Being approached by a conservation officer while you’re on the hunt can be nerve-wracking. Do you know what to do?

What To Do When Approached by a Conservation Officer

Conservation officers work hard to ensure you have game to hunt and to stop illegal poaching. When you meet an officer in the field, be friendly and acknowledge the officer. Always point your muzzle in a safe direction, and make your firearm safe by unloading and checking the safety. Then, follow the officer’s instructions. Make sure you carry your hunting licenses and proof of hunter education, if that is required in your state, every time you hunt. It’s that easy!

hunting dog with hunterHunters have many different strategies, but one is as old as mankind itself: having a dog as a hunting partner.

Now there are 30 officially recognized sporting group breeds, according to the American Kennel Club, and many dogs—of any breed!—can be taught the essentials to be an excellent hunting companion.

But when did hunters begin using dogs?

An Ancient Friendship

Dogs may have been used for hunting as long as 20,000 years ago, when early humans were still hunter-gatherers and agriculture had not yet even been invented! In fact, dogs are thought to be the first animals humans domesticated, before cows and sheep.

Archeological evidence suggests that several species of wolves, coyotes, and jackals may have begun staying near human camps. Some theorize this nearness to humans led to the domestication of dogs: friendly, submissive wolves and wolf-hybrids were allowed to stay near the camp, eating scraps and breeding with other friendly dogs, while bold and aggressive wolves were driven away.

Either way, humans and dogs evolved in tandem. Dogs appear alongside hunters in ancient cave paintings all around the world. Evidence suggests that dogs were used as hunting partners, guard dogs, and even to haul heavy items, from about 12,000 years ago. Selective, intentional breeding likely came about 9,000 years ago, as herding dogs began to appear. Not every dog was ideal for every type of prey or job, and over time dogs diversified into the hundreds of breeds now available.

Types of Hunting Dogs

Today’s hunting dogs fall into three main categories, with several breeds belonging to each category based on appearance and abilities.


Terriers are small dogs used to hunt small game, such as birds or rabbits, as well as to track wounded large animals such as deer. These dogs are still commonly hunting companions in other parts of the world, but they have largely become house pets in the U.S. Examples include Airedales, Jack Russell terriers, and rat terriers.

Gun Dogs

A gun dog’s job is to pursue game animals that are hidden. They are able to find a prey animal’s scent in the air at close range, will flush birds and small game, and some retrieve downed animals. Gun dogs are particularly useful when hunting upland and wetland game, birds, and small mammals. Examples include Labrador retrievers, English pointers, and the English springer spaniel.


A hound needs to be built for stamina, as its task is chasing running game. They typically have loud barks and excellent noses; some specialize in treeing game such as squirrels, raccoons, and even bears until their hunter arrives. Hounds excel at hunting deer, coyote, wild boar, rabbits, and foxes. Examples include the mountain cur, the black-and-tan coonhound, and the American foxhound.

Learn More

As with any “tool” in the hunter’s kit, it’s important to do your research before you bring home a hunting dog. Learn more at the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, United Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club, or pick up a copy of Gun Dog Magazine when picking out your new best friend.

Recently there’s been a rise in locavore hunters—people who hunt not because of tradition or trophies, but because they’re conscientious eaters, seeking a deeper understanding of where their food comes from. This difference in motive, however, doesn’t make these “locavores” any less passionate about the sport. In fact, this group is a possible reason for the 9% increase in the number of hunters in the U.S. between 2006 and 2011.

What exactly makes a conscientious eater take the leap from simply eating locally harvested foods to grabbing a bow and hunting on their own? According to writer and former vegan Tovar Cerulli, the first step was recognizing that everything he ate had a cost to animals.

“Clearing land for agriculture destroys wildlife habitat. Birds, rabbits and rodents get minced by grain combines, and fish get poisoned by fertilizer and pesticide runoff. Growing crops of all kinds depends on keeping white-tailed deer populations in check: hunters and farmers kill them by the millions every year. Even in the garden my wife and I were growing, we had to deal with ravenous insects and fence-defying woodchucks. We also had to feed the soil, and the most readily available fertilizer came from local dairy farms.”


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Locavore hunter Kristen Schmitt

Another factor is nutritional value. Writer Kristen Schmitt, pictured above, made the switch from vegetarian to meat eater after a recommendation from her doctor: “I wasn’t getting enough quality protein in my diet and decided to switch back to an animal-based diet.” Tovar was given similar instructions from his doctor, who suggested that veganism may have been the cause of his lack of energy and weak immune system.

Why not just head to the grocery store and pick up packaged meat? Both Tovar and Kristen say that there is much more to it than that. Tovar explains that he took up hunting “as a way of confronting mortality: the fact that my life and diet are inextricably linked to the lives and deaths of animals, and the larger fact that all of nature exists this way.”

For Kristen, the benefits of hunting are having a connection with the food on her plate, and knowing how nature plays a part in everything she consumes. She also says that hunting is important from an ecological and environmental standpoint. “You are taking essentially one animal out of its natural and native environment, which leaves less of an ecological footprint than commercial-sized farms.”

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With the rise of locavores, another group has been quickly growing in the hunting world—women. When asked if she would suggest hunting to other women, Kristen said, “I would definitely recommend anyone who is interested in hunting give it a try. It brings you closer to nature, gives you confidence in your abilities, and is a very empowering activity. I enjoy spending time outdoors practicing archery and also teaching my daughter how to use her bow.”

So whether you hunt because of tradition, or because you value locally harvested food, one thing’s for sure—hunting is time well spent. Don’t believe me? Take it from Kristen, who says “hunting is a great way for families to spend time together—away from the computer or television screens.”


Looking to take the first leap into the hunting world? Start studying for your hunting certification for free with Hunter Ed™.

Kristen Schmitt

Kristen Schmitt writes articles on hunting, nature, wildlife, sustainable agriculture and environmental issues. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic, Modern Farmer, Food Politic, Deer & Deer Hunting, USA Today Hunt & Fish, goHUNT, Modern Hunter, and several other publications.

Tovar Cerulli
Tovar Cerulli has written on hunting, wildlife, forestry, and conservation for Outdoor America, High Country News, Northern Woodlands, Massachusetts Wildlife, and, among others. His first book, The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, has drawn praise from hunters and vegetarians alike and was named Best Book of 2012 by the New England Outdoor Writers Association.