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.