Using hounds to push thick woodlots and swamps with the hopes of putting deer in front of hunters placed on a watch is a long tradition in many Ontario deer camps. Usually the “dogger” (the person tramping through the bush alongside the dogs) is someone who knows the land best, owns the hounds, or who volunteered years ago and now owns the job.
At our camp, every year someone says they would love to dog but they don’t know the land, are afraid of getting lost, aren’t dressed for it, or some other excuse that keeps them on their watch. I love this type of hunting. It’s another skill to draw on, a great way to get exercise, and a perfect way to learn the woods you are hunting.
If you’re one of those excuse-makers, here are some tips to give you the courage to get off the watch and join the push, and a new tactic to try during a quiet afternoon in the woods with your group.
1. Prepare for the day
Be prepared for changes in weather and body temperature. Doggers do a lot of hiking, so dress in layers and choose clothes and outerwear that will be easy to carry — you won’t want to leave anything behind in the bush. Be sure your multiple layers are orange so when you take one off, you’re still visible to other hunters and meeting legal requirements.
Hiking boots may look great on the shelf or work well on the stand, but they won’t keep you dry if you need to cross a creek or swamp, and rubber rain boots aren’t meant for long distances.
Spend some time in a hunting store to find a boot that is waterproof, feels good, and will hold up under the conditions you might encounter.
When packing your grip for the day, think about essentials: food, water, compass, fire source, knife, emergency blanket, and anything else you might need. Use a bag that is comfortable on your back and pack it as light as you can. Remember, you have to carry this all day. I pack as little as possible, but with the mindset that I could be spending the night.
2. Learn the land
Have a general grasp of the area and know key markers before you set out. It will be your salvation if you get lost. Pushing will teach you a lot more about your territory, and this information can be great for developing successful hunts. GPS technology is invaluable when it works, but service can be intermittent in remote places and batteries can die.
The first thing people tend to do when they get turned around in woods is panic, but if you stop, think, and use your knowledge you’ll have no trouble.
Remember your wilderness basics: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; and carry a good quality compass with you (I carry a spare one, too). Learn the direction of nearby highways and rivers and use your compass to find them or follow them out.
At our deer camp, we orient ourselves using the train whistles that are south of our property and the ridges and valleys that run east/west through our land.
3. Make some noise
Forget about keeping quiet. As a dogger, you want to make a ruckus to push out the deer to your partners on the watch. Look for fresh sign, tracks, and most of all — that white flag ahead of you. It’s not uncommon to hear the dogger in the bush howling right along with the four-legged companions.
If you’re too quiet, a big buck may get to high ground and watch you stroll by. If you get him running ahead, he may try to circle back on you, so keep on his fresh trail and be loud.
Drive-hunting is an old but proven way to fill a tag. Don’t be afraid to join the doggers in the walk, or try a new approach at your camp. You will likely see land you never knew was there and find wildlife signs that will make you a better all-round hunter.