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Mistakes Hunters Make Before Calling In A Tracking Dog

These are things that I have run into over the last few years. This is not an all inclusive list of mistakes as I am sure I will continue to see new things the more I track.

The most common mistake is that hunters walk down the middle of the blood trail. Then when they get to were the blood runs out they start walking all over the place. This transfers blood from their boots to places the deer did not go. When the dog gets there to track and gets to this point on the trail they have to spend a lot of time unraveling this false blood trail that is now laid out. There is not a good solution other than to try to be careful and walk to the side of the trail were possibly.

Mistake number 2 is that the hunter does not visually or physically mark where the deer was standing when they shot. This point can be very important to a tracker in that a lot of information can be gained by looking at the color of hair at the hit site along with any bone that might be there.

Mistake 3 is that they do not know who their neighbors are or how to get in contact with them in case the deer travels across property lines. In many states it is illegal to cross property lines without permission even to track a wounded deer. A solution is to go ahead and make arrangements with your neighbors ahead of time just in case. This will help when late at night you come to a property line and you are trying to find out who owns the property. You will be very disappointed when the tracker and his dog call it quits, so get permission ahead of time.

Mistake 4 is not being prepared for tracking at night. A pen light works fine for walking into the woods but when you need to see the minutest sign you need a very good bright light. Bring several good lights just in case your batteries die or a bulb blows.

Mistake 5, not marking their progress along the track to the point of loss. Marking the trail helps the tracker to see that their dog is following the right blood trail to the point of loss. If the blood trail is very light the handler may not see any blood as they will be watching their dog’s reaction. By marking the last spot of blood the handler will know that at that point there might be a lot of false trails, see mistake #1.

Mistake 6 pushing the deer. If the deer travels out of site after the shot give it 30 to 45 minutes. As soon as you start tracking and see that the animal may travel a great distance or that it is a poor shot back out and give it at least 4 hrs if the temperature will allow and you are not worried about coyotes. If there are signs of a gut shot wait 6 to 8 hrs before begging to track again. Most mortally wounded deer will try to lie down within 200-300 yards. But if pushed out of the bed can travel great distance before expiring.

A few misconceptions about tracking dogs.

It has been raining so a dog will not be useful; actually a light rain helps to hold the scent. Some dogs are even able to track after heavy rains it is always better to call as soon as possible but if you can not get a tracking dog until it has been over 12 hrs then do not worry. A lot of people think that a dog is only good if the track is under a few hours old. Actually a well trained dog will be able to follow a scent trail 20 even 40 hrs old. The meat may not be any good if the weather is hot and the yotes might have got to it, but if you want to recover your trophy do not be afraid to call in a quality tracking dog. Another misconception is that a tracking dog will always find your animal. A tracking dog greatly increases your chances of finding a wounded animal but it is by no means a guarantee. Dogs have bad days just like people do.


By John Jeanneney ©2007

Most hunting dog people have been dismayed to see a very promising pup fall apart in its second year. I suspect that many of these young “wonder dogs” get culled and are never heard from again. Some of these culls would probably have developed into very good dogs if their owners had the kennel space, the patience and the wisdom to wait and see.

The best dog I ever owned was a wirehaired dachshund I bred named Clary von Moosbach. She was a do-everything dog; she just knew intuitively what you wanted her to do. It could be hunting pheasants one day or rabbits the next. She would tree coons at night and leave rabbits and deer alone. She never tracked a wounded deer until I started her on this when she was four years old. Then she put together all the skills she had learned hunting other types of game; she became an expert on cold tracks and staying on the right line.

What did Clary look like in adolescence? In her case this unsettled period came between a year and 18 months. For six months after her first birthday she was close to zero. She would quit a rabbit trail after 50 yards and begin hunting mice. She was incapable of remembering that certain types of game ran up a tree. She couldn’t do anything right.

I was talking about finding a pet home for Clary when suddenly she snapped out of it. She became the wirehaired dachshund that made hundreds of Americans aware that the right kind of dachshund is a practical hunter.

Much more recently Dick Chapman, a guide and bowhunter from Oxford, New York, had an experience that brought to mind Clary’s early development. Dick purchased Heidi, his wirehaired dachshund in another state. He brought her along carefully and as a puppy she looked very good in training. Dick knows dogs; at one point he owned the top competition coonhound in New York. Despite all Dick’s work, Heidi let him down during her first working year. She tracked 12 deer and found only one of them. Her second season, 2006, was quite a turn-around. She tracked 18 deer and found 10 of them. That is a recovery rate that is hard to beat since many bowshot deer are not seriously wounded and survive.

It seems that adolescence is a phase of development experienced by dogs and people alike. If you have raised teenagers you probably know all about this. I’d rather not report on my own adolescence, but it’s interesting to consider my son’s driving record at age 16. In his first five months behind the wheel he had two driving tickets and three vehicle accidents, none serious, but all avoidable.

Ed Bailey, formerly a psychology professor at the University of Guelf in Ontario, is a famous hunting dog trainer, who has written excellent books and papers on the subject. He made the comparison of human and canine adolescence in a 1985 article that first appeared in Gun Dog Magazine. “Now, some years later and from the vantage point of advancing middle age, I can recognize in young people the characteristics of the awkward age. They appear some time around the onset of puberty and persist until the lately-a-teenager realizes how smart his parents have suddenly become. Characteristics remarkably similar to those of young people appear in young dogs during the transition periods all dogs go through as juveniles.”

Important research is going on right now to back up Bailey’s insights about adolescence. In the next few years we will know much more about how the workings of the human teenage mind. But unless one of our billionaire Full Cry readers comes up with the cash, there won’t be parallel research done on dogs. Of course dogs are not humans, yet psychologists and neuro-scientists do use animal experiments and dissections to better understand human brain function. On-going research on the human brain is bound to give dog folks like us a better means of understanding what happens when wonder puppies go sour.

One of the research tools now being used is the fMRI machine. This is a specialized version of the MRI machine used to take pictures of soft tissue abnormalities such as cancerous tumors deep within the body. By monitoring minute differences of blood flow in various parts of the brain, the fMRI can determine which parts are involved in various human activities.

Researchers like Marion Diamond and Abigail Baird have tried to figure out why adults and teenagers solve problems in different ways. “Of course” they found that adults came up with better solutions. By using the fMRI to check brain activity in adults and adolescents as they were solving problems, they came up with some startling results. In contrast to adults, the “wiring” at the surface of the frontal lobes of teenage brains didn’t work very well. Partly in consequence of this the teenagers did their problem solving with other parts of the brain that weren’t very efficient either.

By adulthood the earlier circuitry glitches of the brain’s frontal lobes correct themselves. Focused thinking and good decisions are much more likely.

Doesn’t this sound a bit like the transition in dogs from crazy one year-olds to smart adults?

We now know that we can’t explain away canine adolescence by saying it’s just hormones and preoccupation with sex. Deeper things are going on, but the undesirable mental performance is not likely to be permanent. We have to have some patience.

Years ago, when I was in the market for a Black Mouth Cur, a man called me up and tried to sell me one of his pups. To establish his credentials, he told me that he had shot, in all, a pick-up load of his young Black Mouths that weren’t showing him much. I wonder how many pups in that pick-up load would have turned out to be good dogs.

Getting There Before the Coyotes

Getting There Before the Coyotes

By John Jeanneney
January 2008

Coyotes are putting pressure on some of the traditional ways of finding wounded and dead deer in the woods. Let me explain. The North and the South, broadly speaking, have always been a bit different in some of their deer hunting traditions. The pioneer tradition of doing everything by and for yourself has generally been very strong up North, whereas in the southern states hunting has been more of a group enterprise of clubs and deer leases where people help one another out, especially when it is a matter of finding a wounded deer.

In my country, up north, a hunter will try to find a wounded deer himself for many hours. In New York State eye-tracking is considered a fundamental part of bowhunting. The result of all is that I get many deer calls from hunters who have tracked until midnight, on their own, and then have given it another hour or so at daylight the next day. Of course this means that the tracking dog has to work an old, cold line that has been thoroughly muddled up in advance by the hunter and perhaps one hunting partner. This would be a no-no in the South or in Europe, but I have found that my dogs can deal with it by starting at the hit site, tracking to the hunter’s point of loss and then hanging some big circles around that last, especially tracked up area, to pick up the line and get it moving again.

As dog trackers of New York’s Deer Search, most of us have gotten along by billing ourselves as the “agency of last resort”. “Call us to find your deer after you’ve tried everything else.”The coyotes got there first and Billy finds that there’s not much left.

Now “northern tradition” trackers are in a bind and the root of our problem is spelled COYOTE. The migration of this predator into New York and New England has been going on for more than half a century, but the big population build-up has come only in the last 20 years. Originally these coyotes fed primarily on small mammals but scat analysis suggests that they have shifted more and more to a venison diet.

Coyotes were always ready to scavenge gut piles left in the woods, but now it seems to me that they are becoming more specialized. If a deer is left out overnight by hunters who can’t track it themselves, there is a very good chance that roving coyotes will cut the sparse blood trail, or the scent line, and track down the deer. The coyotes seem to have learned that this is a very productive method of “hunting”.

Two of the deer I found this season were almost totally destroyed as the photo shows. There was no point in dragging the carcasses out of the woods. Another hunter told me in the evening that he wanted to look again himself the following morning before I came to help him. In the morning he called to say the coyotes had found it first.

Overall, the damage rate on deer left out over night is about 30 per cent. Coyotes stay out of sight, but in built-up areas they seem ready to devour the venison shot by bow hunters even more than in open farming country.

Maybe our hunting traditions have to change in areas newly invaded by coyotes.

Do hunters still have the time to eye-track at the rate of 200 yards and hour or less? With a gut shot deer it is better, ideally, to wait over night, but can we afford to do so when the coyotes have learned the tracking game so well?

One thing is for certain. Tracking dogs are becoming more important than ever.

We hope that hunters will learn to call us in time.

Staying on the Right Line

Staying on the Right Line
By John Jeanneney © 2005

The hardest thing about tracking wounded deer is staying on the right line. Dogs get excited and confused just like we do sometimes, but they do have the ability to recognize other individual animals by scent just as they do people All cats and all coons don’t smell alike, and the same is true for deer. I didn’t read this in a book; my dachshunds taught me right in my own back yard.

At one time we owned a cat; I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but it was my daughter’s idea. I remember this cat named Hofstra well, mainly because she preferred the flower pots in our house to her kitty litter box. Aside from that she was plain as mud, sort of a gray tiger, and she looked pretty much like half the cats in the village. The dachshunds didn’t like her, but they learned to leave her alone. Even outside the house they never gave in to the temptation to do away with her.

One day I was working in the garden down below the house when I saw old Hofstra come prowling across the lawn. Then I realized it couldn’t be Hofstra because Hofstra was in the house. Anyway this cat was a dead ringer for Hofstra and dachshund Clary got fooled too…. until she trotted over and cut the cat’s trail. Then there was some fast action. I can’t remember all the details; it was so long ago, but it seems to me that the cat got the worst of it.

Then we had a baby “house coon” which grew up to become a yard coon that lived in an empty dog kennel. Her best buddy was our dachshund Oslo. Sometimes they would play pretty rough together, slamming one another around, but it was all in good fun. Oslo was a pretty good coon dog for a dachshund. He ran silent and treed hard .I saw him come in low on a big boar coon once and throw him right over on his back. But Oslo never tried this real rough stuff with our Cecily Coon. He knew the difference and never went for her when she roamed around the place. The two got along fine; she was not like an ordinary woods coon. All was bliss until Cecily came into heat, but that is another story.

This ability to discriminate comes in handy when a dachshund is tracking a deer.

I remember once we were tracking or trying to track a leg-hit deer in dry, dusty snow. We could see the tracks all right, but it was an averaged-sized deer running with a small herd of other average sized-deer; there was not enough track definition in the loose snow to tell which deer was which. Clary the tracking dachshund was the only one who knew what she was doing.

The tiniest drop of blood would have shown up on that pristine white snow, but there wasn’t any blood at all. One deer cut off and left the rest, and that was the one that Clary followed. Trust your dog! We followed and the long tracking leash kept us together. After a hundred yards we saw one drop of blood. Of course the dog knew the scent of that individual deer.

A tracking dog often has to deal with cross trails where a deer has been dragged out of the woods. Even young dogs learn to handle this pretty well. There was one case last year that was tougher than this.

Aunt Sabina dachshund was tracking behind her young nephew Alex There was some tidying-up to be done, but basically we let the young dog do the work. I wrote a year ago about how disappointed Alex and the hunters all were when we tracked up to a still-warm pile of guts. It was from a paunch shot deer just like the one we had been tracking. The only one in our group who understood the situation was Sabina. She trailed past the pile of guts, went another 50 yards into real thick stuff, and there was the deer we had been trailing, also shot in the paunch.

I have one more pile of guts story, and then I’ll let you go. Years ago I was tracking with the best dog I ever had. We went out to find a deer that a buddy in my gun club had shot and lost track of the afternoon before. We got started on the line at first light, tracked about 300 yards and you guessed it; there was the pile, but no deer, and no drag marks. Dachshund Clary was the only one who could figure out what had happened. She tracked on through a big patch of cedar trees and into a trailer park. There was the deer hanging in a tree. It wasn’t a very big deer, and the finders-keepers boys had simply tied the legs together, strung it on a pole and carried it out on their shoulders.