Last year, as I made plans to hunt bobwhite quail in Oklahoma, a game manager warned me to be ready to boot my dog. Sand spurs, he explained. Apparently, these nasty armored seed pods, which look like weaponized floral reproductive parts from Westeros, were everywhere.
I long ago learned to boot my dogs when I hunt in the Southwest. In Arizona it’s primarily protection from the rough terrain. Most of that state is either rock or gravel that was recently rock (geologically speaking at least), and it’s hard on their tender pads.
My quail hunting buddies and I often see out-of-state hunters in the Southwest lounging around camp instead of hunting. The cause is usually dogs that have come up lame. A day or two in that country, for a dog used to running on softer soils in the North, is enough to put a pup down for three or four days.
I saw that happen to Jack, my first setter who was raised in rocky Arizona. I rarely booted that old dog up when we lived in the state. Then we moved to Pocatello, Idaho, where the ground is mostly formed from ancient volcanic ash. A year on those powder-fine soils was all it took for Jack’s feet to go soft. The first time we returned to Arizona I hunted him one day without boots, and that was it. He gimped around for a week.
So I invested in a collection of dog boots so extensive it would have made Imelda Marcos blush. I started with cheap pet store brands, the kind made out of thick nylon. These boots are great if your house dog needs something to protect its feet during short walks on a leash. But when hunting, you’ll get a day, maybe two, out of them, and only if you patch them up with a lot of duct tape. It’s two-day footwear that’ll set you back $30.
My dog shoe collection now consists of an assortment of Lewis Dog Boots, which come in a wide variety of colors, so long as you like black rubber. There are two styles of boot: vented and unvented. The unvented types have uses even if you never venture south but do hunt your dogs in the snow. If you’ve ever had to break up lumps of ice that form between your dog’s pads when running in snow, you could have used unvented boots. In addition to preventing uncomfortable ice blocks, the boots help protect your pooches’ feet from the cold.
Vented boots, on the other hand, are just right for warding off rocks or sand spurs in warm country, as they allow the shoe to breathe.
I’m not sure if that sand spur warning was for the spiny nuggets that grow in seed heads of a plant known as buffelgrass, or the low-growing weed called puncture vine that I’m more familiar with. Both plants produce seed pods armored with menacing spikes that look like the business end of a medieval flail, in miniature.
One of those spiky seed heads can put a hunting dog down quick. A goat’s head spine has been known to flatten car tires and can certainly puncture a Lewis boot. The difference is that the dog gets a mild prick of discomfort that I can easily brush away. An unbooted dog that runs into a nasty patch of goat’s head may be good only for company in hunt camp while it recuperates.
Such is the sting of Shagwell’s flail. Those little thorny striking heads will be the ruin of a barefoot pooch.