Keep your dog hunting-season safe

By Katie Alvin Explore Big Sky Contributor

Bird-hunting season is a time of excitement and adventure, and for many it’s another reason to get outside with our four-legged friends. But hiking and hunting with dogs requires special considerations beyond normal care, so here are a few for planning a field day with your pet.

A healthy dog is a happy dog

You’re far more likely to encounter sick wild animals in the backcountry than in your neighborhood, so be sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. Fit your dog with a sturdy collar with current ID and rabies tags. If you’re traveling, affix a temporary tag with your local accommodations or camp location.

Before a big day, be certain that your dog is in good shape. You may plan to slowly pace a field all day, but your dog will be covering much more ground while bird hunting. If you hunt from a blind, your dog will be doing most of the work retrieving. Dogs aren’t very good at self-regulation and can work to complete exhaustion before giving up on a hunt.

What to pack for pets

Even the furriest dog can use protection from harsh conditions. If your dog is swimming a lot in cold water, a neoprene vest is both insulating and buoyant. If you’re bushwhacking through thick brush, a vest protects from thorns, branches and stumps. In big game country, blaze orange is critical to increase visibility to other hunters. Dogs can sunburn too, so apply sunscreen on sensitive, exposed areas like the nose and ears.

For long days, bring food for your dog as well. If you won’t be near clean water sources, pack extra water too. Don’t forget bowls – collapsible ones are most convenient.

Your personal first aid kit will likely include many things you can use on your dog as well, but you might need to toss in a few extra items. Pack scissors to trim hair around a wound and carry a multi-tool with good pliers for removing porcupine quills, thorns and other embedded objects. Dog bandaging can be awkward, so carry an extra roll of stretchy vet bandage. Duct tape can be used to secure tricky wraps, but never apply it directly to skin, fur or footpads. Aspirin is the only over-the-counter pain reliever you can give a dog, so pack a couple pills for emergency. Talk to your vet about dosages beforehand.

Is your dog a tenderfoot?

One of the worst dog experiences I’ve had was on a hike with my Labrador retriever to Beehive Basin one spring. Since it was early in the season she hadn’t toughened up her paws, and the final mile of rough granite tore open all four footpads. Though I had my full first aid kit, I barely had enough moleskin and tape to cover each paw. I resorted to tearing strips off my T-shirt to wrap her paws. We made it down without having to carry her, but she was crippled for a week while her feet healed. Now I prevent this problem by building up her paw pads each spring taking walks on gravel roads and pavement. Dog booties offer backup protection for her to wear across sections of rough terrain or to keep bandages in place after an injury.

Behavior in the field

You may have complete control of your pet in familiar environments, but even the best dogs can lose their minds in the unbounded freedom of wide-open spaces. Unless your dog has get_outside_3mastered proper backcountry behavior, have a sturdy leash and be prepared to use it. Leash your dog when you see wildlife or when you approach other people or horses. Move away from the trail to allow others to pass without fear. Pack a pocket full of treats to reinforce good behavior.

An important word about wildlife

It’s illegal in Montana to allow your dog to chase, stalk, attack or kill any hooved game animal. You can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined up to $1000, and sentenced to up to six months in jail. If law enforcement witnesses such behavior – or if a private landowner sees it on their property – officers can destroy your dog. Using a leash or leaving a “spirited” dog home is a small price to pay for their life.

At day’s end

There’s nothing quite like returning home after a long day outside and putting your feet up, but don’t forget your dog might appreciate some TLC too. Take a few minutes to give your pet love while you look for ticks and brush out burrs or matted fur. If you prepared properly, you’ve stayed safe and had a great day. It won’t be long before you start thinking about the next big adventure for you and your pooch to get outside!

Katie Alvin has lived in Big Sky for more than 20 years and owns East Slope Outdoors with her husband Dave. With degrees in Environmental Studies and Soil Science, she has been involved with environmental and outdoor education for 25 years.