Late Season Care for Gun Dogs

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As opening weekend and memories of early fall rambles through our favorite covers begin to fade, winter settles in across the northern reaches, signaling the last call for many bird hunters. For many of us, hunting the last days of the late season are an anticipated tradition, as we take extra time off around the holidays to spend time with family or travel to western or southern destinations to extend our season. Much like us, who will hunt as long as we are warm, dry and comfortable, our dogs are tough and ready for these winter wingshooting wanderings. Hunting in the cold and snow can be enjoyable and rewarding but following a few simple considerations will help to keep your dog safe and end the season on a high note.


Be Prepared
Keep dogs well fed and hydrated, even during the winter months. Watch out for lethargy and other strange behaviors during and after hunts. Don’t push yourself or your dog in the late season. For many of us, returning to the woods after the rifle deer season, a strong desire to bust the brush and put a few more birds in the vest may outweigh our appreciation of the conditions and the setting of realistic expectations. Don’t let your drive to succeed allow you to put your dog in harm’s way. Keep an eye on the forecast and have a proper plan in place to accommodate the cold, snow, and ice. Consider hunting closer to home, closer to the truck, go out with a buddy, rotate dogs, and bring the proper gear for yourself and your companion.

If traveling out-of-state, be sure to familiarize yourself with the weather and conditions of your destination. You may outrun the cold temps and snowpack, but there may be additional situations and hazards to be aware of. Find out whether your lodging facility allows dogs indoors or make your own accommodations to keep them warm, dry, and comfortable overnight. Another important preparedness tip would be to locate veterinary offices and emergency services in the areas you will be hunting, should you need to quickly respond to an incident in the field.


A Little Extra
There are several products available for gun dogs to keep them comfortable and more efficient during the cold and snowy months of late season bird hunting.

Dog vests can offer an added layer of protection from the blustery winds and can help to prevent dogs from becoming excessively wet, and subsequently cold. An orange vest also adds visibility for safety when big game seasons are still open or for otherwise keeping tabs on long-ranging pointing dogs. A form-fitting neoprene vest that retrievers wear can also help to keep your dog warm.


Dog booties may be beneficial for gun dogs in icy, wet conditions or when hunting in a few inches of snow but may not be effective in deeper snow. If your dog has never worn them, don’t attempt to start now. A proper introduction, fitting and the opportunity to try them on is not a last-minute, game-day decision.

Products like Vaseline or Musher’s Secret can help keep snow clumps and ice from forming on our dog’s pads but are often ineffective after just a few minutes and may require routine applications.


Most of our gun dogs will be too excited before a hunt to eat, and it may not be advisable to offer them a full allotment prior to hitting the field. Regardless of your dog’s feeding schedule, offering them simple snacks such as homemade treats, peanut butter sandwiches or boiled eggs during the hunt might give them a much-needed boost of energy. If you already offer your gun dog a nutritional supplement to help them recover from a hunt, this can be especially valuable in the late season when burning extra calories, but in general, it may not be the best practice to begin a new product or surprise your dog with something they haven’t used before.

Cold Weather Conundrums
Wet, wind, ice, and snow form the basis of the cold weather calculation and these factors when multiplied, can turn an enjoyable trek into trouble in a hurry. Be mindful of the recent weather conditions, latest precipitation events, and short-term forecast to plan your hunts during the most favorable conditions if possible. Recognizing there are inevitable times when we need to hunt when we can, carrying all the essential gear you may need will spare you from missing an opportunity and can avoid a catastrophe. Keep a loaded tote in your vehicle and stock your vest with supplies to address any cold weather crises you may encounter.

There will always be obvious dangers and hidden hazards whenever we go afield with our dogs and the late season adds a few more risks and challenges to the list. Deep snow can hide potential punctures from undergrowth or old farm equipment and a light dusting of snow can conceal unsafe thin ice on undetected farm ponds, drainage ditches, creeks, and beaver sloughs. This is also the time of year that trappers are setting traps and running traplines in our shared woodlots and wetlands. Review the process for freeing your dog from a body trap and carry a spare leash or cable tie to quickly remedy any trap-related predicament.

Take frequent breaks during the hunt to check your dog over and look for limping and licking at paws as snow and ice clumps may form on their pads and between their toes – frostbite is not common but can also happen. Dogs can develop hypothermia so keep an eye out for excessive shivering and any other strange behaviors in the field. If something is wrong or you have a bad feeling, don’t wait until it’s too late to take action.

Check your dog over after the hunt as well. Clean and dry their feet and offer them some water. Dry them off with a towel and give them a blanket to lie on or a warm kennel to crawl into after the hunt. Offer them a snack or replenish their spent energy with supplements.


Finish Strong
Late season bird hunting can be both exciting and productive with less hunting pressure, shorter hunts around work or holiday gatherings, and the opportunity to hunt with family and continue traditions. And if you’re lucky enough to travel to extend your season, you’re bound to find opportunity and adventure. Many bird hunters have already hung up their vests and stored their shotguns away to await the opening day of the following season, but there are still prospects for the hearty. It is important we incorporate plans to keep our dogs safe during this time. By now, both you and your dog should be properly conditioned and ready to finish the final days on a strong note. If you practice these simple late season tips, you and your dog are sure to have a memorable finish to your bird hunting season this year.


 


About the Author

Chris Ingram
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Chris Ingram is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer where he lives in Vermont with his wife and spends his time chasing dogs, feathers, fur and the next captivating gun dog story. He hopes to utilize his passion and enthusiasm for hunting and gun dogs to strengthen and unite the sporting community through sharing information, creating opportunity and delivering thoughtful content. To learn more about Chris and his work, check out Featherwind Creative on social media and visit www.featherwindcreative.com

 


About the Artist

Chris Ingram
Visit artist website

Chris Ingram is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer where he lives in Vermont with his wife and spends his time chasing dogs, feathers, fur and the next captivating gun dog story. He hopes to utilize his passion and enthusiasm for hunting and gun dogs to strengthen and unite the sporting community through sharing information, creating opportunity and delivering thoughtful content. To learn more about Chris and his work, check out Featherwind Creative on social media and visit www.featherwindcreative.com



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