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By Pat Lefemine
Much of the Text and Photos provided courtesy of Deer Search Inc.

The hit looked great. It was a sharp angle but the arrow was forward into both lungs. I waited for my buddy to calm down and quietly walked over to his treestand. He was pumping his fist and I was equally exciting having witnessed everything from my stand. He verified what I saw - a double lung hit. We waited thirty minutes and took up the trail. Initially the blood was good but after a hundred yards it became harder to find. At two hundred yards we were on our knees searching for specs. We let the deer sit overnight and resumed the next morning. We only found a couple more drops - another hundred yards away. After doing grid patterns and searching the obvious areas a hit-deer would hide, we gave up. To this day the only thing we can surmise was that my buddy hit one lung and we pushed the deer.

It happens to everyone who bowhunts long enough and despite taking precautions - sometimes you just get a bad hit. In 1978 a group of hunters from NY State got together and decided to form a group called Deer Search Inc. Their purpose was to help track wounded deer that would otherwise be lost by conventional tracking methods. Some years later the use of dogs to track wounded animals was legalized in NY and soon other states followed their lead. Today it is legal in a number of states and growing as an accepted method of tracking wounded deer.

You lost the trail, now what?

You've all but given up on the trail and decide that your last resort for finding that wounded animal is with the use of a dog. Whether you have a dog trained, or you call for the services of an organization such as Deer Search Inc. you know that the dog is your only chance of finding your animal. Make sure you mark the last blood sign and go get the dog (and the dogs owner if applicable).

Avoid starting your dog right at the hunters point of loss. This is likely to be the hardest part of the whole scent trail. Obviously the hunter lost the blood trail for a reason. Maybe the deer stopped bleeding, perhaps the deer backtracked or changed direction. For certain the point of loss will be well trampled and saturated with human scent as the hunter searched back and forth to find another spot of blood.

Start by going back and reworking several hundred yards of the visible blood trail that you've already tracked. Unless the point of the shot is a very long way back it is usually worth the time and trouble to start at the very beginning. You may find something (such as an arrow) which you may have missed and you are likely to find some sign to help you evaluate the hit. Reworking the blood line will also familiarize your dog with the individual deer scent you are tracking. Your dog may pick the backtrack, or with the "momentum" picked up on a well-defined scent line it may carry right through the hunter's point of loss and show you more of the line.

Related Bowsite Resources

Remember that even if you run through several hundred yards of the old line the dog may well stall on the hunter's point of loss. The hunter will probably have tracked blood scent and deer scent all over this area on his feet.

If you still can't get started, the best solution may be to lead the dog slowly around in a 50 yard radius, and then again on a 100 yard radius. Watch your dog slowly and she may very well show you another spot of blood beyond the limit of the area contaminated by your hunter's search.

If possible avoid working a young dog on a scent line until it has been clearly established. Take your first calls with someone who has an experienced dog, and let them do the circling and casting if these are the tactics that have to be used to get started. These circling tactics won't hurt an old veteran dog, but they are likely to slow the development of a young dog that is just developing "line sense."

When you see a drop of blood mark it with biodegradable tape. You will save time in the long run if you are able to return with certainty to the marked line. If your dog loses the line later, or seems to get distracted by fresh scent of another deer, it is good to be able to return to a spot of blood and start again.

Continue these steps until the dog finds the deer. Once that happens allow the dog to enjoy his "catch" and be sure to give the dog plenty of praise and positive reinforcement for finding the deer.

Type of Dogs

The NY Deer Search project began with one German Wirehaired Dachshund and is the predominate breed. Other breeds used successfully have been Deutsch Drahthaars, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, a Southern Black Mouth Cur, a Beagle, a Basset Hound and several Bloodhounds. Whether you use a large dog like a Lab or a small dog like a Dachshund is a matter of personal preference. What is essential is a dog with a good nose, intelligence and a desire to please the handler. The dogs must learn to track scent lines of wounded deer, which are a day or more old, and they must ignore the fresher scent of healthy deer which have recently passed.


How the Dogs are Trained

Deer Search works the dogs at all times on a 20 to 30 foot leash which does not hang up as a short leash does. A light clothes line will work however eight (8) mm. mountain climbing cord is good for smaller dogs and the eleven (11) mm. size works better on pointer-sized dogs. Deer Search starts 10 week-old puppies with short 100 foot lines dabbed with deer blood collected from "found" deer and then frozen for later use. Plastic margarine containers work well for this purpose.

It is important to use a "prize" - a piece of deer skin, a deer tail or leg at the end of the line. Age the line 15 minutes or so and let the pup bark at and chew on the prize when he finds it. When the pup shows signs of concentrating and enjoying the track start working with longer, and older, lines laid out with drops of deer blood from a squeeze bottle. You can also place the blood with a small square of sponge tied to a stick.

Place a frozen deer skin at the end of the line. Mark out your line with strips of paper stapled to trees or with surveyors' tape so that you can visualize the line when the blood is too thin to be seen by eye. Use a drop or a dab of blood at every stride. Start with easy lines aged from two to four hours. A line of three to four hundred yards is plenty. As the dog improves use less blood, age the lines up to 24 hours, and increase the distance up to half a mile.

Talk to your dog and give him lots of praise especially when he finds the deer. It is better to let the dog make his own mistakes and figure out how to correct himself. You do not want to develop a dog which is dependent upon you for guidance. Don't overdo the training. The dog learns best if tracking has not become a chore with lots of heavy discipline. Generally one training session with one line each week is plenty. Most dogs run into problems in tracking because they get bored or distracted by more interesting things like hot deer lines.

Motivate the dog with praise and positive reinforcement. Before a dog becomes useful for finding wounded deer he must be able to maintain concentration on the old wounded deer scent line even when confronted by a healthy deer or a hot line. Once the dog knows what is expected he should be worked over blood lines laid where deer are known to be present.

Once the dog can follow a blood line laid with ½ pint of blood and aged 20 to 24 hours he should be capable of finding many wounded deer that cannot be tracked by eye. The dog will improve a great deal more with field experience maturity. Typically dogs take two years or more reach their potential. They continue to improve until eight or ten. Letting the dog "find" easy, dead deer that have been successfully eye-tracked by hunters is another way to train dogs or to reinforce the training with artificial bloodlines.

Regulations on tracking dog use

Indiana - dogs may be used while on a leash only to track or trail wounded game. No special license is required.

Texas - it is permitted to use up to two dogs to track wounded deer in certain counties. A deer hunting license is required, but no other special license. The dogs may be worked off lead. For more information contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 1-800-792-1112 Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

British Columbia - it is possible to track wounded deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats with leashed tracking dogs as a legal activity authorized by the appropriate hunting licenses and permits.

South - The use of tracking dogs is generally permitted in those states or counties where the use of dogs to drive deer to hunters is permitted. This includes substantial parts of the South. In most states it is worth exploring the possibilities of tracking by calling your local conservation officer. This officer may refer you higher up the chain of command.

Wisconsin - wounded deer are tracked under arrangements made with the local conservation officers. It is definitely not permitted to use firearms or a bow to dispatch wounded deer after dark. Wisconsin residents should contact their local conservation officers for more information.

Michigan - has also announced legalization of leashed tracking dogs. A special license is not required. The dog must be kept on a leash and no one in attendance can possess a firearm or bow and arrow. If the tracking is done at night, a light of the type ordinarily carried in the hand may be used (e.g. flashlight, lantern). A dog that barks while tracking the deer cannot be used on public lands.

New York - Leashed Tracking Dog bill requires a test for receiving the Leashed Tracking Dog License.  Applications may be obtained from the N.Y.S.D.E.C Special Licensing Unit, 50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12233. Telephone: 518-457-0689. A fee of $125.00 is charged for a five year license. Leashed tracking dogs in New York State are required to be licensed by the State Department of Agriculture and Markets.   Licensed dog handlers are authorized to track wounded deer and bear during the day or at night with an artificial light. Dogs must be leashed at all times. Animals judged unlikely to survive are to be humanely dispatched (See detailed regulations for use of firearms). Before each attempt to track a wounded deer or bear the handler must notify the local Conservation Officer. It is strongly recommended that other local law enforcement agencies be notified as well.    

Vermont - regulations for leashed tracking dogs were closely modeled after those of New York. Information on licensing can be obtained by writing: Agency of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street (10 South), Waterbury, VT 05671-0501. Telephone: 802-241-3700. Licensed dog handlers are authorized to track wounded deer and bear during the day or at night with an artificial light. Dogs must be leashed at all times. Animals judged unlikely to survive are to be humanely dispatched (See detailed regulations for use of firearms). Before each attempt to track a wounded deer or bear the handler must notify the local Conservation Officer. It is strongly recommended that other local law enforcement agencies be notified as well.

Maine - rules are modeled on similar programs in New York and Vermont. A special license is required to assist hunters in finding wounded or dead deer. Those who charge a fee for the service will have to also be licensed guides, although anyone who obtains the dog tracking license can provide the service if no fee is charged.

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