Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Safety and your dog

A topic probably not discussed enough is hunting safely with your dog. Chukar hunting isn't like the traditional pheasant hunt, where every one pushes a flat field and the birds usually gain altitude before the shot. Most shots are usually on steep and rocky terrain and across drainages. Much of the time you don't even know what is over the next ridge 50 yards away. This is one of the reasons most chukar hunters hunt in different directions from the truck. It's hard enough getting a decent shot at a bird without worrying about other hunters just out of sight. That is another reason I like hunting behind a pointing dog. When my dog is on point I approach the birds, flush, and then shoot. I know where my dog is. It's more difficult with more than one dog. Unless the birds are higher in the air, you can't shoot if you don't know where every dog is. I do shoot shots where the birds fly over the top of me and there is no danger to my dogs or other people. Flushing dogs are great to hunt chukars behind, but they add that element of surprise and birds may be flying way too close to the dogs. I personally think it is harder to hunt behind a flushing dog than it is a pointing dog. A pointing dog usually will give you a little more time to think the situation over and make a safer approach.

No matter what type of dog you hunt behind you have to hold back on shooting when the bird is flying close to the dog. My vet told me that it's amazing how many hunters have brought their dogs in for one reason or another and discovered lead pellets in the dog. The hunters don't have any idea how they got there. I know I have been guilty of taking questionable shots. It's just not worth it. A good flinch could be all it takes to make that questionable shot a disaster. Down hill shots are probably the worst for this. The birds are dropping fast and turning side hill. If your dog isn't broke to hold until the shot, which mine aren't, the birds and dogs can real easily be in the same line of fire. Up hill isn't as bad because the birds usually gain altitude as they take off, thus leaving a clear shot. Plain and simple, you just have to know where your dog is and never shoot if there is any question.

Another safety problem is location. Chukars like steep and rocky terrain. When they get pushed the chukars will take to rock cliffs and slide areas to avoid hunters. Those areas hold a lot of chukars so it's hard not to hunt them. But realize the dangers to both you and your dog when you hunt them. I have heard horror stories of dogs chasing a wounded chukar over a cliff to their death. I had to help a fellow hunter pack his dog back to the truck when his dog injured his hips in a miniature rock slide. He lost his dog for the rest of the season. Most hunting dogs don't know how to stop when there is an injured bird. They will chase the birds into places they shouldn't be. It is up to us to stay away from these area for protection of our canine friends. Also, how many times have you been hunting chukars in these areas, you hear a noise above you, and you look up to see a boulder bounding down the hill towards you. How many time has it been reversed and you see the boulder heading for your dog. You don't know whether to yell and alert the dog or just pray that it misses him. A lot of this can't be avoided, it's just part of chukar hunting. But we can still be aware of possible consequences and make the proper decisions for our safety as well as our dog's.

Snakes, dehydration, fence cuts, and many other things can be entered into safety issues but I think they have more to do with first aid than safety.

I had a female short hair pass away 13 years ago. She had a good life but had one scary episode that shows how important awareness and safety are in any kind of hunting. Alli and I were hunting the Brownlee area and were having a good day. There was another guy hunting below me with a yellow lab. We were having a pretty good day and the guy had heard our shooting so he was working our way. I had packed my video camera and was hoping to get some good footage of Alli working and as the other hunter approached I decided this would be a good time to shoulder my gun and pack the camera. I never caught the guys name, but he asked if I would mind if he kind of hunted along with me. I had no problem with that and showed him where I was going to head for. He mentioned he would get a little higher on the hill and started in that direction as I readied the camera. Shortly after he started up the hill I heard the flush of a chukar. With my head in my camera bag I heard the shot and than a dog yelp. It continued yelping and I thought to myself, "he shot his dog." Suddenly he yelled "I shot your dog." I looked around and sure enough Alli wasn't by my side any longer. She had gone across the draw and was about 40 yards from this other hunter in the taller sage. The hunter was swinging on the bird and when he shot she was right behind the flying bird.

Alli was still crying when I got to her and I could tell she needed immediate attention. The hunter felt bad and wanted to help me. But there was nothing he could do at that time. I was hunting with my brother that day and I told the guy the general direction Tom was and asked him to see if he could locate him and tell him to get down to the road as fast as he could. If I didn't find Tom on the road I was going to leave him and get to the vets. I always pack radios now so that I can communicate with people I hunt with. Alli weighed about 55 lbs. and the mountain I had to go down was steep and rocky. She seemed to know to hold still so as to knock me off balance as we headed straight down the hill to the road. A half hour later I hit the road and then had a mile and a half to go to the truck. Alli just laid in my arms as I carried her and her breathing did not seem to be labored. I drove back towards town watching up the hill for Tom and finally spotted him hunting his way down. With all the profuse honking he finally figured something was wrong and hurried down the hill.

Xrays at the vets showed there was over 100 pellets in Alli. She stayed there for two days. The danger was if any of the pellets were deep enough to hit a vital organ. My daughter, Kerri stayed there with Alli while I worked. Alli recovered just fine and weighed a half ounce heavier from that day on. She hunted for two more years after that and never showed any signs of that one shot affected her. I thought she might be a little gun shy after that but it wasn't the case.

The big thing here is, that although it seemed simple and the chukar was flying down a draw, the hunter was aware of his dog but not aware of the background to the chukar. An innocent accident, but one that should be avoided.

Another story happened to a good friend of mine. We were hunting chukars in the Bully creek area and were having a good day. I had got my limit so I radioed Claire that I would pick him up down the road. I parked in the draw where I could see Claire coming down and after about an hour I saw him coming down the hill. At first I figured he must have got his limit because he was walking straight towards the truck and not hunting. I didn't notice his dog Annie as he approached and there was blood on his face. When I asked where Annie was he turned and I could see her dead in the back of his bird vest. You don't know what to say at this time. After Claire positioned her in the back seat of the truck and placed his gun and vest on the floor I finally asked "what happened?"

Claire had gotten into a bunch of birds in this one rocky area and they just kept flying out. He didn't think that Annie was even close to where he shot. After his last shot she fell over and wasn't breathing. Claire spent the next ten minutes giving her mouth to nose resuscitation, thus explaining the blood on his face mixed with the tears. The 2 hour ride home was silent except for me saying I'm sorry as I dropped Claire off. That was all that needed to be said. I knew what he must be going through. It ended up that she only had five pellets in her, but a couple of them had gone into her heart. Maybe the pattern was bigger than Claire expected or maybe a fluke. No matter what the reason, we both learned something from that. Claire is back to hunting chukars again and his attitude is that he won't shoot unless he is absolutely sure his dog is way out of the picture.

Hypothermia can happen very sudden to hunting dogs. Especially the short haired ones. Greg Allen, one of the better chukar hunters I know, and I were hunting Brownlee one year in some very cold temperatures. It was between 20 and 25 degrees that day and the reservoir had not froze over yet. Greg shot a chukar that ended up in the reservoir. At the time I had a short hair, Alli, and a Brittany, Rookie, with me. Neither would venture into the water for the retrieve. Greg's short hair, Mocha, was coaxed into the retrieve. The water was choppy so she couldn't see the bird. After three or four minutes she finally came up with the bird. After the atta girls, we headed back on our hunt. Within minutes Mocha disappeared. We back tracked and she was lying under a sage brush with hair standing on end. She was shivering violently. We immediately headed back to the truck, me packing Greg's shotgun and he was packing Mocha under his coat and next to his body for warmth. It wasn't long before the shivering subsided and we let her walk and generate her own heat. It scared both of us and we got another education that day. Maybe the labs can handle that water and temperatures but the short haired dogs and no body fat cannot handle the wet and cold conditions. We put her in an unsafe position by letting her swim for the retrieve under those conditions.

Any of these things could happen to all of us. Just think about it before you begin your hunt and how much your dogs companionship means to you. It might help you hunt a little safer with your dog.


fj790 said...

thanks for the reminder on safety. In my life I have had a high school friend lose an eye in a shooting accident, a cousin lost an eye in a So Dakota pheasant hunting incident (he was a blocker on a group hunt), and another school friend was part of a group that had one member die in a shooting accident while hunting rabbits. I have seen the guilt associated with these experiences remain with some of those involved for a lifetime, often destroying any possible enjoyment from hunting or shooting sports. We cannot be too careful.
Having said this, I think group chukar hunting is potentially one of the most hazardous activities out there. You can have people directly above or below you, appear out of nowhere over a ridge or be unseen while working through heavy cover in a draw. Your comments about everyone going in separate directions from the truck are spot on. Another thing that works well is to drop off a partner in a separate draw on the way in with a plan to meet up at a prearranged time and place.
Or hunt Utah's west desert where I often have a whole mountain range to myself.
Keep up the good work, Mike...

larry szurgot said...

Thanks Mike,
On another note, Once in a while you think you have the whole place to yourself and another hunter shows up. It's everybody's mountain so I'd rather step aside than have an accident happen. One year I shot at a chukar just before another dog showed up over a ridge. Scared the heck out of me. I never saw the hunter but later heard him shooting quite a ways from me. In that case I tried to put as much distance between him and me(and the dogs) as possible. Safety is everybodys responsibility. It's not worth wondering who was first on the hill.

misnomer said...

Thanks for these stories and honesty behind them. I will keep them in mind this fall.