SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR
BLOOD TRACKING IN AMERICA
by John Jeanneney

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The following is adapted from the text of John's forth-coming book Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer. This introduction is drawn from the beginning of one of the chapters on field techniques.

 

I. Collars, Harnesses And Leashes

Later on you will need more information about equipment, but to get started, we will introduce only those most basic items for tracking: tracking collar or harness and a tracking leash. In certain states dogs are allowed to work off lead, but even there it is best to train and start natural tracking with the dog on a leash. You have a lot more control over the young dog when it makes mistakes or gets off on the wrong line.

It is very important that the tracking collar or harness be different from what the dog wears on a day-to-day basis. When it is buckled on the dog the collar sends a message to focus on tracking which requires a special sort of attention, Because of this the collar or harness should be used only for wounded big game tracking or training . It should not be placed on the dog until she is brought to the blood line to be tracked.

The choice of collar or harness is a matter of personal preference. Handlers of smaller dogs like dachshunds are more likely to use the collar. Handlers with dogs of pointer/lab proportions are likely to prefer the harness. If your dog pulls very hard or has a sensitive windpipe, the harness will prevent choking, coughing and wheezing. One reason that I personally prefer the collar is that it is easier to keep the dog's head down close to the scent line.

The Germans manufacture specialized leather tracking collars for all sizes of dogs. These are high quality, expensive leather collars 1 1/4 inch to 1 5/8 inch wide. A brass ring bolt is mounted in the thick leather and projects upward for attaching the leash. These collars are very nice to have, but certainly not essential. The important thing is to have a dedicated piece of equipment which the dog knows is just for blood tracking. It should be wide enough to distribute strain over a broad area of the dog's neck. Narrow rolled collars, chain collars or choke collars are out.

If you use a harness, it should be durable and have wide bearing surfaces. Make sure that it has no sharp edges that will chafe your dog.

The tracking leash is the most important part of your tracking equipment, and we would recommend one of "good" length. Personally I think a good length is 30 feet for all sizes of dogs. Until you have tried working in dense cover, it is natural to assume that a short leash will tangle less and be more convenient. The reverse is true. Some handlers actually prefer 40 feet when working in dense cover.

A long leash snakes flat along the ground, and the handler lets it drag ahead of him and behind him as he moves backward and forward along the leash. He can double it forward when the dog goes on one side of a tree and the handler passes on the other side. At a deadfall or in a patch of briars he can let the hunter hold the very end of the leash while he runs up to take it again near the dogs collar. Dont attempt to carry this leash in coils. Letting the length of leash drag and slide back and forth in your hands is an essential part of avoiding tangles. With a leash of proper length and material handling becomes automatic, and it is amazing how fast you can go through dense undergrowth.

Well, what is the proper material for a tracking leash? After trying many different materials I am convinced that mountain climbing rope is by far the best solution. This rope has a stranded nylon core covered by a braided nylon sheath. Eight or nine millimeter diameter seems to be the best for dogs under 30 pounds while eleven millimeter is best for the big, powerful dogs because the thicker rope is easier to hold onto when a dog is pulling hard. This cord is much stronger than it has to be, but its desirable quality is just the right degree of permanent semi-stiffness. Try a broken-in length of cotton clothesline and you will find that it whips back and forth, wrapping around snags and brush. Untangling it is aggravating and time-consuming. More seriously these delays tend to break the concentration of your tracking dog.

In Europe the all-leather tracking leash, of a width and weight appropriate to the dog, is commomly used. The leather feels good on your hands, and it is the traditional material appropriate for a traditional activity. However mountain climbing rope is cheaper, more durable and it will tangle less. In the flat parts of North America mountain climbing rope is difficult to come by, and you may want to consider lariat rope. Lariat rope has the right degree of stiffness, but the twist can be hard on your hands; the diameter is a little small to hold on to if you are working with a dog bigger than a dachshund.

If you use climbing rope it is easy to make up a neat and streamlined leash for yourself. First stabilize the two ends of the cord by fusing the nylon strands together over a gas burner or similar source of heat. Thread one end through the eye of a rustproof bolt snap, loop this end back to the body of the line and wrap or "serve" it with heavy fishing line. A less elegant but quick alternative is to wrap with electricians tape. A couple of coats of varnish on the serving will give it needed abrasion resistance.

II. Getting Started On Your First Call

In a later chapter we will discuss the various ways to train a dog, but for now we will assume that you have a dog with a basic understanding of what she is expected to do. You start out with a situation in which a fellow hunter in your club or hunting lease believes that he has hit a deer hard and mortally wounded it. He cannot come up with enough blood sign, identifiable footprints, or whatever is needed, to track the deer to where it must be down. The finer points of all this are discussed in the next chapter; in this chapter we are reviewing the basic techniques of finding that deer with your dog.

You hope that your dog's first deer call involves a fairly fresh line only a few hours old. It takes most dogs a number of outings to learn just how hard they have to "dig" with their noses in the grass roots and under the leaves to find the last traces of scent on an old, cold line left by a deer wounded the previous day.

The hunter should be able to take you to the exact place where he shot the deer as well as to the point where he lost the line. In almost every case it is well worthwhile to begin tracking where the hunter shot the deer. You may see something (blood smears, bone chips) that give you a better idea of where in the body and how hard the deer is hit. Deer don't always bleed immediately, so you may have to go a little way with the hunter's guidance to see and start working the actual bloodline. Working over the easy part of the blood trail that has already been tracked by eye will familiarize your dog with the scent characteristics of the particular wounded deer that you have been asked to track.

The hunter's point of loss is the real beginning of your own tracking work, and this beginning is the most difficult part the whole search. In the first place the point of loss will be thoroughly tracked up by the hunter who searched to pick up the blood trail again before he called you. Almost always the hunter has stepped in blood and deer scent as he tracked, and this will confuse things at the point of loss. He may have avoided the big drops and puddles of blood, but some muddling of the scent line cannot be avoided. Ask the hunter to show you where he finally left the area because there is a chance that the dog will follow his blood-contaminated tracks away from the point of loss.

If the dog has memorized the whole combination of blood scent, deer body scent and hoof scent on the easy part of the line before the loss, she has a better chance to solve the puzzle of the point of loss afterwards.

As you begin to track the hunter may say "The deer didnt go that way." If you are not seeing any blood, its good practice to restart the dog where the hunter saw the deer. At the restart if the dog stills insists on going in the other direction, then go with the dogs opinion.. Sometimes hunters see another deer running and incorrectly assume that it is the deer they shot at. In such situations a good dog is more reliable than a person. When dog and hunter disagree, or when, you as the handler doubt your dog, remember that it is the dog that has the nose and is most likely to be correct.

If you are dealing with one of the more difficult situations, you may find your dog making several tentative starts in wrong directions before settling on the correct line. I do not like to go out more than a hundred yards or so without some confirming blood sign unless I know the dog well, and the dog seems very positive. This is a matter of reading the dog's body language. Once you begin seeing new, previously undiscovered drops of blood, you can be assured that the tracking will become much easier because you are now past the tracked up, contaminated area.

Often the hunter has lost the line because the deer suddenly changed the direction in which it was traveling. If the start is difficult, which is often the case, the dog will want to check back over the trail leading into the point of loss. Let the dog try this for a hundred yards. The deer may have traveled back over the line it was coming from. "Fingers" on the blood splatters will point in the direction that the deer was moving. You may see blood splatters pointing in both directions, and this suggests a back track. Your dog must find the point where the deer broke off the back track and headed in a new direction

Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to overcome the problems of following the line on past the hunters point of loss. You may even resort to walking some big circles around this loss point before your dog shows you a new drop of blood and you know that you are on your on your way. Hang in there!

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

 

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