or pinning dogs, never shoot until all the dogs are leashed and secured. Remember to always make sure that you have a clear line of fire before shooting at game. Also be aware that a dog can suddenly jump into your line of fire at any given moment, creating a deadly situation for your dog.
In the southern United States, it is not uncommon to be hunting in high temperatures. Becoming dehydrated is a serious problem for both hunters and hunting dogs. In Texas, opening day of dove season can be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. When heading to the field on a hot day, water is equally as important as your shotgun and shells. Do not forget to pack a water bowl or dish to keep your hunting dogs well-hydrated.
Pushing your dogs too hard when hunting in the higher temperatures that are experienced in the southern states can be life threatening. Just like people, dogs can experience heat exhaustion. If not treated, heat exhaustion can quickly become deadly if you or your dogs fall victim to heat stroke. Dogs are like kids when they are having fun; they are not aware that they are getting too hot until it is too late.
If you are hunting in the south or in the north during a heat wave, you need to be concerned about venomous snakes. Snakes are reptiles and are cold-blooded, which means that the snake’s body temperature reflects the outside temperature. This is a concern in areas that experience a warm spell because reptiles, including venomous snakes, will leave their dens to warm up. It is during these warm spells that dogs are most susceptible to a fatal bite.
There are four types of venomous snakes in North America. Of these four types of snakes, there are numerous sub-species. The four venomous snakes in North America are rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. Envenomation from any of these snakes can be deadly to people or dogs. Even if you or your dog survives, limbs can be deformed for life or other life-altering injuries can occur.
If you are hunting with your dog in the south, as if the heat and snakes were not enough, you must worry about alligators! Like snakes, alligators are reptiles and are cold-blooded. That means if it is warm and you are in gator country, you can bet they are out. Once again, in Texas it is hot. Oftentimes when teal season and even when the regular waterfowl season opens, it can be up to or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit!
In the south, many waterfowl hunters have lost their Labradors or other retrievers to alligators. Their dog is there one minute and gone the next. This is especially true when hunting in the coastal areas. Alligators look at dogs as they do any other small mammal: as food. In fact, in residential areas where dogs are prevalent, alligators are usually conditioned to emerge when they hear a dog barking.
Frigid temperatures of northern areas can be extremely dangerous to both hunters and dogs. Hypothermia can be a life-threatening situation to all warm-blooded mammals and that includes humans and canines. Frigid temperatures can also result in frost bite. Extreme cases of frost bite can lead to amputations of fingers, toes and limbs. When hunting in flooded forests or other standing water, retrievers should have a raised platform to sit on to get out of the water. Some of the platforms on the market even have cubbies or a small enclosed “house” that the dog can get out of the wind. There are also vests and paw “boots” to keep dogs warm.
It is important to remember what your specific dog breed was bred to do. Many upland gun dogs are not designed to retrieve in frigid waters. They do not have fur that covers their body mass and repels water as breeds such as Labradors. Breeds such as spaniels are shorter so more of their body is submerged in icy water and their longer hair retains more water, so they stay colder than breeds designed for water retrievals.
Drowning can be a real risk in extremely cold areas. Cold water rapidly saps the energy and strength from people as well as dogs. Usually, dogs have no problem swimming in cold water except when there is a strong current. If you are hunting around large rivers with fast moving water, dogs can quickly tire and be swept away. This often results in drowning. Coastal waterfowlers often use life preservers or floatation vests in windy conditions creating choppy water conditions.
Frozen lakes with thin ice are always a disaster waiting to happen. People and animals that fall through thin ice on lakes usually end up as a statistic. If there is a strong current under the ice, it can be very difficult to survive. It is important to heed any warnings from state or local officials regarding ice conditions on lakes.
Safety should be the primary concern when engaging in any activity. This is especially true for hunting because of all the special precautions we need to take when using firearms. We always want to keep ourselves, our loved ones, friends, and our four-legged hunting partners safe. Our dogs are loyal to us, protect us, and service us so the least we can do for them, is to do everything we can to keep them safe!