Years ago, I could have accomplished a long-held ambition—to shoot a wild turkey over a point. During a quail hunt, my dog locked up in knee-high grass. I confidently expected a covey flush but instead got a massive gobbler erupting almost at my feet. Talk about the ultimate wing shot! There were just a couple of problems with the scenario—turkey season wasn’t open, and I wasn’t sure if it was legal to use dogs to hunt Missouri turkeys.
The point being, there are restrictions on the use of dogs in field work and also that I have exceptional self-control—especially when I have the crap scared out of me. (The dog is still recovering from the trauma of challenging gamebirds as big as him.)
We’ve had restrictions on dogs for decades—noise ordinances, vicious dog laws and puppy mill restrictions. If your dog bites the mailman, the dog goes to jail (one of ours did for two weeks). You have to get rabies shots (or the dog does, anyway). Perhaps you face restrictions on trespass by your dogs. You could be sued—as was the owner of the famous Missouri hound Old Drum—if your dog chases or kills livestock.
There is currently widespread worry among hunting dog owners over the possibility that bird dog breeding/training/hunting will face severe restrictions, possibly outright bans in the coming years. There are already laws on the books restricting dog breeding (aimed at “puppy mills”) and on hunting with hounds—California recently banned the use of dogs to hunt bobcats and bears.
My home, Missouri, long has banned hounds for deer, although this is legal in other states, and hounds are cherished and legal in the Show-Me state for foxes, coyotes and raccoons. Eleven states allow hound hunting for deer (in Maryland you can use a dog to track a wounded deer). Texas, which has the nation’s largest population of white-tailed deer, is among those states that ban dog hunting for them.
Victoria, B.C., actually has a list of breeds approved for use in hunting. There is a list for deer (eight new breeds recently, including the feisty Jack Russell terrier) and one for bird hunting dogs. But you can’t use more than two dogs of either type at a time. All in all, it seems confusing, but it also is in Canada, not the U.S. Still, it’s a cautionary example of what can happen when regulators get carried away.
Puppy mills—those often disgustingly-run operations that produce dogs in volume—are something that do need regulation, but penalizing so-called back-yard breeders isn’t the way to go. I know because I’ve been one of those for years. Our son Andy—my hunting buddy since he was old enough to tote a shotgun—paid much of his way toward a degree in wildlife with the sale of Brittany puppies.
We never had more than one litter at a time, and our own hunting dogs came exclusively from breeding our own dogs. We screened potential owners before selling them puppies, and I still get letters from buyers dating back many years, often with the sad news that their beloved companion has died. Our puppies went to homes where they were loved, hunted, and—when the inevitable parting came—deeply missed.
We know how close the bond is between hunter and dog, but this is not understood by the anti-hunting animal rights crowd to whom the outdoor world is just a hazy concept. Just because they don’t understand the reality of tooth and claw doesn’t mean they won’t keep fighting for restrictive and ill-conceived legislation.
The potential is huge—upland hunters tend to think of dog use only in terms of Ol’ Streak’s penchant for busting points while bird hunting. But that’s only one facet of dogs as hunters. My father had a fantastic cocker-springer mix that treed squirrels for years. McKinley Kantor, a once well-known scribe, wrote the quintessential book about foxhound hunting, The Voice of Bugle Ann. I once followed coonhounds through a snowy, freezing night which was lifeblood for my hound enthusiast buddies, although it’s one I don’t care to repeat.
I have also hunted rabbits with beagles and waterfowl with Labs of various color permutations, all the way from Louisiana to the Dakotas. All these are legitimate, time-honored and valued dog-man associations and any attempt by the antis to put curbs on them would bring howls (sorry!) from the hunting community, and, you’d hope, from legislators as well.
Still, if California can ban dogs for use on some game it gives encouragement to those who would ban dog use on all game. The answer obviously is to take the issue seriously and be guarded. But the flip side is not to become paranoid and overreact. I can’t see, in my wildest nightmares, any lawmakers crazy enough to hamstring hunting dog owners in the Midwest, near West or the South. The hunting tradition is just too deep to let that happen.
There is also the issue of using live birds for training, a time-honored practice. I’ve used them and so has every bird dog trainer I’ve ever known. There have been restrictions on the use of wild birds. For instance, it has been discouraged (if not illegal) to use live pigeons in some shooting competitions for more than 100 years.
As far as I know, no state bans live-trapping barn pigeons for use in dog training. Some states have elaborate regulations on the use of game-farm birds in training or field trials. Colorado has a long list of requirements for anyone wanting to use gamebirds to train dogs or run a field trial. But for much of the year, you can train dogs on wild birds, using blank cartridges.
It can get complicated if several governing bodies get involved—city, county, state and federal. Often it’s a city ordinance that complicates the situation. My old hometown put a cap on the number of dogs that can be owned within the city and levied restrictions on the type of housing. Most of those local laws involve someone creating a nuisance or a community threat. I know of a pit bull kennel in my old neighborhood that had the neighbors frightened.
The danger to hunting dog owners is government, no matter the level, will pass some “one size fits all” restrictions. Puppy mill restrictions can wind up making it impossible for backyard breeders to operate, hamstrung by high permit costs or other impossible burdens.
The antis are ever vigilant for an opening. Most people know that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is nuts. Their goofy campaigns usually earn them ridicule. The Humane Society of the United States is far more effective. HSUS is unalterably opposed to hound hunting and it’s a short jump from there to opposing bird dog hunting.
Listening to the hounds on a winter night is as time-honored in Missouri as gigging redhorse suckers in the crystal rivers for a gravel bar fish fry. I’ve been on a coon hunt and the most abused of the participants was me, not the coon. I was cold, bruised and tired. The coon holed up in a barn, safe from both dog and man, and we went home.
HSUS often is confused with the Humane Society which operates animal shelters. HSUS operates a money mill, soliciting funds from credulous donors and plowing none of it back into wildlife, wildlife management, shelters or any other outlet to benefit animals. Instead the money goes to salaries, advertising and fund-raising—allegedly only one percent of money raised goes to shelters.
There is no widespread legislative threat to hunting dog owners—yet. Most anti-dog legislation is local or regional and most concerns puppy mills, animal abuse, dog fighting or vicious dogs. But that doesn’t mean attacks on hunting dog owners and their dogs aren’t lurking in the