Deer Hunting with Dogs

Deer Hunting with Dogs

Of the controversial and divisive topics in the hunting world, deer hunting with dogs sits near the top. For hunters, specifically in the South where deer-dog hunting is limited, the sound of baying walkers or beagles probably conjures up disdain and frustration. Other hunters relish this time of season, piling into deer camps, local gas stations, or other rendezvous points to catch up with hunting buddies, first-timers, and the diehards behind such traditions.

While I don’t get to partake in deer-dog runs every year, my first hunting memories involve CB radios, pump-action rifles, and the Little Debbie-littered floorboards of pickups. Obviously, there’s a level of nostalgia that biases my opinion toward deer hunting with dogs, but as a primary public land and stand hunter, I’ve been on the wrong end of plenty of dog runs. You get up in the middle of the night, drive hours to your spot, and then shortly after first light, a pack of dogs runs through your setup. I get the frustration. But if this is your only experience with deer-dog hunting, it’s a narrow view of a practice that highlights some of the best aspects of hunting, especially community.

Before I dive in, there are deer-dog hunters who strategize their runs, consider other hunters, and abide by local laws and regulations, and there are those who don’t. But to judge the majority of deer-dog hunters by the standards of the derelict few would be a gross and unfair misrepresentation of these hunters. Not every bow hunter who walks through your setup does so with malicious intent. Why would we make this assumption about deer-dog hunters?

Also, in states where it’s legal, deer-dog hunting has clearly defined seasons and areas where it’s allowed. So if your main complaint with this practice is that it’s “ruining” your hunting spots, you should probably research and plan your hunts accordingly. You can’t blame law-abiding deer-dog hunters for exercising their hunting rights when you failed to research local regulations and seasons. While you can’t control what people do beyond the boundaries of the law, you can control where and when you hunt.

What Happens on a Deer-Dog Hunt

Whether you just have a general interest or you’re considering joining a deer-dog camp, here’s a brief introduction and what you can expect from a typical run.

The group decides where to turn the dogs out, typically near bedding or historically producing areas. Standers are stationed (at safe distances from others) around potential exit routes from the planned area. Dogs cut a track or jump a deer, and the race is on.

Once the dogs start howling, the group typically communicates through CB radios (or cell phones now) to pinpoint the deer’s travel route and if/when they spot it. Contrary to popular belief, deer aren’t running at full speed. They’re typically so far ahead of the dogs that they’re trotting through the woods rather than running. This point is important because most people assume that deer-dog hunters spray-and-pray while deer blaze through the woods. In reality, standers have enough time to determine if the deer is legal and decide if they have a decent shot.

If the deer makes it by the standers untouched, the dog handlers or others will catch them before they leave the club property, national forest, or cross public roads and highways. Obviously, there are times when this doesn’t happen, and the dogs cross boundary lines or roads, but GPS collars and trackers help mitigate these issues.

It’s easy to focus on the hunting pressure that deer-dog hunting has on an area. In reality, it’s not really different from typical hunting pressure produced by deer drives, natural predation, and, yes, even treestand hunting. I doubt deer are making the connection that the dogs and hunters are in cahoots. I’ve had more house dogs “ruin” my hunts than I have deer-dogs. I know deer-dog camps that treestand hunt in the same areas. They run dogs in the same spots every year, and every year multiple members kill good bucks.

Even if you live and hunt in areas where deer-dog hunting occurs, there are ways to adapt. My grandfather killed one of his biggest bucks behind a pack of dogs. He was treestand hunting, when a neighboring deer-dog camp ran a 130-inch buck within forty yards of his setup, a chip shot with the 30-30 he was carrying. He probably wouldn’t have gotten a shot at that buck had the dogs not kicked it up. Now, I know this isn’t the norm, but it’s a possibility, and I know plenty of hunters who have similar stories.

Why You Should Consider Participating in a Deer-Dog Hunt

I’m sure there are exceptions out there, but of all the deer-dog hunts I’ve been on, they all carry an element of selflessness that other hunting practices neglect. In a successful deer-dog run, when one hunter kills a deer, the entire group shares in the spoil. High-fives, grip-and-grins, and even the occasional bro-hug ensue. Even the standers who didn’t shoot ride the high of a successful hunt. Hunting solo is great, but sharing in a hunt provides another level of dopamine rush. The majority of deer-dog camps operate in this way, and I’ve never been to one where a return invitation wasn’t extended.

Last year I joined a deer-dog camp for a single hunt. Even as a guest, I could see why some of the members saved their vacation days for those two weeks. Out of all the time I spent in the deer woods last fall, this day highlighted my season. If you think the saunter of heavy hooves during the last minutes of shooting light will set your hair on end, hearing the dogs wail while you wait for them to turn a bend or crest a ridge top carries a similar effect. But if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, that’s okay. I’m sure some dogs will run something by anyway.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article