When sports folks head afield with hunting dogs a lot of positive things can happen.
Perhaps, a limit of birds is reached on a perfect fall day, or a brace of raccoons is treed on a calm, crisp moonlit night, or a drake pintail is retrieved by a happily working lab after a deftly executed shot.
All those outcomes are the result of hard, but pleasant work by trainer and dog. However, there are instances that can transform pleasant outings into panic-inducing affairs when prized canine hunting
companions are injured, sometimes grievously, while hunting the wetlands and prairies.
My latest experience with dog trauma happened just last weekend when my young, energy-infused lab, Cash, skewered himself on a deadfall branch, creating a ghastly, gaping wound that left me shocked and Katie in a panic. Fortunately, after a quick inspection, and seeing little blood loss, I figured the wound wasn’t quite deep enough to have pierced any organs.
No matter though, the wide laceration needed instant attention, so we scooped up our boy and took him to the Emergency Veterinarian Clinic in Eden Prairie. This clinic specializes in disastrous animal injuries and ailments, and after a brief glance at Cash’s cut, one of the largest they had ever seen, they whisked him away for surgery.
A few hours later, we picked up Cash, his wound stapled, stitched and well padded with gauze. His new attire included a mesh T-shirt to keep the dressings in place. He also got a “cone of shame” secured about his head so he couldn’t worry the freshly stitched injury. All that will come off in two weeks and shortly, he’ll be back to healthy self. We count ourselves fortunate as it could have easily been deadly.
On Tuesday, I stopped by Minnesota Valley Pet Hospital to have his bandages and wound checked. Everything looked good, so I took the opportunity to ask vet Sara Schwartz about what a hunter should carry to quickly treat in the field dog injuries. Her recommended kit is surprisingly compact and easily carried in a hunter’s vest.
The canine first aid kit should include stretch gauze; thick, absorbent gauze pads; a vet wrap like Coflux, which is tacky and sticks to itself for wrapping off treated wounds; a small set of bandage scissors; and an integrated antibiotic lotion like Neosporin. With these tools, a hunter can react to field wounds, like common barbed wire lacerations, promptly patching cuts and restricting blood loss from more serious cuts. Needless to say, any injury that rises above superficial should be treated as soon as possible at a nearby vet.
Another vital piece of first aid gear is a length of small-diameter, high-test rope about three feet in length. This tool is essential in the rare case your dog is captured by a conibear trap. These traps feature very strong spring steel wire arms that when snapped closed are darn near impossible to spread without help. The rope is used to compress the springs to activate a safety device and let the dog free from its deadly grasp.
To correctly use this method, I suggest watching an online trap release video and then practicing what you learned on a conibear trap. I’ve been hunting with field dogs for five decades and have never come across a conibear trap. Regardless, for peace of mind I always tote rope in my game vest.
Some grizzled dog owners are skilled at stitching up their dogs. These are usually hounds folk who hunt in vast, remote areas and pursue wild cats that sport long, wickedly sharp claws. Unless you have the appropriate training, I don’t advise going down that path.
The only time I witnessed this was in the middle of an endless northern Minnesota forest while chasing a tremendous tom bobcat with four veteran cat hounds. The angry feline, a monstrous 42-pound tom, bayed up on the ground during a near blizzard and raked our lead dog, Chelsea, with a wicked slash across the top of her head. The gash spurted crimson over the pristine snow, and after the cat was down, my houndsmen pals went to work cleaning, prepping and expertly stitching her head. In minutes, she was up, tail wagging wildly, showing her joy at bringing the cat to bay.
Years back, my young male lab, Mercury tangled with a raccoon. He wanted to play, the raccoon didn’t, and it clawed and lashed out with its teeth until it had inflicted major trauma in only seconds. I had no aspirations of canine stitching, so the wound was covered and compressed with clean rags, and Mercury was taken to the vet where he received several long lines of close stitches. He remained a handsome dog but sported a mosaic of scars across his face. Since dogs don’t enter a state of shock after an injury the way humans do, Mercury wagged his tail right through his field treatment and professional suturing.
No matter how careful a hunter is, at some point their canine companion will get a field injury. Being prepared for it will keep everyone involved, both human and canine, calm until professional aid is reached.
Mark Morrison is an avid hunter and fisherman who has been a freelance outdoors writer and photographer for 21 years. The Mankato resident since 1979 may be contacted at email@example.com.