Recruit, Retain, Reactivate, or R3 is a nationwide initiative that aims to increase participation in various outdoor recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, nature photography, hiking, and much more. R3’s efforts are focused on hunting and are aimed at improving accessibility, education and support to help new hunters enter the world of hunting, ensure current hunters stay engaged, and encourage dilapidated hunters to return to become active participants. 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 noticed an often overlooked tool that can be used in R3 efforts: dogs.
Dogs are incredible R3 ambassadors. The widespread love for dogs, coupled with the opportunity to watch dogs at work, creates the perfect environment to arouse interest in the hunt. If you ask a group of avid highland or waterfowl hunters what their favorite sport is, many of them will likely say something about their dogs. Many people go to the fields without their primary intention being to harvest birds. Rather, it’s about watching their dogs at work – whatever that means to them. Show, retrieve, flush, track; There are endless ways to hunt together with a canine companion.
Dogs can be a great advertisement for the hunt. You will have a hard time finding someone who has no appreciation for dogs. For someone a bit more dog-crazed than average and with an inclination for the outdoors, it will be safe to watch a working dog do what it was bred to do.
For me, my dog was the only reason I became interested in highland hunting and it was pure coincidence. Living alone with my older dog in Oklahoma, I decided it was time to add a puppy to my household. I didn’t have the hunt in mind when I decided on a breed. I had researched Vizslas and loved the temperament and active lifestyle that would come with owning a Vizslas. A while later I found a breeder and brought home a little puppy named Cooper. We played fetch when he was ten weeks old and every time I tossed his toy he would lock himself in a wobbly point before falling. I remember the moment I said to myself, “Well, if he finds birds, maybe I could shoot them.” And we found birds and shot them! We hunted a variety of quarries across the country, from desert quail to swamp woodcock to prairie chickens. I can safely say that a dog was the reason I was recruited for highland hunting.
For many people, dogs are their driving force. Dogs are what keep them hunting birds year after year. Personally, I’m in for dog work and I’ve heard a lot of people tell me they’re in for the same reason. Following my dog across the prairie will leave a smile on my face, whether I return to the truck empty-handed or with a bag full of birds. If Cooper needs a day or two off to rest, I won’t go hunting without him. I relax on the couch right next to him until he’s ready to join in again. When I’m looking forward to the coming season, I don’t think of tailgates full of birds. I picture myself climbing a hill and seeing Cooper trapped on the point. Or I imagine what it will feel like when my new little English cocker puppy flushes its first pheasant. It is my dogs who keep me in the field all season and keep me looking forward to the hunting years to come.
Just last week I had a conversation with a fishing guide about hunting dogs. I asked him if he hunted in the highlands and he said he used to do it but stopped a few years ago when he lost his golden retriever. He said that without a dog there is no motivator to bring him to the field. Expressing that he missed the joys of highland hunting, he showed me a photo of his new nine-week-old Golden Retriever puppy that he had bought to get him back into the sport. Like many others I’ve spoken to, he said that dogs are the driving force behind his lust for hunting. What better way to get inspiration for the hunt again than bringing home a puppy with a bright future in the hunt?
Without dogs, I would not be the active participant in the hunt that I am today. When I made friends in the hunting world, I was thrilled to learn that I am not alone with my dog-induced joy in hunting. Many hunters have told me that they only hunt out of love for the dogs that hunt next to them. I think there are effective R3 efforts among dog-loving hunters who share what they enjoy most: appreciation, watching, and hunting with dogs.
Hannah Hayes is a writer for Dakota Edge Outdoors and serves as the education and public relations coordinator for North Dakota Pheasants Forever. Hannah focuses her public relations on R3 activities, conservation activities and supporting the NDPF network of local chapters that organize pollinator and hunt learning events.
Featured Photo: Dogs, with their strong bond with people and nature, provide a unique way to connect people to the highlands and other hunting opportunities. DEO photo by NDPF.