By Hannah Hayes
Recruit, Retain, Reactivate, or R3, is a nationwide effort aiming to increase participation in various outdoor recreation activities like hunting, fishing, nature photography, hiking, and many more. Focusing on hunting, R3 efforts aim to increase accessibility, education, and support to facilitate new hunters to dive into the world of hunting, ensure current hunters stay engaged, and encourage lapsed hunters to become active participants again. Efforts can be anything from hosting events that teach new hunters how to hold a shotgun to advocating for more public land access. As a recruited hunter myself, I have noticed a commonly looked-over tool that can be used in R3 efforts: dogs.
Dogs are incredible R3 ambassadors. The widely held love for dogs paired with opportunity to watch dogs perform their job creates a perfect environment to spark an interest in hunting. If you ask a group of avid upland or waterfowl hunters what their favorite part of the sport is, chances are a lot of them will say something about their dogs. Plenty of folks hit the field without their primary intent set on harvesting birds. Rather, it is to watch their dogs work – whatever that means for them. Pointing, retrieving, flushing, tracking; there are endless opportunities to hunt alongside a canine companion.
Dogs can be great advertisement for hunting. You would be hard pressed to find someone that does not have some sort of appreciation for dogs. For someone that is a little more dog-crazy than the average person and has an inclination for the outdoors, watching a working dog do what they were bred to do will be sure to win them over.
For me, my dog was the sole reason I became interested in upland hunting and it was entirely by accident. When I found myself living alone with my senior dog in Oklahoma, I decided it was time to add a puppy to my household. I did not have hunting in mind when I was deciding on a breed. I had researched vizslas and loved the temperament and active lifestyle that would come with owning one. Awhile later, I found a breeder and brought home a little pup named Cooper. When he was ten weeks old, we were playing fetch and every time I threw his toy, he would lock up in a wobbly point before he pounced. I remember the moment I said to myself, “well if he can find birds, maybe I could shoot them.” And find and shoot birds we did! We went on to chase a variety of quarry across the country, from desert quail to bottomland woodcock to prairie grouse. I can confidently say that a dog was the reason I was recruited into the sport of upland hunting.
For a lot of folks, dogs are their driving force. Dogs are what keep them in the field chasing birds year after year. Personally, I am in it for the dog work and I’ve heard plenty of people tell me they’re in it for the same reason. Following my dog through the prairie will leave a smile on my face whether I return to the truck empty handed or with a bag full of birds. When Cooper needs a day or two off to rest, I do not hunt without him. I relax on the couch right next to him until he’s ready to join again. When I look forward to the coming season, I do not imagine tailgates full of birds. I imagine cresting a hill seeing Cooper locked up on point. Or I imagine what it will feel like to watch my new little English cocker puppy flush her first pheasant. My dogs are what keep me in the field all season long and what sustain my excitement for the coming years of hunting.
I had a conversation with a fishing guide about hunting dogs just last week. I asked him if he did any upland hunting and he said he used to but stopped several years ago when he lost his golden retriever. He said without a dog, there is no motivator to get him afield. He expressed that he missed the joys of upland hunting and showed me a photo of his new, nine-week-old golden retriever puppy that he purchased to help get him back into the sport. Like many others I have talked to, he said that dogs are the driving force in his desire to hunt. Is there better way to get inspired to hunt again than by bringing home a puppy with a promising future of hunting?
If it were not for dogs, I wouldn’t be the active hunting participant that I am today. When I gained friends in the hunting world, I was thrilled to learn that I am not alone in my dog-induced joy for hunting. Plenty of hunters have told me they hunt solely for the love of the dogs that hunt alongside them. I think there are effective R3 efforts hidden within dog-loving hunters sharing what they enjoy most about the sport: appreciating, watching, and hunting with dogs.
Hannah Hayes is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and serves as the Education and Outreach Coordinator for North Dakota Pheasants Forever. Hannah focuses her outreach efforts on R3 activities, conservation outreach, and assisting in NDPF’s network of chapters hosting pollinator and learn-to-hunt events.
Featured Photo: Dogs, with their strong connection to humans and the outdoors provide a unique way to connect people to upland and other hunting opportunities. DEO Photo by NDPF.