A late-season burst of warmth will have temperatures soaring into the 80s for the first weekend of the 2015 pheasant season in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. While hunting in short sleeves will be a unique and enjoyable experience for some people, the heat can be an extreme burden for dogs in the field. Take extra precaution this opening weekend, as more than a few previous openers have been ruined for hunters when their dogs were hit with heatstroke (or worse) due to unseasonably warm conditions.
When in Doubt, Sit it Out!
It may be tough after waiting over nine months to get back to pheasant hunting, but the hot early days of autumn might present too much of a risk to your four-legged friend to justify extended time in the field. Take stock of your dog’s health leading up to the season opener, along with age and conditioning, before heading out on warmer days. If you have any reason to suspect heat may pose a threat to your dog’s health, or that a warm day in the field might be too taxing, the best bet is to sit it out and wait for the cooler days that will inevitably come. There’s no sense in sacrificing the rest of a season (or those that would come after) because you pushed a dog too hard in the heat.
Hunt Early & Hunt Late
The first few hours of the day generally tend to be the coolest, especially in clear, sunny conditions (which are forecasted for this weekend). For example, by the time Minnesota’s pheasant season kicks off at 9 a.m., the heat should be well underway, with strong southwest winds pushing and keeping above average temperatures in the region. Saturday’s forecast is for temps to hit 70 degrees by noon, and max out around 80 by 5 p.m. Warmer still on Sunday, the 11 a.m. temperature in southwest Minnesota will be 80, rising to 84 by 1 p.m. and holding there until just before sunset. To keep your dog safe from overheating, focus on the first few hunting hours of the day, on both days, and the last hour or two of the day to avoid peak temperatures, perhaps even forgoing a hunt if things don’t cool down. Pay attention to the temperature, and know that if it feels hot to you and you’re perspiring while you make your way through the field, it feels at least twice as warm under your dog’s fur coat – and they can’t sweat it out like you!
Having a big jug of water and bowl ready at the truck is always a good idea, especially when things start to warm up in the field, so dogs can get hydrated after each jaunt. Take a few 20-ounce bottles of water in your game vest as well to provide hydration in the field. Finding pheasant-holding habitat near water also gives dogs a chance to cool off with a quick dip, so scout out sloughs and drains that still have some water in them to provide a quick cool-down as your dog works on your early-season walks.
Follow these tips, and approach higher temperatures with a good deal of discretion to make sure this season’s warm opener leaves you with only good memories in our outdoors.
-Nick Simonson is an outdoor writer and also volunteers as president of the Lyon County Chapter of Pheasants Forever based in Marshall, Minn.