Working Styles

by John Jeanneney

A few years ago I had a chance to go with the judges and observe the European Dachshund Championships, which included blood tracking. The best dogs were very, very good, but they moved along at a pretty fast clip. The judges liked that. I have also observed German blood tracking judges over here, and it was the same thing. They liked a fast, sure dog even if he had a tendency to drift the line. An excellent tracking dog is a useful  dog anywhere, but I think that there are shades  of difference when it comes down to deciding  what is best for tracking bowshot deer in America
   
     Bowhunting is unique to North America .  I’m not sure that Europeans understand why it is such an important part of whitetail hunting here, but there is surely a strong consensus that they don’t want it in Europe . To my knowledge there is not a single European country that allows it. And partly due to this there is not much enthusiasm for the slower, more deliberate tracking dog that can work a cold faint scent line and show his handler every inch of it. 
   
     In bowhunting it is tremendously important to see the visible sign left by the deer, so that it can be determined whether the deer is mortally wounded. The percentage of deer that have mild wounds from which they will recover is much higher than in the case of gun and rifle shot deer. In bowhunting a very near miss of a mortal target zone or artery produces no hydrostatic shock. The almost surgically clean wound soon stops bleeding and eventually heals without a problem. A sharp broadhead does not pull hair into a wound producing the sort of infection that comes from a bullet or slug wound. 
   
     In bowhunting the handler and his tracking dog are going to encounter many cases where the deer is destined to stay strong and survive. Therefore, the handler has to interpret sign and figure out where the deer is wounded so he doesn’t track all night in a hopeless cause. A lot of decision-making is based  upon the color of blood drops and placement of  smears on saplings and  branches. Usually within the first half mile an experienced handler can see enough to know where and how seriously a deer is wounded. 
        For example we know that a stomach shot deer is always destined to die and almost always “gettable”. Contrary to what some books suggest, the majority of the blood sign from a stomach shot may be the bright blood from the outside of the deer. If the telltale arrow has not been recovered this situation can be misleading. The stomach of the deer often rotates a bit so that the hole in the stomach wall doesn’t line up any more  with the hole on the outside. You need a careful dog, which will show you every drop. One drop of muddy dark blood tells the story even if all the rest is bright, muscle-type blood.  Too many stomach or gut shot deer are lost because the hunter sees just a little bit of blood that doesn’t tell him much of anything and is insufficient for tracking very far. He decides that he didn’t hit him very hard. 
        If the top of the highest smears ofrom a bowshot deer are over 30 inches from the ground, the deer is probably hit above the spine and will survive. With the giant bucks of the
Corn Belt and the Canadian prairie provinces you would have to stretch that 30 inch rule quite a bit. 
   
     And of course you have to make sure that the deer isn’t jumping. It’s best to base your decisions on more than one bit of evidence.  For this kind of situation you need a slow and precise dog that will show you everything that you need to see. 
        Leashed tracking dogs  get to know that the handler is pleased to see blood. I say “good boy” or “good girl” when I see a spot of blood. Soon  they stop and “point” to a drop of blood for me. I’ll never forget a time when I was tracking with a very smart little dachshund bitch. We were tracking after a heavy shower and there was no blood sign to be seen. Apparently the deer had meandered back and forth and it wasn’t easy. I saw Gerte hesitate for a moment and then turn a leaf over with her nose. There was blood on the under side. She certainly acted as if she wanted me to see it. 

   
     The bright red blood did not tell us for sure where the deer was hit, and as it turned out that deer just kept going on and on. We jumped it but could never catch up. A Texan working with his dog legally off lead might have caught up to him. At least it was nice to show the blood to the hunter and reassure him that we were on the right line. We never would have seen any blood at all if Gerte had been steaming ahead at a rapid pace. 
   
     Even during gun season, I think that there is much to be said for going slowly enough to see the visible part of the blood that your dog is tracking. Some years ago I tracked an illegally shot buck for a Conservation Officer. We went about a quarter of a mile, and then the dachshund passed directly under an overhanging branch and on the underside of that branch there was a smear of blood. I told the officer that the deer was hit up front near the topline, and that it was unlikely that we would ever catch up with him. The officer said “Let’s go with it anyway.” We went another quarter of a mile, and there was the deer lying down in the middle of a rhododendron patch. Just as I had thought, he was hit very high in the shoulder, but for some reason he had let us approach within 50 feet. He just lay there with his head up looking at us. 
        Well, the officer drew his service revolver, which was loaded with solid  .38 caliber bullets rather than the .357  Magnum hollow points that he could have shooting in that handgun. I saw the hair fly on the buck’s neck, which was not the best place to hit him by the way, and then he was up and gone. To make the case the officer needed the deer so we stayed on his trail all afternoon, but never caught up to him. Thanks to a slower, close-working dog we at least knew where the deer was hit. While all this was going on the “alleged perpetrators” were back at headquarters denying everything. However, when they heard that “the dogs had been brought in”, they decided that it was all over for them and they confessed everything. 
Another time I was tracking in a back-up position with my wirehaired dachshund, behind a young German shorthaired pointer that moved fast, quartering back and forth across the line, as bird dogs tend to do. We did not know where the deer was hit, and the deer was miles beyond the hit site, which I wish we could have examined. The German shorthair quartered right past a bed that he and his handler never saw. The slower paced  dachshund led me right over the bed and that bed told us everything. Because the deer had spent some time in the bed, there were visible spots of blood. The blood drops were outside the perimeter of the bedded deer’s body print. I suspected a jaw-hit and on a very close look I could see saliva in the blood. The hunter must have taken a head shot, thinking “clean kill or clean miss” and had actually smashed the jaw. That was a dead deer all right, but death would come days later. There was nothing that we could do about it in that expanse of dense pine and oak scrub. We knew that it would be impossible to catch up to this deer that day. We picked up the dogs and went on to another deer call. The German shorthaired later slowed down a bit with age and became an excellent dog for wounded deer work. 
   
     With both bow and gunshot deer the slow, analytical approach on that track ends  when we jump the deer. Once we have him up and moving we push him hard going as fast as we can go. In the North regulations and common sense both prohibit the release of the dog from the long tracking leash.  Off lead in the deer woods your dog would be shot by an irate hunter long before the Conservation Officers nailed you. And in so many places there are just too many roads with heavy traffic. 
   
     To get back to bowhunting, another aspect of tracking that the Europeans don’t consider is the slight amount of blood and scent that we usually have to work with. Bowhunters in the North pride themselves for tracking their own deer by eye and if they call you, it is usually because there is little or no blood to be seen after a few hundred yards. 
        Often what happens is that they shoot down into the deer at a steep angle from a tree stand. If the arrow does not exit there is just one high wound that trickles blood for a short way until outside clotting occurs. The deer might be hemorrhaging to death inside but little blood shows on the outside. When the handler arrives with a dog six hours later, the track is not all that easy to follow. The dog has to follow the individual scent of the wounded deer and ignore all the other deer tracks in the area. This requires a smart dog, and a dog that is ready to slow down and pick its way along when it has to. This is very different from tracking a deer shot with a bullet or shotgun slug that has left a big, ragged exit wound, and lots of wound scent particles even if there is no visible blood. 

   
     There are days and situations when I envy the Southerners and the Texans who can legally work their tracking dogs off lead. These handlers can pick their own way without plowing through the brush and briars. With the greatest of ease true Texans waltz through the prickly pear patches and avoid the whitebrush thickets. Their dogs can bay and thereby hold some wounded deer that we would never catch up to. 
        But we poor Yankees up North gain something that Southerners and Texans seldom experience. We work so closely with our dogs that we come together in close partnership. Each gathers his own kind of information from scent or from sight and we put it together to find the deer or know why we can’t catch up to him. Even on a dark night each senses what the other is doing.  Often on an old, cold line the partnership accomplishes something together that neither dog nor man could accomplish alone. It wouldn’t be quite the same thing if we were handlers watching the dog work from 50 yards away. 

John Jeanneney 
1584 Helderberg Trail 
Berne, NY 12023 
518-872-1779 

john@born-to-track.com

 

         

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