TRACKING WOUNDED DEER IN AMERICA
by John Jeanneney

THE PAST

 

To simplify something pretty complicated we can say that tracking wounded deer with a dog started independently in three different parts of America in three different ways. Down South it was a natural outgrowth of using dogs to run deer out of thick cover and bring them around so that hunters could get a shot. When a deer was shot and then ran off, it was natural to take a steady old deer dog, or some other hound such as a coonhound or beagle to follow up and bay it, or locate the deer if it were dead. This still goes on in the South today, although quite a few Labs are now being used especially along the Mississippi Flyway.

www.catahoulaleopard.comIn Texas tracking wounded deer with dogs had different roots. Most of the dogs that began to be used were all-purpose curdogs and cowdogs. The methods that were used to trail up cattle and hogs hiding in the mesquite or the canebreaks, could be applied to wounded deer as well. A cowdog could track and bay up a wounded buck with the same instincts and intelligence that made him a good cowdog. Catahoulas, black mouth   curs and Lacy curs are involved in this kind of work today.

It was the Hindes family of Charlotte in South Texas who perfected the art of using cowdogs. Today Roy Hindes III and his son Cuatro work their famous “blue dogs” across the “Golden Triangle” of trophy buck country stretching from San Antonio down to the Mexican border. The big-racked bucks of Quality Deer Management on the South Texas ranches are highly valued, both in dollars and in respect and appreciation. Not many of these bucks are wasted as coyote feed.

 

The northern method of using leashed tracking dogs to find wounded deer, is much more recent in America . It appeared in the 1970s in a part of the United States where any use of dogs in deer hunting had been outlawed for a human lifetime. Dog hunting was held responsible for the fact that deer were all but wiped out in the Northeast and upper Midwest by 1900. Habitat loss was probably a bigger factor, but the laws and the public opposition to dogs in the deer woods blocked any use of tracking dogs. Two men, influenced by how the Germans found wounded deer, independently launched experimental programs to use dogs for blood tracking.

 

www.altmoor.comTom Scott in Indiana began a program on the 64,000-acre Crane Naval Ammunition Depot along the Ohio River . He used big Drahthaars, wirehaired pointing dogs imported from Germany , and they found deer. He used the German method of trailing the cold scent line of a wounded deer with the dog on a leash. If the deer was still alive, and was jumped from the wound bed, then Tom and his associates released the big dogs and they ran the deer down. All this was consistent with the method that Tom had learned in Germany . The Navy managers, who administered the deer hunt at Crane accepted the system, but when Tom Scott tried to take his method outside of Crane, neither the hunting public, nor the Indiana DNR wanted anything to do with it. When I talked to Tom, myself, he made it clear that he was not about to change a system that worked so well in Germany and on Crane. Tom had a standoff with the DNR and his innovative program died within the confines of the Crane Reservation.

 

Before I had ever heard of Tom Scott, and about a year after he began in Indiana , I applied for a research permit in New York State to test the feasibility and public acceptance of the German leashed tracking dog system to find wounded deer. The wildlife people in New York were pretty skeptical, but they finally agreed to let me try in an experiment that the Department of Environmental Conservation was empowered to terminate at any time.

 

Things went better in New York State for a number of reasons. From the start it was decided that the dogs would be kept on a long tracking leash at all times.  Research on hunter opinion in New York State hunters showed clearly that free-running dogs were not wanted in the deer woods. Dogs running loose in the woods during deer season often did not come home.

 

 

Another reason for the success of the New York program was the quality and dedication of the men who got involved in the tracking program with me in the late 1970s. These men joined together in the organization  of Deer Search Inc. One of the most important leaders was Don Hickman, a natural born dog handler and also a gifted conservation  politician who rallied organized hunters in our state to support legislative change. A bill legalizing leashed tracking dogs for finding wounded deer was signed by the Governor in 1986.

 

Southern and Texas deer hunters must be shaking their heads about all this commotion over something as simple and fundamental as finding wounded deer with a dog. But in New York State , it was a big break-through. And what worked in New York State , populated as it is by aggressive anti-hunters, seemed like a feasible option for other states as well. Following the lead of New York , six other northern states, followed suit with programs modeled on the New York system of always keeping the dog on a tracking leash. Even Indiana , which had rejected Tom Scott’s approach, came around to legalize a tracking program provided that the dog was on a leash at all times. Campaigns are now under way in New Jersey , Pennsylvania and Illinois to extend the use of leashed tracking dogs to these states.

 

Finding wounded deer with a dog, northern style, is not really an American tradition yet. The Southerners and the Texans have been at it much longer than anyone up North. The northern, leashed tracking dog approach, often with hunting dachshunds, has its taproot in European tradition, but certain things have been altered and adapted to our own American ways of hunting. In the North, where the cover tends to be easier and  more open, the ethical hunter tries to do everything he can to find his own deer before he resorts to calling for a tracking dog. The dogs always stay on the long leash. The system works although there are some deer, which we do not get that could be run down and bayed by a big dog working off leash.

 

THE FUTURE

 

In the future we are bound to see continued growth in the use of tracking dogs to find wounded game. It will develop in different ways in different parts of the country. Quality Deer Management produces better deer more highly valued by hunters. They hate to lose them. There is also an increased ethical sense that the sloppy, wasteful and cruel hunting, which prevailed in some places during the last century, should not continue.

 

Bowhunting is the factor that will eventually make North America the tracking dog hub of the world. Bowhunting comes out of our own hunting traditions, which the Europeans don’t share, and bowhunting creates a unique need for skilled tracking dogs. Broadheads kill by hemorrhage, but in reality the fatal bleeding is often internal. There are many situations in which a bowhunter has very little to work with visually. A tracking dog can help him find his deer or follow the deer far enough to determine that it is likely to survive.

 

Bowhunting is part of the American hunting scene, and as much as the antis would like to abolish it, bowhunting is about the only cost-effective means of controlling whitetails in suburban situations. The Bambi-huggers have based their anti-bowhunting jihad on the argument that bowhunters fatally wound as many deer as they recover. Work with a tracking dog demonstrates that this is not true (The last chapter of my new book analyzes the problem). Of course tracking dogs also offer a means of reducing the real crippling loss to a very low level.

 

Every week we receive new inquiries on the Deer Search web site (http://www.deersearch.org/), about the feasibility of using tracking dogs in states where it has been unknown. There seems to be a momentum building in support of this way to make our deer hunting more successful and less wasteful. And for a dog man, tracking wounded deer is a great sport in itself.

 

 

 

 

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