Whether you’re an avid hunter who spends long hours in a blind or on a boat with your four-legged partner, or an active outdoors person who loves long trails and wagging tails, the following tips and precautions ensure everyone can enjoy a safe, fun, and memorable hunting season in the great Pacific Northwest.
#1: Ensure your dog always wears appropriate identification
All pets should be properly identified, in case they become separated from their owners outdoors. Your pet’s identification should include:
- Collar and tags — These include a well-fitted collar that displays your contact information, or traditional identification tags that contain legible, current information, and are securely attached to the pet’s collar.
- Microchip — The Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team recommends that all pets be microchipped, which is the only form of permanent identification. Microchipping is a simple, non-invasive, and virtually painless method that ensures your pet can always be identified and returned to you. Contact us to schedule your pet’s microchip implantation or to have their current chip scanned to ensure proper function.
- Tracking collar — Hunting dogs should be trained to return quickly to their owner when called. However, tracking collars (i.e., global positioning satellite [GPS] collars) are always recommended for precise location tracking and additional peace of mind.
Unless your dog is a trained hunting companion, we strongly advise that all pets be kept on a non-retractable leash during outdoor activities.
#2: Use a long-line leash to give your dog some freedom
If your dog prefers being off-leash, try using a long line (i.e., a 20- or 30-foot leash) to give them freedom to move and exercise without compromising their safety. Many dogs are easily frightened by sudden or unfamiliar hunting season sounds and may bolt at gunshots or unfamiliar voices. Other dogs may chase roaming wildlife, which can put them at risk for being shot, hit by a car, or becoming lost.
Long lines tangle easily and are therefore best used in large open fields with good visibility. Always check with local ordinances to ensure a leash longer than six feet is permitted.
#3: Protect your pet by avoiding peak hunting seasons and areas
Hunting season is actually several small time periods divided by target species and hunting style (e.g., bow, rifle). Knowing when the different seasons open and close and the wildlife targeted can help you avoid each peak season and the common hunting areas (e.g., lakes, wooded areas, state parks, or public land). Although hunting is restricted in certain areas, not everyone abides by the rules. Always use good judgment when and where you take your pet during hunting season—including your own backyard if you live in a wildlife-populated area.
#4: Increase your dog’s visibility with a bright orange vest, collar, and leash
Increased visibility reduces the chance that a hunter will mistake your dog for wildlife. Hunter or blaze orange is the preferred color for pets and humans when outdoors during hunting season, although any neon or high-visibility color that attracts attention and shows clearly that your dog is not game is appropriate.
Light-up, blinking, or reflective collars are recommended for night or pre-dawn hiking. Additionally, a small bell attached to your dog’s collar or harness will announce their presence.
#5: Don’t allow your dog to chase wildlife
Although you minimize this risk by keeping your dog on leash, the Mercer Street Veterinary team strongly recommends that you discourage your dog from chasing wildlife under any circumstance. Chasing wildlife reinforces your pet’s prey drive and they are more likely to pursue game in any circumstance, including during hunting season, when chasing game may mean they become the target.
Allowing your dog to pester or threaten wildlife also increases stress on game birds and mammals, who are often already on the run during this volatile time.
#6: Announce yourself and your dog
Hunting season is not the time to be shy, because you or your pet could be seriously injured or killed by concealing your presence and location. If you encounter another person on the trail or in the woods, or hear noise that suggests a person is nearby, announce yourself and your pet. If your greeting is acknowledged, explain that you and your dog are passing through. You may not be able to see the other party, but they can approximate your position from your voice, which will ideally protect you and your pet from mistaken identity.
#7: Pack wisely and keep your dog on familiar well-traveled paths
If you’ll be spending a long time outdoors, consider packing pet emergency provisions, which should include extra food, water, and a first aid kit for minor emergencies and injuries (e.g., paw lacerations, insect bites, sprains, abrasions, tick removal). We also recommend keeping the Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital phone number inside your first aid kit, in case you cannot access your phone’s contact list or internet while on the trail.
Finally, if you do venture out with your pet during hunting season, stick to familiar, well-traveled trails and paths to lower your risk of crossing paths with a hunter. You are also more likely to find your way back to your vehicle and get help should the unexpected happen and your pet needs rapid care.
Hunting season doesn’t have to limit your pet’s outdoor activities, but does demand careful planning and consideration to ensure you and your four-legged companion enjoy a safe and pleasant experience. For additional outdoor safety tips and to request a refill of your pet’s flea, tick, and heartworm preventive—a year-round necessity—contact Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital.