No die-hard bird hunter looks beyond October. Whether it's the mid-month pheasant opener throughout much of the Midwest or the quail opener tied to the month down South and out West, October is the month to burn boot leather behind a good dog. How well we get ourselves into shape for this first month of busting brush is up to us and our commitment to the pursuit. How well we get our dogs in shape is also up to us and is directly tied to our dog's overall performance and health once the season is under way.
Think about it this way — you might walk four or five miles during a daylong pheasant hunt in the grasslands of central South Dakota. Your dog, whether a pointer or a flusher, might cover three times that distance. They'll do a fair amount of those miles at a run, too.
This means that their dietary needs, as well as hydration levels, will touch extremes that our human bodies never will. Knowing that, it's necessary to pay attention to everything that's happening to your dog, both internally as well as on the outside.
Hot & Cold, Fast & Slow
Easily one of the most common conditions that brings down good dogs throughout the early season is heat. Hot days can be a killer, even for dogs that are in great shape, but overheating is more likely to adversely effect canines that are easing into hunting shape. Every couple of years we experience higher-than-average temperatures during the pheasant openers in the Midwest. Consequently, we hear stories of dogs being carried out of the rooster fields or, worse yet, succumbing to heat exhaustion.
The same goes for quail country, which can experience wild swings in temperatures from first light to noon and then beyond. It's our job to be realistic about how much our dogs should hunt in the heat, and to always provide hydration.
I always carry a collapsible water bowl and a few bottles of water in my game vest even if I believe my dog will be able to find enough water in the field to drink. We also take plenty of breaks to cool off, and never push it despite that last-day-of-school excitement we all get when we're finally allowed to hunt the birds we love.
Hydration is a huge part of canine health, but it's only a part. There is also the nutrition aspect, which is often overlooked.
Good Calories Count
I recently spent nine days in the backcountry hunting elk. In his haste to hit the road, my hunting partner left most of his food at home. We didn't figure this out until we were setting up our base camp, which was a long way from the nearest grocery store. We did some math and decided we could make it work with what he had and what I'd brought. By day four, however, we realized we were wrong.
The sluggishness and overall exhaustion we felt was partly due to sleeping in tents and climbing mountains every day, but we realized it was also due to the fact that we weren't consuming enough good calories. We still hunted but just not as well as we could.
Substitute what we experienced on our elk hunt with what your dog burns up during an average day of hunting and it's pretty easy to understand why we need to give them quality food. The way dog food works is pretty much the way any quality product works, from water bottles to sports cars. The best products cost more, but they're worth it.
For example, Merrick Backcountry's Raw Infused blends contain deboned meat as the number one ingredient. They are also grain free, contain no gluten, and are chock-full of proteins and omega fatty acids. In other words, Backcountry Raw allows you to give your dog what they need to stay healthy and keep their energy level up when it matters the most.
Raw also contains freeze-dried raw meat that — at least judging by how my dog gobbles it up — tastes amazing. These chunks of real meat are easily digestible, which is key when traveling or suddenly hunting hard (or both). Dogs can experience a varied amount of stress due to travel, camp life, and suddenly running 10 times as far as they did the previous day. Dog food that is easily digestible is a blessing during those times, and Raw is my choice for pheasant camp when we head out to the Dakotas, or for quail camp when we truck it to southern Nebraska.
Backcountry Raw Infused is available in a wide variety of formulas with Game Bird Recipe being our first choice partially out of function, and partially out of tradition. Pair Raw with some Backcountry treats throughout your early-season hunts and you'll see that your dog is performing at a peak level right from the get-go, but it'll be most evident on day three or four when the hard-hunting catches up to most dogs. A well-fed, properly hydrated dog will recover from the day's rigors much more quickly, and be ready to go each and every morning.
That is something all bird-dog owners — and bird dogs — can appreciate.