(WALB) - The quail hunting industry has a multi-million dollar impact on the Georgia economy, and is growing every year.
Some of the most important tools in that industry are the hunting dogs, but are also the most fragile part. The risk to those hunting dogs is real.
Those bird hunting dogs are very valuable to their owners, and they do their best to protect them. But every hunt those dogs face a lot of risks in the woods.
Mike Miller from Milledgeville has been planning his quail hunting trip at Southern Woods Plantation for more than two months.
"Watching the dogs work is a big thing to me," said Miller.
Before the hunt
The quality of the hunting dogs is one of the plantation's biggest selling points to attract hunters.
"That's right. It's one of the most important parts of the quail hunting business," said Southern Woods General Manager Benjie DeLoach.
So keeping these dogs healthy and working is crucial.
"They are athletes. You can't leave them in a kennel locked up for six months out of the year and drop them out in these conditions, and expect them to perform. It's dangerous for the dogs," said Trainer and Guide B.J. McKinnon.
Keeping the dogs in shape is vital, because their instinct is to run from the second they come out of the jeep till they are stopped.
It takes months of training to teach them to stop still and point a bird, then flush the bird on instruction
"They get zoned in on that bird and they run into trees. Run into hunters. They got one thing on their mind, and that's get that bird for you," said McKinnon.
Holes are big hazards for the dogs, which could break a leg if they step in one. Snakes, snares have also been seen.
In South Georgia the biggest hazard by far for a hunting dog is overheating.
Southern Woods puts out water barrels to protect their dogs from running themselves to heat stroke.
"Get in the water barrels. Get a quick drink and a splash. They can go on. It really recharges them in a hurry," said McKinnon
In the thick of it
The other big hazard to the dogs, the hunters.
Every hunt starts with a safety video to teach the shooters to protect the dogs and the other hunters, and any mistake ends the hunt.
But despite the hazards, the dogs are rarely hurt. And their owners know the dogs are doing what they love.
"They are living their dream right here. They are getting to do what dogs are bred to do this," said McKinnon.
Becoming a hunter's best friend
Quail hunting depends on these dogs, and their owners protect them as big investments, because hunters like Miller often base their decision where they return to hunt on the dogs.
McKinnon said he turned down $5,000 for one of his well trained hunting dogs recently.
It takes two to three months to train a puppy the basics for quail hunting.
But beyond the economics, their owners love their dogs, and treat and protect them like family.