BLOOD TRACKING WITHOUT BLOOD:
Dachshunds and Hanover Bloodhounds
by John Jeanneney

 

'In Hanover George III’s administrators took hunting seriously, 
and they didn’t want their guides and houndsmen to be untrained clowns. 
After all there was a correct way of doing the important things of life. 
And deer hunting was very important.'

This has been a rough winter in the Northeast, and we are wondering if it will ever end. Not only was the snow deep; it was also so loose that even my beagle bogged down in it to his shoulders. The cottontails acted like field mice, spending most of the their time beneath the surface. There was no way to get a run on them for either dachshunds or for the beagle.

            We had a heavy snow on the first day of the deer gun season, November 18, and  in the woods it never went away. This cut down on the need for tracking dogs considerably. We did have an interesting call on Thanksgiving Day. 

 Bloodless Blood Tracking with a Dachshund

             The Thanksgiving Day deer was a “buck of a lifetime” a nice ten pointer, and there aren’t too many of these in our part of New York State .  There was some blood on the snow for about 300 yards, but then it stopped and the dry snow was so loose that it was impossible to pick out a particular deer track from all the others. The hunter called just before noon after searching all morning, but I didn’t want to take the call until after dark when all the hunters were out of the woods. If a wounded, big-racked buck is still alive and you get him up and parade him around the woods in front of other hunters it is almost inevitable that someone else will drop him. Darren, the hunter, really wanted this deer.

Late afternoon Thanksgiving dinner was postponed a bit and we got to the hit site just as it was getting dark. We wanted to miss other hunters, but we also wanted to beat out the coyotes, which begin to move at dusk. We worked out over the part of the line with blood, and then we came to the point where Darren and his father had lost it in a maze of deer tracks. The temperature was dropping to ten degrees, which didn’t make things any easier. On the six inches of dry white snow we would have been able to see a pinhead-sized spot of blood, but there wasn’t any. Still there was some scent for my old dachshund Sabina to work. Probably there were microscopic scent particles from the wound, and of course the individual scent of the deer.

It was slow going. Once she went off fifty yards on the wrong track and then corrected herself and came back. It was easy to read her level of confidence  by her tail and body language. We worked about 200 yards through heavy evergreen cover and then there was a blood bed and another and another. In the fourth bed the buck lay dead.

They call it “blood tracking” but what it’s really about is tracking when there is no blood.

Deer, and probably other mammals, have distinctive individual scents just as people do. Everyone knows that a man tracking bloodhound sticks to the right line, but hunters are usually amazed to learn that a good game dog can make the same distinctions on a wounded deer if encouraged to do so.

In bow season we get called in to track a certain number of wounded deer shot from a tree stand at a steep downward angle with a high entry wound and no exit. A little blood will trickle down at the beginning and then all the bleeding is internal. These are tough to track, but tracking dachshunds and other tracking breeds can do it if the conditions are decent. A pup can’t do this in his first tracking season. Usually it takes 30 or 40 calls worth of experience

Hanover Bloodhounds

 Bloodless blood tracking brings us around to the Hanover Bloodhounds, the premier tracking dogs of Germany . To our knowledge there is only one, a puppy, in North America . As we explained in last month’s column he is owned by Tim Nichols of Granville , New York .

The  “Hannoveraners” are noted for their ability to track old lines without blood, and their trainers have no doubt that every deer has its own individual scent. The traditional training method with  the Hannoveraners is to work the scent of individual,  unwounded red deer . The trainer gets up in a tree stand in a place with long visibility, and he observes the movements of a particular deer. After a suitable interval he brings in the dog and works with him on a long tracking leash over that observed line. This is really blood tracking without blood or even wound scent.

 

The history of the Hanover bloodhound gives us some idea of just how serious the Germans were and are about not losing game. This history also explains their traditional training method for the Hanover bloodhounds. These dogs came out of an institution, called the Jaegerhof, literally “hunters house”. It was actually a hunters’ college subsidized by the  rulers of the independent German state of Hanover who were, at the same time the “Hanoverian” Kings of England. The Jaegerhof was established in the1770s,  and  the ruler of Hanover at the time was the very same George III who was “heading up” England .  You will recall that we Americans had our little disagreement with him, which came to a head in 1776!  George III was a lot more English than German, but he promoted hounds and hunting in both of his countries. From a hunter’s point of view George III wasn’t all bad.

In Hanover George III’s administrators took hunting seriously, and they didn’t want their guides and houndsmen to be untrained clowns. After all there was a correct way of doing the important things of life. And deer hunting was very important. It went back to long before the age of firearms, when the proper way to hunt deer was with hounds. Even in the 1700s a red deer stag was too fine an animal to knock off with a muzzleloader. That would have been as bad as shooting ducks on the water seems to us today. The proper way to take a fine stag was to run him with hounds and to follow the hounds on horseback.

This was the first sport of the German nobility, and when they went out, all dressed up in fine clothes and mounted on fine horses, they did not want to take pot luck on the first deer jumped by the hounds. They did not want to run some ordinary scrub buck. They wanted a quality red deer stag, the equivalent of a fine Boone and Crocket whitetail. This is where the huntsmen of the Jaegerhof came into the picture.

It was their job to locate a truly fine stag for the big social event that was the hunt. They did it by working a wise old deer hound, called a “limer” in English. The limer would follow scent lines, and his handler would read the sign that the hound showed him.  The handler/guides could recognize most of the stags in the area by their tracks. They would pick out a good one and then pinpoint his location in a forest block or a big thicket, working around the edges to be sure that he was still where they wanted him. Then they would report back to the head huntsman so that he could lead the running hounds and the mounted gentlemen to the right spot to begin the chase.

            This is where the tradition of tracking the individual, unwounded deer began. In the 1800s stag hunting with firearms finally became respectable, and the same limers,  which were being  used to locate  stags for the mounted hunt,  now began to be used for wounded deer as well.

The Hanover bloodhounds came into the picture, when leaders in the Jaegerhof realized that the old hounds were no longer up to the task of finding wounded deer. Apparently they had become over-bred, the noses were still good but they lacked the needed vigor  and desire. In response the Jaegerhof  developed a new breed, the Hanover bloodhound.

            The starting point was the old limer, which had a lot of common ancestry with modern bloodhound. These were big, heavy-headed dogs with bloodhound characteristics.

To get more drive and agility the Jaegerhof breeders  crossed in a local running hound called  the Heidebracke. What emerged after much selective breeding was the Hanover bloodhound. By the end of the 1800s these hounds were recognized all over Germany as the best wounded game finders of all. Germany was unified by this time and they became a national treasure of all German hunters. It was the genetics, and also the training that made them great. The men of the Jaegerhof put enormous amounts of time into training them by the traditional method of using old, cold lines of healthy deer. The breeding of these dogs was closely controlled, and as they spread through Germany , a breed club, the Hirschmann Union, organized tests to maintain working ability and to make sure that only the “worthy” were allowed to buy.

            I had a French cousin who was a dentist living in the Province of Alsace close to the German border. In the mid 1960s, with about ten other men, he leased a big game hunting preserve with a gamekeeper. The partners soon decided that they needed a Hanover bloodhound. They were able to get a very good young dog, trained in the traditional way, but he wasn’t cheap. Prices stated in old money amounts don’t mean much 40 years later. My cousin did tell me what the dog cost, and I remember that it was the same price as a new Cadillac at that time. That’s a pretty good price for a hound.

            The Jaegerhof is gone now, and the Hanover Bloodhound Club has loosened up a little bit. Hanover bloodhounds are working in a number of different countries, and not all of them are being trained by the slow, traditional method on healthy deer.

You will recall that Tim Nichols got his dog in Italy . According to the breeder, Serena  Donnini, who lives near Florence in northern Italy , there are two different types now being bred in Europe . There is the more massive traditional type and a lighter, more agile type better suited for hot weather and rough country. Tim’s “Varenne” is of the lighter type, and he shows some of the typical brindle pattern of these hounds. We will see how he does in the alder brush and beaver swamps of Vermont .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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