Can Labradors Hunt Deer? Simple Tricks For Hunting Versatility

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For a long time, I’ve known that Labradors are some of the best hunting dogs out there. Nonetheless, I am still amazed by their hunting versatility. Labs can help you hunt all sorts of game, but can Labradors hunt deer?

Labradors can hunt deer by following the scent of deer scat to lead you to a herd. They can also follow the blood trail of a wounded deer. The Labrador’s excellent sense of smell and trainability enable them to be superb deer hunters, despite the fact that deer are not what they were bred to hunt.

Here's what you need to know about how Labs hunt deer and some tips that make training your Lab to hunt deer much easier. You'll also learn what Labs were bred to hunt and the legality of deer hunting with Labs. 

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How to use a Labrador for deer hunting

How can a retrieving breed like the Labrador be helpful for you in deer hunting? Labs aren’t good for flushing deer, like hounds are, but they can still be a huge help in the field. As a result of selective breeding, Labs have a superb nose and they’re highly trainable and always ready to go. These traits set them up for success in hunting just about anything. Here's how to use a Labrador for deer hunting:

  • Finding deer by following their scent. Your Labrador can save you some time in finding deer. Labradors can discern the difference between fresh tracks and scat and older marks. Your Lab can put you on the freshest trail to find the deer as quickly as possible.
  • Recovering a wounded deer.  No hunter likes to wound a deer, but it is bound to occasionally happen. Deer are extremely fast and agile. They may travel a significant distance even when they are wounded. Using your Labrador is a lot easier than crawling along with your face to the ground looking for signs.

Fundamental training is required

Before you can begin training on something specialized, you need to ensure your Lab has gone through fundamental training.

How to train a Labrador to hunt deer

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve never hunted over your Lab before. Most Labradors take to trailing deer quite easily with minimal training, even if they haven't hunted anything in the past.

brown labrador
Photo by Paul Kapischka on Unsplash

Basic Scent Work Training

Before you train your Labrador to find deer, you'll need to teach them the basics of scent work. Thankfully, this isn't challenging training and most Labs take to it very readily. Here's how to teach your Lab to follow a scent:

  1. Hide a treat. Hide a treat under a bowl or cup and allowing your Lab to push the bowl over to find it. Keep repeating this until your Lab is running with excitement to the bowl to get their treat.
  2. Make it more challenging. Add more cups, bowls, and other obstacles to make it a bit more challenging.
  3. Increase distance.  Drag the treat along the ground and hide it in another room so that your Lab will have to follow the trail to find it.
  4. Train a scent. Begin associating a scent to the treat when your Lab is accomplished at finding the treat wherever you hide it. Allow your Lab to smell the target scent and then give them a treat. Repeat until your Lab is excited by the scent of the target.
  5. Repeat steps with the scent.  Go through the same steps that you used to train your Lab to find the treat but use the scent instead. Reward your dog with a treat whenever they find the scent.
  6. Substitute scent as needed. Substitute the smell of what you want your Lab to hunt for the practice scent.

Training Your Labrador To Hunt Deer

To train your Labrador to find deer, you will substitute the smell of deer scat for the training scent. It is ideal to collect fresh scat from the field and use it as soon as possible. 

You want your Labrador to smell the freshest possible deer trails. You don't want to go on a journey everywhere that deer have been for the past week. It may be easier to do this training right in the field where you can collect scat as you find it. 

Hide the fresh scat and encourage your dog to find it, making it more challenging each time. It can be surprising how few sessions it takes for your Lab to get the idea. Soon, your dog will understand that what they are looking for is the freshest possible deer smell. 

Training Your Labrador To Hunt Deer
Photo by Daniel Joshua on Unsplash

Most Labs don't bark while they're on the hunt. If your Labrador has a tendency to bark when they are on the trail, you'll need to train this tendency away. The last thing that you want is for your Lab to startle the deer that you are trying to hunt. 

Training a good down-stay is very helpful. You can ask your Lab to stay in place while you go forward to take the shot.

Training Your Labrador to Find Wounded Deer

To find wounded deer, your Labrador will follow a blood trail. You can collect blood from your latest deer harvest. Blood does not have to be fresh for this purpose. In fact, it's important that you train your Labrador to follow an aging blood trail.

It's useful to put blood into a squirt bottle so that you can leave a trail similar to dripping blood. Train your Labrador to follow that scent. Keep increasing the difficulty. Leave only a few drops several feet apart so your Labrador has to search for the trail. 

Is deer hunting with Labradors legal? 

Throughout most of the American South, it is legal to use dogs to hunt deer. It has also recently become legal in Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, Maine, Texas, Indiana, Michigan, Alaska, Ohio, Kentucky, and British Columbia. There may be local restrictions as well. It's best to check the laws in your particular area before using your Labrador for deer hunting. Keep in mind that Labs don't hunt deer the way hounds do. Therefore, you may be allowed to use your Lab even in places where deer hunting with hounds is illegal.

What else do Labrador Retrievers hunt?

When you compare a dog bred to hunt deer, like a Deer Hound, with a Labrador, it immediately becomes clear that the Labrador was not designed to hunt deer. Everything from a Labrador’s webbed feet to their rudder tail is designed to hunt waterfowl, particularly ducks. Most of the time, Labradors hunt ducks, but they can be trained to hunt all kinds of prey. 

Enjoy your versatile deer-hunting Labrador

The Labrador is a wonderfully versatile breed, able to hunt just about anything you want them to hunt. So can Labradors hunt deer? Yes, they can. With just a little bit of acclimation and training, your Labrador can be a tremendous aid to you on your next deer hunt.