Blood-tracking is an ancient and extremely useful conservation tool that reduces game waste. Blood-tracking dogs are not used to find, point, flush or chase healthy deer—they’re utilized only to find them after they’ve been hit. Who doesn’t want to recover a wounded deer?
Currently, 30 states allow some form of blood-tracking big game. Go to united bloodtrackers.com for laws and info.
It works like this: A hunter hits a deer but can’t find it immediately, so instead of stomping around in circles for hours, he backs out and calls for a trained blood-tracking dog. Leashed, it smells the trail and leads the hunter to his deer. The hope is to either find the deer dead, or to get close enough for a follow-up shot.
In these “lost” deer situations, it’s important that the hunter follow basic protocol to give any tracking dog the best chance for success. First, mark the spot where the deer was hit so the dog can be taken directly to that starting point. (After becoming familiar with the scent of the individual deer being tracked, the dog doesn’t need the presence of blood to track it.) The hunter should avoid stepping in the tracks of the hit deer, which can lay secondary blood trails that can confuse the dog.
I recently watched three Jack Russell terriers blood-trail a wounded gemsbok in Namibia. It had been four hours since the initial hit and the ground was baked dry and dusty. Yet those little dogs hit the blood trail with a yip, crashed out of sight and soon were barking “treed.” The gemsbok, quite sick but still on its feet, stood its ground while the hunter slipped in to finish it. Four hours from hit to finish wasn’t ideal, but it was much better than never recovering that animal. The blood-tracking terriers saved the day.
While tracking, remember that dogs won’t hesitate to follow blood trails regardless of property boundaries, so you’d better be ready to legally follow. Ask permission from neighbors before taking to a track. And never discount a dog’s nose.
“We track a lot of deer 15 to 20 hours after the shot,” says Jeff Richardson of Richardson Farms Outfitters in Illinois, who has tracked about 400 whitetails. “Most important are the weather conditions. Tracking is best when it’s cool and damp; this keeps the scent close and tight, and the dogs can work these lines well. That’s why we do a lot of very early-morning tracking if the deer was shot the day before.” However, Richardson warns that whitetails have a ferocious will to live. Even with expert dogs and experience, his recovery rate on arrow-wounded deer is around 30 percent. He believes most of the deer he doesn’t recover survive, because he often sees them a few weeks later. So you must realize when to pull a dog off a trail. But even if you think there’s little chance of recovery, don’t be afraid to give a tracking dog a try.
“I’ve used Jagdterriers, Labs, cur dogs, bloodhounds, Bavarian mountain hounds and I’m currently training a Wachtelhund,” says Richardson, “but European wirehaired Dachshunds and Drahthaars are my favorite. Drahthaars are bigger dogs that can get through thick stuff.” Also effective are Louisiana catahoulas, Hanovarian scenthounds, pudelpointers, beagles, southern curs, Jack Russell terriers and mutts with good noses. Generally, small dogs are easy to control on leash, while big breeds are useful for baying or even tackling deer to prevent them from running farther while wounded.
“When training keep it fun and don’t over-work your dog,” says Richardson. “When on a track, try to match your brains with your dog’s skills for a positive outcome.”