July 28, 2021 8 min read
Although the practice of using dogs as hunting companions is perhaps as old as humanity itself, the tradition of deer hunting with dogs, as we understand it today, is a traditional activity tracing its roots to Europe. However, overhunting and deer population declines sparked a wave of bans and restrictions, starting in Wisconsin in 1876. By 1920, deer hunting with dogs became outlawed in most of the United States.
Today, the practice is legal in just eleven states, although two of them, California and Hawaii, do not have significant whitetail deer populations. The remaining nine states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. If you live in one of the nine states where it is still legal and practical to hunt deer with dogs, you may be wondering whether it is a suitable alternative to the standard hunting methods.
If you are unfamiliar with the activity, deer hunting with dogs, also called dog deer hunting, refers to the tradition and practice of using specially bred and trained dogs known as hounds or hound dogs. Hounds should not be confused with gun dogs, whose purpose is to help hunters locate and retrieve small animals after being shot, such as birds and waterfowl. Gun dogs typically remain by the side of their owners until commanded to go.
There are two main types of hounds: scenthounds and sighthounds. As their names suggest, a scenthound primarily tracks prey by following scent trails, whereas a sighthound follows game using their vision. Sighthounds are fast and capable of catching animals, whereas scenthounds are highly endurant.
A sighthound is typically very fast and agile, capable of keeping game animals within their line of sight. Their bodies are built for running and crossing all types of terrain quickly, typically featuring long and pointed heads, lean bodies with a deep chest, almost no body fat, a narrow waist forming a distinctive S-shaped profile, and long legs. Typical sighthound breeds include:
In stark contrast with sighthounds, scenthounds are typically shorter, with squat, sturdy bodies, long drooping ears, large nasal cavities, excellent endurance and a keen sense of smell. Although they cannot run as fast as sighthounds, they can track scents over far more extended periods and distances. They are also known for their distinctive voices, allowing hunters to hear and locate them even if they are out of sight. Most scenthounds hunt small animals, although many can be trained to track deer as well. Typical scenthound breeds include:
Dog deer hunting typically involves a hunting group and anywhere between three and twelve dogs. The hunting group is divided into two teams: standers and trackers. Trackers follow the hounds as they look for deer, while standers are placed in strategic locations, waiting in ambush and ready to take a shot if they spot a deer approaching. Once in the field, you’ll find that dog hunters generally employ one of two primary methods: bringing the dogs to a fresh set of deer tracks or letting them run blind until they find deer by themselves.
Regardless of the method employed, once the dog has located a deer, traditional locating methods had hunters relying on listening to their hound and finding them by sound. Modern-day hunters typically fit their dogs with GPS collars, using an electronic map to monitor the location of each hound in real-time. With two-way radios, the hunting group can communicate with one another to coordinate themselves and inform each other if the hounds have successfully located a deer.
Standers may also take advantage of modern-day technologies and conveniences, such asGhostBlind mirror blinds. The blind structure gives you a full 360° field of view while also providing excellent cover and camouflage, thanks to the angled reflective mirror panels. Dog deer hunting is most effective in wooded or bushy areas, such as swamps, marshes or dense forests. These locations make it difficult to hunt and spot whitetails if you’reused to hunting blinds, tree stands or spot-and-stalk hunting.
Once a deer has been located, dogs begin chasing them. Unlike traditional hunting methods, deer are alerted, running and coming in at relatively close distances, requiring hunters to take a shot on a moving target. For this reason, many dog hunters use shotguns loaded with buckshot, although some may still prefer to use rifles.
Today, hunting with dogs is a relatively controversial practice, often viewed as either unnecessary or unfair. However, the activity is also widely misunderstood and has many undeniable merits.
The canine sense of smell is far better developed than humans, allowing dogs to find deer where unassisted humans would struggle. Using dogs increases your chances of successfully bagging a deer and coming home with meat for the freezer.
Although different breeds have varying endurance and fitness capabilities, most hounds can cover large distances and get around a specific hunting area within an afternoon, saving hunters time and effort. If dogs cannot find a whitetail in the area, it may mean there are none, preventing hunters from wasting their time looking for them.
Unlike spot-and-stalk or stationary ambushing from a blind, a tower or a tree stand, dog deer hunting is fast-paced and exciting. You must have excellent reflexes and marksmanship, as you must be able to anticipate a running deer and take an accurate shot on a moving target.
The adrenaline rush of this hunting method is often viewed as more appealing to younger hunters. Many organizations and associations hope that dog deer hunting can helpprevent the hunter numbers from dwindling each year.
Deer hunting is often considered a solitary activity, painting hunters as antisocial loners. However, most dog deer hunters work as a team to bring down a buck, and the meat is shared between them. This fosters a social hunting spirit and works to improve the image of the hunting community.
Many of the older, larger bucks tend to become nocturnal and bed down at the start of gun season. Hunting with dogs flushes the bigger bucks out of hiding, giving you a chance at taking down a trophy animal.
While some of the arguments you’ll hear against deer hunting with dogs are anti-hunting, there are valid criticisms from fellow hunters that everyone should understand.
A commonly cited concern among fellow hunters is the loud and intense nature of this hunting method. When dog hunters are in a specific area with their hounds pushing deer toward standers, other hunters in hunting blinds and tree stands may find their hunting expedition ruined. Any deer that haven’t been shot or chased by the hounds will have sensed the danger and fled the sector, effectively blowing out the local deer population, perhaps even for the entire season.
Another significant concern of dog deer hunting is the issue of trespassing. Responsible hunters must know and respect property lines, especially when they don’t have permission to cross into someone’s property. It’s hunting education 101: You cannot hunt on private land withoutasking for permission first.
Unfortunately, dogs cannot know or understand property lines, and they chase deer wherever they happen to run. If the dogs trespass and attack deer inside someone else’s property, the owner is legally held responsible. Many states also hold the owner legally responsible for any damage done to local wildlife and property. The trespassing and damage problems are why most states in the U.S. have outlawed dog hunting.
It is challenging to be consistently safe when dog deer hunting, primarily due to moving from point to point in motorized vehicles, with loaded firearms ready at all times. Lapses of attention and high-intensity moments have often resulted in guns being accidentally pointed at dog cages or fellow hunters, presenting a safety risk.
One of the drawbacks to hunting with dogs is potential meat damage. Because the dogs usually find the wounded deer before you do, poorly trained dogs can swarm the fallen deer and damage the carcass before you have a chance to field dress it. Dogs often go for the softest parts of the animal first, which means they may puncture the gut sack, leaking fluids and bacteria into the edible meat. One way to mitigate this is by training your dog to stay close to your side while tracking. You should also learn agutless quartering method of field dressing to get the most out of your felled deer if your dog goes for the entrails.
Experienced hunters understand that they must take the best and most accurate shot possible, as it is the only way to bring an animal down as humanely as possible. Wounding an animal is inflicting unnecessary suffering and tasking the hunter with the responsibility to track it down and finish it off; failure to do so is illegal in most jurisdictions.
Hitting a moving target is more difficult than a stationary one. Standers are expected to hit a fast-moving target as the deer are flushed out of hiding, and the chances of missing the vitals and wounding the animal is always higher with dog deer hunting. Many dog deer standers need to take multiple shots to bring the animal down, and it is rare to find one-shot kills. If the terrain is suitable, standers can improve their accuracy with practice and by investing in a quality hunting blind such as theGhostBlind Runner, a low-profile blind that conceals you from detection, encouraging the deer to cross closer by, giving you the opportunity for a precision shot. The numerous ports let you aim from behind the blind instead of over, giving you more time to aim.Shadow Hunter TailMate: The Last Hunting Seat You’ll Ever Need
When putting things into perspective, it’s important to ask whether using dogs to hunt deer is fair. The answer varies from hunter to hunter and joins the broader discussion of fairness vs. practicality alongside other questions such as archery vs. firearms, shotguns vs. rifles and whether to use deer feed or bait.
It may seem as though deer hunting with dogs gives some hunters an unreasonable advantage. But many dog hunters believe the deer is the one in an advantageous situation. It has the intelligence and reflexes to respond to danger quickly and efficiently to escape the dogs. A more contentious reality of dog hunting is the reliance on GPS tracking and vehicles to follow the hounds. The noise and exhaust fumes generated by the engines of trucks, ATVs and other vehicles are more significant contributors to hunting pressure than the use of dogs.
Deer hunting with dogs is a tradition with a long history. Although it is legal and practical in only nine states, the hunters who can legally enjoy this hunting method are adamant about its benefits and have valid reasons and arguments for preserving the tradition.
Even then, preservation must come with civil and constructive discussions about safety and ethics. If you already have experience with dog deer hunting, speak with other hunters and engage in public forums to improve safety and public perception of dog deer hunting to rekindle interest in the sport. If you’re new to hunting, be respectful and listen to what proponents of dog deer hunting have to say on the matter.
More than a hobby, hunting is a way of life for millions of Americans. Shadow Hunter Blinds is committed to helping American hunters preserve their favorite activity by providing them with professional-grade, 100% U.S.-made hunting blinds and accessories. Our commitment to innovation and unrivaled craftsmanship bring technology and tradition together to give hunters the best and most comfortable hunting experience. For any questions, feedback or inquiries regarding our product lines, call us at (888) 446-4868.