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SCOTT RALL COLUMN: New adventure in grouse hunting creates new challenges

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WORTHINGTON -- New adventures create new challenges that keep me thinking that as much as I might know about the outdoors in general there is still way more to learn.

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I had another one of those learning exercises just this past week. Hunting season is under way for doves. Tomorrow, the season opens for grouse, partridge, squirrels and rabbits. Pheasant season does not open for another month or so. The regular waterfowl season opens a week from tomorrow.

I don't normally get revved up until the pheasant opener, but I might have to try and bag a few wood ducks next weekend. I have never gone west for the sharp-tail grouse opener in South Dakota and decided this year to give that a try. It opens on the 15th, and I am trying for the end of the month for a few weekend days if it works out.

It's a different kind of hunt early in the season and I came across a few planning issues that need addressing. When you hunt in mid-October there are opportunities to see days with temperatures in the 70's and 80's and occasionally near 90, but they are rare and temperatures cool pretty quickly toward the end of the month.

In September these higher temperatures are more common, so instead of making arrangements to carry a little water for your dogs you need to make accommodations to carry lots of water for you and your dogs. This gets more difficult.

They make hunting vests with hydration packs in them. Others have special places for water bottles and if I like this earlier hunting, I might have to consider purchasing one of these in my future. You need to teach your dog to drink from a squirt bottle before you leave. Water bottles with twist off caps are not a great choice. Most of the water ends up on the ground and not down the dog's throat. A squirt bottle dispenses this vital but small water supply almost entirely where it needs to go.

I was visiting with different members of the outdoor community and they all said if you hunt in rattlesnake country you need to be prepared to deal with this potential life-threatening issue. I thought not much of it at first, but after about the fourth person asked me if I knew we were going to be hunting in snake country, I thought the better of it and started my planning.

I figured I would just get my hands on a bottle of rattlesnake anti-venom and in the rare event we encountered a snake and one of my dogs got bit, I could give the dog a shot and head to the nearest vet.

This plan was immediately shot full of holes when I found out a bottle of anti-venom was more than $700 and had to be kept within a strict temperature range that required a cooler and ice, which I could not carry over hill and dale while walking and hunting. As a result, this idea went up in flames. I figured when I got home I could just return the bottle and cost would be zero. It was not to be.

Plan B: I found out I could include getting my dogs immunized against snake bite. I did not know this could be done. A few calls later and it was determined the dog would need an initial dose and then a booster dose four weeks later. I was leaving in three weeks and the immunization medicine would take a few days to arrive.

I asked about what would happen if I had the first shot given but I was unable to wait the four weeks until the booster was applied. Would the dog get sick if the shots were only two weeks apart? I was told the two-week interval would not harm the dog.

It was $45 per shot, it takes two shots and I was taking three dogs -- $90 times three equals $270 and I was only going hunting in rattlesnake country for two days. The out-of-state license cost $110 and a little shared gas expense seems reasonable. Adding in the cost of dog insurance (rattlesnake immunizations) made me give pause.

In order to save some cash, I could choose to take only one dog but in the heat, the ability to hunt with a fresh dog every few hours has great value. Should I cowboy up and pay the added the cost, cut the program by reducing the number of dogs or just take the risk?

A call the next day answered this question for me. After additional consultation with vets actually located in snake country, my vet told me it takes one to two months after the shot series for the dog's system to utilize the immunization before it would actually have any effect. I could get it done and if the dog was bitten on my planned hunting weekend it would have little effect. It was a no-brainer not to spend the money if I only intended to go once and it would not work anyway.

I hunt in these same areas later in the season for pheasants when the temperatures are below freezing at night. I would be hunting the same locations with no snake issues just a few weeks later.

With the immunizations deemed ineffective because of my time frame, I am going to minimize my risk on this trip by hunting only in the early mornings when snakes are less active. I will also stay away from prairie dog towns as snakes really like these areas. Pheasants can only be hunted in most states after 9 or 10 a.m. Sharp tails can be hunted from sunrise to sunset. I will start early and end by 10:30 a.m. every day. It is not a guarantee, but it limits my exposure to potential problems.

I am adding my fishing boat to the mix and have altered the plans to spend the early mornings chasing sharp-tails and the afternoon chasing small mouth bass and walleye. Next summer I will get a jump in the immunization issue if I decide to go again. After the first year the dog only needs one shot. This will cut the cost by half in future years. I have the phone number of the closest vet and a Google map of its location.

Dogs are more resistant to snake bite than humans, so if you can get to the vet in short order, the dog will most likely survive. When it comes to my boys and their safely, I am more than a little cautious. There are others in my group with dogs and I might just have to follow one of their dogs instead.

All I can do is hope for a cold spell with frost temperatures at night and very mild daytime highs. If all else fails, the fish will get my full time attention.

Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.

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