Quail and Pheasant Hunting Dog Hazards
in Kansas, Iowa and Missouri
Kansas, Iowa and Missouri have few quail or pheasant hunting dog hazards. There are some that should serve only as reminders to most.
Tail Whip And Feet
This pheasant hunting dog did not have the feet or tail for all day, week long pheasant hunting. The land is big, full daylight pheasant hunting time available and the cover can be thick.
One of those winters with crusted snow.
This hunter shared these pictures recognizing fully he did not prepare his dog as well as he should have for the rigors of long pheasant hunting days. He knows there would be some criticism of his inaction. His intent is to illustrated the need for pre planning to remind himself and others to be well prepared.
Pheasant hunting on weekends only crossing small fields and frequently only on Saturday, have dogs that will quickly become tender foot early on a mid-west week long pheasant hunting trip.
The best descriptor of the contrast between small field day hunts and mid-west pheasant hunting given to us by such a hunter was:
...back in North Carolina we hunt the entire field, out here we rarely cover the entire field...'
The point is the pheasant hunting fields out our way give many hours of pheasant hunting versus the hour or less in some states. The result is that your four legged partner may get more run then they have the feet for. Having a supply of spray on skin, gauze pad, leg wrap and boots will go a long way to ensure a pheasant hunting trip does not end prematurely.
The most common injury while quail or pheasant hunting is the dog running their pads sore. Cheap dog boots are the answer.
Another source of dog foot injury comes from the junk piles frequently surrounding old homesteads. This is more common quail than pheasant hunting. Keeping dogs away from all abandoned buildings is the prevention measure.
Pheasant Hunting Barbwire and Quail Hunting Honey Locust Threats
Barbwire cuts the next most common injury. Followed by Honey Locust thorns.
Some have used dog vests to protect the front shoulders and chest from wire cuts. Locust thorns have no preventative measure.
Barbwire cuts more prevalent while pheasant hunting seem to always need to be stitched up and healed for a week. We have lightly run dogs the same day as being stitched up and have had variable results depending on cut location.
At right is the Honey Locust tree and source of thorn injuries. They grow in areas of much sunlight, typically on the sunny side of edge cover. Or, quail hunting edge cover.
Thorns will pierce through pads and legs. Typically the thorn will fester out without any medical attention. Sometimes the thorn breaks off under the skin or in the pad and stays leaving a fester track.
Twice in 20 plus years for the Association partners' dogs thorn punctures required the wound site being opened up, cleaned and left to drain until healed.
Honey Locust Thorn Injury - The Worst Yet Encountered
During a mid-January pheasant hunting trip a 40 pound, 2 1/2 year Brittany developed lameness in his left rear leg.
Beyond the raised leg while walking or running the dog exhibited no other signs of injury. Assuming a common soft tissue leg strain the dog was rested the rest of that day. The next morning the dog exhibited the same level of lameness right out of the box and was not hunted for the next week. During that first rest week the dog alternated from lameness to correct walking/running structure regardless of correlative events of in kennel, yard or house.
After further rest the dog went pheasant hunting once more with similar results of alternating lameness and correct running structure. A further rest period, one week, yielded no improvement in performance. About this time or some time shortly there after a lump was found on the posterior side of the leg above the pad. The lump, a noticeable mass which fluctuated in size and firmness, gave rise to further concern to include a local veterinarian visit.
The local veterinarian aspirated liquid samples from the lump and made x-rays of the dog while sedated. The lump samples showed no abnormalities as did the x-rays, frontal, side and rear. Taking a precautionary approach the local veterinarian prescribed antibiotics in attempt to achieve observable results. None were achieved. The lump remained, the dog exhibited periods of lameness and correct standing, walking and running postures and did not adversely react to manipulations of the affected foot, leg or lump.
By April with continuing lameness the local veterinarian recommend a visit to an orthopedic and surgery specialty clinic.
Initial examination by ultrasound, second aspiration of the lump and physical examination indicated a range of possible causes from torn ligament, to cancer, to they simply could not tell.
The ultra-sound as did specialty examination of the x-rays showed nothing to indicate the cause for the lameness. The aspiration did yield inflammatory cells consistent with infection, and fibrous cells suggesting scar tissue. Because of the chronic nature of the injury, exploratory surgery was determined to be the best diagnostic course.
The surgery determined the cause as a tip of a honey locust thorn encapsulated by the dog's body inside a fibrous tissue mass. The entire mass and thorn were removed as it was detached from ligament and any other connective tissue within the leg. The dog was sutured and placed in a splint for a week to keep the suture area immobile. Ten days after surgery the dog was back to normal status showing only expected post surgery soreness.
Culture results from the thorn and mass revealed two types of bacteria, one of which was resistant to most common antibiotics. It was unusual in this case that a foreign object like this thorn did not create a draining tract of infection, or try to migrate out of the body. Instead it was walled-off from the rest of the body with scar tissue, preventing potential spread of this virulent bacteria. A bacteria which could lead to severe infection of joints, tendons, or bone. Such an infection can be career ending for an upland bird hunting dog.
We present this case as the worst yet recorded about Honey Locust thorn injuries. Thorn injuries are typical less than soft tissue strains and more common than barb wire hide cuts. For the most part the dog's body will expel thorns and by exception require surgery. The next pheasant hunting season this dog was fine.
Quail and Pheasant Hunting Hunting Most Common Problem
Heat And Water
We have the idea to make every one as informed as possible about our quail and pheasant hunting. This includes enough information to make a good decision when to schedule valuable vacation days. Every hunter may hunt any season, anytime during the season as often as he may like. That availability generally motivates more than prior experience hunting. That additional hunting benefit does incur consequence.
October and November are warm months. December and January colder. Our winters are mild and allow good to the best time to be in the field during the cold months as heat stress is eliminated.
During an early season quail or pheasant hunting trip, every drainage ditch, puddle and pond means break time to cool off. All hunters need to carry water with them in the field for their dogs.
Another good idea is a cooler in the back of the truck large enough to put the dog into if heat injury is suspected. The cooler with water and available ice will lower the dog's body temperature and possibly save its life.
A Pheasant Hunting Barbwire Injury
A Blooming Mounty
by Charles Dahlstrom
"Be...be...be prepared, the motto of the Boy Scouts." That line from my adolescence ran obsessively through my mind like a punishing mantra as I trudged on through the crusty snow. The muscles of my arms and back burned with exhaustion from the strain of lugging the awkward weight of my sixty-pound wirehaired pheasant hunting dog. I twisted another turn on the crude tourniquet on TJ’s foreleg and she whimpered weakly with the pain. She turned and licked my face, but after a few more labored steps the muscles in her neck softened and her head drooped again to hang straight down; the loss of blood was sapping her strength. I paused and slumped to one knee, resting her weight on my upper leg. I sucked deeply on the frigid January air, trying desperately to replenish my own depleted oxygen supply. Looking down I saw the drops of warm blood congealing and then freezing into crystals on the surface of the crusted snow. Looking back on our trail, I groaned to see that we had gone only about 50 yards since our last rest stop; we had nearly a half mile to go to the vehicle.
TJ and Berk pointing a covey of quail.
Even in the fading light, the drops of blood were brilliantly visible and my mind flashed on a story told by a rank old Canadian hunting guide many years ago. Swede made no apologies for his dislike of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I always suspected his love affair with cheap Canadian rye had something to do with this lack of respect for law enforcement. One night in bush camp after a few "belts of the good stuff," Swede had been nagging bitterly about the Mounties' woodsmanship: "Bloomin' Mounties...couldn't track an elephant through three feet of fresh powder snow...(pause)...with its throat cut."
Swede's rugged face had cracked with delight as he handed down this cruel judgment. In his harsh outdoor world few moments were sweeter than the opportunity to insult a rival's field skills.
I considered my own rapid fire heart beat and breathlessness and had a moment of reflection on my mortality. If I keeled over with a heart attack, TJ would bleed out within minutes. I thought about the Kansas "Mounty" who would be assigned the task of tracking us down. My wife would be frantic with worry when I didn't check in with her by phone that evening. She knew the general area we were pheasant hunting and would contact the sheriff; but it’s doubtful any search would be started that night. Maybe a concerned landowner would report our vehicle parked on the field crossing the next morning. If the Mounty on our trail was a bird hunter, he would make note that the northwesterly course of the track coincided with the prevailing Kansas winds. He would admire the crisscrossing pattern of TJ's search and would notice that she checked out the downwind sides of each piece of heavy cover. If he was observant, he would recognize the flurry of track activity near the plum thicket and understand that this marked the rise of a covey. The few downy white breast feathers frozen in the snow would help him make sense of the scene. I imagined his thoughts shifting back and forth from the evidence of our hunt to the cruel reality of his assigned duty.
The Mounty would happen abruptly upon the scene of TJ's injury. The scramble of boot and dog tracks would be peppered with drops, streaks and pools of frozen blood. He would find the blood-soaked and frozen wool gloves and spot the side-by-side, blotchy with red stains, leaning against the oak tree. He would crack open the breach and puzzle over the meaning of one spent round. He might conclude that TJ had gotten in the way of a flush and caught a load of bird shot, but if he took the time to backtrack TJ's blood trail he would find the single rusted strand of barbed wire that set off this course of tragic events.
TJ had been methodically working the creek bottom when I heard her yelp in pain. She came hopping awkwardly through the thick brambles on one front leg. Her other foreleg had a three-inch diagonal gash above the knee. A flap of liver-ticked hide hung down exposing the raw pink meat beneath; blood oozed down over her foot. In that instant my heart was jammed sideways in my throat.
I had been a dutiful boy scout in my youth and had even earned a Merit Badge for First Aid. "Be be be prepared" had echoed in my head. But I wasn't prepared. Today's pheasant hunting was a last minute, end-of-the-season decision. I had cleaned out my shooting vest the week before; at this moment of vital need the compact kit with sterile gauze, medical tape and forceps was sitting on the shelf in my den. I cursed my poor planning.
During my Army infantry training nearly 40 years ago, I had been a reliable soldier and learned the basics of life saving well. "Stop the bleeding" reverberated through my mind carried by the memory of Drill Sergeant Wilkins' commanding voice. I pressed the flap of hide back into place, but the blood kept seeping out between my fingers; I knew we needed a tourniquet. As I took stock of the resources at hand, I noticed the long leather loops of my bootlace. With one hand gripping tightly around TJ's leg to slow the bleeding, I untied the lace of my new Danners with the other hand. As I loosened the lace, I recalled with regret that my Swiss Army knife was lying uselessly at home on the shelf next to the forgotten first aid kit.
I thought disgustedly of myself: "Bloomin' Mounties, all right." After considerable reflection on whether or not I had other choices or whether or not it was a wise move, I stretched the extra length of bootlace out away from my foot and used the full choke barrel of my side-by-side to shoot it off; at this range of mere inches probably the modified barrel would have sufficed.
Again, the memories of my training came back to me: "a tourniquet is placed between the wound and the heart." I later learned from the vet that it was TJ's vein that had been severed. Those actually paying attention during their anatomy class would have already recognized many of my numerous errors. In that area of the leg, the veins run close to the surface carrying blood back to the heart. Applying the tourniquet above the wounded vein required that I tighten the band to the degree that the artery deep within TJ's leg became constricted. The vet explained to me later that a small rubber band an inch below the wound would have easily stopped the bleeding. He also explained that a pressure dressing to the wound was the easiest and most effective, but of course one would have to remember to actually have the first aid kit in their pocket to have such supplies. But, live and learn, huh?
Well, we plowed on through that crusty snow that evening and finally reached the vehicle. I was splattered with blood from the chest down and completely winded. My heart was intact, but pounding like a trip-hammer. We raced for the nearest town. The vet stitched TJ up, gave me the brief overview in canine vascular medicine and we (rather I) was back trudging across the field in the dark within a couple hours to retrieve my side-by-side, the blood-stiffened wool gloves and the various articles of clothing I had shed along the way out of our near disaster.
TJ has healed well. Hopefully she will work a little more slowly and carefully in the heavy cover...if not due to wisdom then maybe from age as she creeps into her latter years. I believe I have learned a few things as well. My first aid kit is a permanent fixture in my hunting vest; I even added a few rubber bands. I took the time during the off season to study a book on canine first aid. And I pledged to never again make sport of the woodsmanship of others. I discovered that a bit of poor planning, an aging memory and some bad luck can make many of us look like a "Bloomin...er...Boy Scout Tenderfoot."
While Pheasant Hunting It can happen to anyone . . .
I have been shooting all of my life and do everything possible to ensure safety with firearms. Sometimes I feel, and others have indicated, I am/was too picky concerning safety in wing shooting, target shooting and any other aspect with regards to firearms. A couple of examples of the steps I take to minimize risk in the sport of wing shooting: I don’t hunt in drives and I try not to spend much time pheasant hunting with more than 3 hunters. I know I am not the only one in the Association who feels this way. We have all seen the risk of a pheasant hunting is a drive and have heard stories. Additionally, most of us, I am sure, have all been in risky situations or near miss situations, when wing shooting with more than 3 hunters.
I consistently communicate breeches of safety while hunting. I don’t mind correcting myself or my close friends with respect to firearm safety. If someone points a shotgun in an unsafe direction, I have no problem pointing out those instances. I just re-read these last 3 sentences and it sounds like I am unsafe and routinely hunt with Mr. Unsafe! As I stated in the beginning, I am picky when it comes to guns and safety! Prior to pheasant hunting with friends and strangers alike, I usually talk about situations we may encounter and how we should handle them, for instance: if the birds fly low to the dogs, don’t shoot and call it out; or if we lose sight of you in the mesquite trees, we will not shoot in that direction and will quickly work to get visual again. There are many situations we face when pheasant hunting and I try to anticipate problem areas.
Now to the real point ...
How in the world did I shoot my lab in the back of the head? It was a very cold day. I had the standard layers of clothes on and gloves. An interesting note on the clothes – the gloves and clothes I had on are old and ragged! I mean I have hunted dressed in these exact clothes and gloves for 5 or so years! The gun I was/am using, I have been shooting for 3 years – thousands of rounds between wing shooting and target shooting. I was used to the attire and gun. I continue . . . Triton, my 7 year old yellow lab, and I started hunting a milo stubble field on MAHA property. We had walked about a quarter mile when Triton started to get birdy. Triton tracks the pheasant about another 50 yards and then starts to circle back around me. At this time I stopped and held the gun cradled in my arms, one hand around the pistol grip with my finger parallel to the gun, off of the trigger and the other arm holding the gun. It was lying so the gun barrel was pointing down slightly towards the ground away from the dog. Triton then crossed back in front of me, within 3 feet and aggressively charged into the stubble. As he crossed my body I moved my arm to hold the gun with both hands but did not change the angle of the gun with respect to the ground (this turned out to be a mistake). I did turn the gun away from Triton slightly. As Triton charged the hiding rooster I turned my body to mount the gun. The pheasant flushed and I continued to mount my gun. Triton continued to charge (he does not jump after birds). As the gun came up I clicked the safety off and continued to bring the gun to my shoulder . . . BOOM! The gun fired when it caught on my jacket prior to getting the gun firmly onto my shoulder. The gun barrel was still pointing down slightly because the rooster was only 3 feet off of the ground. By the time Triton lunged for the bird he had cross slightly into the gun target line. It was over, I was in denial, and Triton yelped one time and rolled. He was probably 15 feet away from a 12 ga, 2 3/4 inch load of 1330 fps, copper-plated #5’s, with improved cylinder choke. I immediately set (not dropped the gun down), ran to him and held him. As I touched him he growled one time until he knew it was me. There was a ton of blood behind his right ear and his mouth was pouring blood out. I looked at both eyes and the right eye was obviously swollen but not punctured. I cried (I am 44 years old and this day I cried many times like a baby). My dogs are just like my twin, 9 year old boys – all family, all of the time. They sleep with us and live our lives with us.
At this point I thought he would die immediately. I picked him up over my shoulders, around my neck (85 pounds), found my gun, placed it through my game bag (when I set my gun down after the shot, I kicked out the two remaining shells and left the chamber open – something I do not remember doing), and started the quarter-mile walk to the Suburban. As I walked, I prayed, I cried and I saw Triton fight to keep his head up. The smell was terrible and I didn't know why until I asked the vet later and she said he had expressed his anal glands with the shock. We got to the Suburban and I put him in the back with my other two dogs. He just lay there but would not put his head down. I quickly but safely started driving to town. I made two phone calls and received two phone calls in the 30 or so minute drive to the vet. The first phone call was to see if the first, small town I was driving through had a vet and to let a dear friend know what had happened. I needed big time prayers. The second phone call was to my wife and this is where I really cried. I received two calls out of the blue, both from very good friends and hunters. This second call from my hunting buddy provided me with some very good information. He had all of the nearby vet’s addresses and phone numbers. He called ahead and coordinated the emergency room, and met me at the vet’s office. When I got to the vet they were ready to take him immediately.
I really didn't spend much time in the room with Triton initially because I felt so guilty. My hunting buddy spent a lot of time with him and kept me up-to-date with what was going on. This day was extremely long and painful. I still thought it was a dream and wished it was! I knew what happened but could not believe it nor wanted too. I replayed the event over and over in my mind and tried to change the outcome. If I had only held the gun UP, like I do 99.9% of the time when the dog gets birdy or I walk in on point with my GSP. In this specific situation, I was just too relaxed as Triton flushed the rooster. If the gun had shot 5 inches left it would have killed him, and 5 inches right would have been much less destructive.
Triton spent 3 nights and 2 days with the vet. I visited everyday except once (they wouldn't let me see him on Sunday, another long story). Those 2 days I hunted with my two other dogs in 8 inches of fresh snow. It was bittersweet and you all know why. We long for snow on the ground when pheasant hunting and I didn't have my buddy with me. My mother asked me if it would change how I hunted, I said I don’t plan on shooting my dog again and I will be even more diligent about wing shooting safety especially when it comes to hunting with my twin boys.
On Monday, I picked up Triton and then went to pack up camp and head home. The destruction: Triton lost sight in his right eye and had ruptured right eardrum. There are 70+ pellets still in him, although a few have come out. You can feel a few around his head. The vet said it looked really bad but it was like he was hit over the head with a baseball bat and he should be OK soon. How soon? More on that later. As I approached the camp, I thought I would let him out to relieve himself and see how he reacted to an unloaded gun. I grabbed the gun, let him out of the Suburban and told him to hunt em' up. Within 30 yards he flushed 3 roosters and turned around to me and said "Well?" That situation really made me feel good.
In the month to follow Triton saw an eye specialist 4 times. To date, the eye is cosmetically OK, but he cannot, nor will see again out of it. The retina was puncture in 2 places and he has a cataract from the trauma. The third eyelid is always up just a bit and the lower part of the eyelid is slightly droopy, for lack of better words. Most folks would look at him and never know anything. I do though. The eye vet said he could go pheasant hunting in January and he would be absolutely fine. I just have to put artificial tears in the eye and everyday for the rest of his life he gets one drop of a steroid in the eye.
The January pheasant hunting trip was awesome. He hunted like nothing had ever happened! You can tell he cannot see like he could before because I had to handle him to more birds. The problem was compounded because he could not hear very well, there is no way he can hear a pheasant flush even if it I right beside him. A quick aside – last summer he completely lost his hearing, stone cold deaf and then gradually regained most of it back. Our vet has no idea why. While he was deaf I taught him to hunt with a vibrating collar and I can handle him with this collar. Back to the January pheasant hunting – instead of the vibrating collar I used my GSP’s beeper collar which I can command to beep remotely. Since the speaker is just behind his head, he can hear it. The vibrating collar doesn't vibrate enough when he is bounding through the CRP and stuff, so he misses it frequently. Our January pheasant hunting was a solid 8 days of non-stop action.
It is spring now and his hair has almost grown back where the vet shaved him. I have had to tell the story to a few close friends and I had told John Wenzel I would get him the story because I figured the Association folks would be interested, interested for many reasons. As you have read this account many of you have probably have made many a comment, good and bad about me and my dog. I hope this will truly help your pheasant hunting adventures in a very positive way. I still feel like an idiot and can’t believe it happened to me, but what it has really brought to light is accidents can happen to anyone, including me and all of you. What is important is what you do after the accident with your life and those around you.