Some hunters hold bringing a dog to elk camp as taboo. The horror stories of a good dog becoming a barking heathen provide some support for leaving the pup at home. However, taking a dog to camp can have some real benefits. In this blog I will list the risks and rewards of bringing a dog to elk camp as well as a few tips for success.
Safety of the Dog
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game warns that moose view dogs as enemies and will go out of their way to harm them. I have had moose within a few hundred yards of camp, and for that reason moose worry me more than anything else when taking my dog into the woods.
Bears also represent a threat, especially when searching for food scraps. As for mountain lions and wolves, I find it less likely they would enter camp. But, if you choose to backpack in a considerable ways it may become an issue.
Besides wildlife, hunters should also consider heat exhaustion. I often leave my dog in the car during morning hunts when I expect to return by eleven, but at times hunts stretch long and I don’t get back until the afternoon. Leave water with your dog and don’t use anti-bark muzzles as they restrict the dog’s ability to pant and release heat.
Ruining Someone Else’s Hunt
The elk woods represent a new experience for your dog. As a result, you can’t guarantee they will respond well. I’ve seen dogs that never bark howl all morning when in the backwoods, probably ruining the day for other hunters. That’s embarrassing and something I wouldn’t want someone else to do to me. In the How To section I’ll explain the basics to avoid this sort of mishap, but know that a dog’s reaction is largely unpredictable.
The two main benefits of having a dog in camp are the company it provides and the extra help when finding a wounded animal. If you hunt with a bunch of buddies who keep your spirits up and can help out following a blood trail, the dog doesn’t have as much of a purpose.
In my experience having Nali in camp helps me to get my mind off hunting for a bit each day. I always throw a tennis ball in the morning with her before I leave, and this year I took her to swim in a creek in the afternoons. Lastly, having a dog in your tent will provide extra warmth and alert you of any bears, porcupines or squirrels that come into camp during the night.
I used my lab to recover my elk this year. Without buddies to help you look, a dog will boost your confidence and keep you on the trail longer. I have a bird dog, but I believe any dog with a prey drive that smells an elk would want to investigate. Most states allow hunters to use a dog to find wounded game. Some mandate the use of a leash while others require a permit. Check your state’s regulations here.
Practice leaving your pup alone in the wood. Whether you like to mountain bike or fish in the summertime, bring a cord with to tie your dog up. Start leaving her for short periods of time and eventually work up to over an hour. Make sure you don’t return to the pup until it has stopped barking otherwise you will be rewarding bad behavior.
Training will need reinforcement each year. Dogs regress without practice. I went elk hunting with my dog for two years without any issues, but on opening morning of the third season she sat in camp and howled as I left. Regardless of how many times they have been in camp, its a good idea to practice prior to hunting season.
This past season I hunted twice daily. I spent the middle of the day in camp with my dog. Nali slept in the car each morning until around eleven. My evening hunt started around 4:30. At that point I would tie her up and leave her with some water and a blanket. She had an easier time being left outside the vehicle in the evenings than in the mornings. If you have never left your dog at camp, evening hunts seem to work better as an introduction.
The weather was mild this year, and Nali doesn’t have many issues with staying warm. Max has a german short-haired and will bring a coat with in colder conditions. If you have a short-haired dog or will hunt later in the year, a dog coat will help out a lot.
Have a backup plan in place. This year I had enough money saved that I could have boarded Nali the last week of the season if I had wanted. In the past I have left her in Denver with my sister for a few days and had that option available if I was having issues with her in camp.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving the dog with a friend for the week. Elk season can cause a lot of stresses and sometimes its better to have one less thing to worry about.
I like having Nali in camp, and I believe she enjoys the week as well. But, I will say that buddies serve the same purpose as a dog as far as company and helping with recovery. It’s important to be considerate of other hunters and realistic about your dog. For those of you that choose to take your pup to camp, I hope this blog helps you out.