Waterfowl and upland-bird hunters spend most of the season alongside man’s best friend. By comparison, bowhunters usually feel forsaken when considering their time afield with dogs. It’s not just bird hunters, either. Small-game and shed-antler hunters enjoy many great opportunities to get outdoors with their canine counterparts.
Maybe it’s time to expand your outdoor pursuits. Rabbit hunting is a great way for bowhunters to spend time with their dogs. Not only is rabbit season open long after deer and other big-game seasons, but it can help archers stay sharp with their equipment. Because of their small size, rabbits are tough targets that require precise accuracy, especially when you must thread arrows through thick brush and into their vitals. Rabbit hunting also requires exercise. You’ll cover lots of ground while trying to flush rabbits from thick cover. That helps you and your four-legged friend stay in shape while others suffer from cabin fever.
Unlike bird hunting, which requires a trained dog to sniff out and retrieve downed game, rabbit hunting isn’t exclusive to traditional hunting dogs. If your dog enjoys being outside and has energy to burn, it can pull double-duty as a rabbit-hunting machine. Beagles are famous for being the best breed for finding and trailing rabbits, but just about any dog can chase bunnies from cover and through a shooting lane.
Whenever hunting with dogs, safety is paramount to enjoyable hunts. Dogs instinctively chase rabbits, especially when surprised by a fleeing bunny. Therefore, you must always know your dog’s location before shooting. Although laws seldom require blaze orange for rabbit hunting, consider an orange vest for your dog.
Also consider a collar that beeps loudly to identify your dog’s location. Once a shot presents itself, make sure you shoot away from the position of your dog and hunting partners because arrows can easily deflect. To avoid losing arrows, use judo tips or pronged small-game heads that won’t burrow into the ground.
Once rabbit season closes, start searching for shed antlers. You’ll cover lots of ground and find deer sign that helps you during autumn’s hunting seasons. But don’t leave your dog behind when hunting sheds. You’ll find plenty of resources online to help train your dog to find shed antlers more efficiently.
If you key on areas where deer spend most of their winter, you’ll be rewarded with a pack full of sheds. Picked crop fields or freshly cut timber are great places to start searching. From there, work your way into sites where you suspect deer to bed during winter. Deer usually bed on southern slopes that receive lots of sunlight, or in dense canopies that shield them from harsh winter winds.
Walk through these areas slowly and methodically with your dog, scouring areas where you suspect bucks tuck into when bedded. Even if your dog isn’t trained to find antlers, it will often pick up strange objects like bones or sheds. Reinforce that behavior with excited praise and a meaty treat!
By including your dog in hunts for rabbits and sheds, you’ll never again be jealous of a waterfowler or pheasant hunter. All it takes is a little thought and planning to include man’s best friend in your outings. In the process, you’ll strengthen your bond with your dog while benefiting from all of its hard work.