August 01, 2018You've spent thousands of dollars on a bow, camo, treestands, land leases, and if you are anything like me, a hundred or two on last minute gimmick impulse purchases right before the season opens. You've shot a few hundred arrows into that foam deer that gallantly and ever so stationary guards your backyard. Your groups are tight, you have everything you could possibly need, and you've even got several shooter bucks on camera. After a long summer of scouting and tending food plots, you are ready.
Opening morning arrives and right on cue your number one buck steps out from the fog and makes his way toward you. He stops in your food plot and gives you a slight quartering away shot. Your 30 yard pin settles in and you let an arrow fly. You hear the tell-tale thwack of an arrow impacting the deer. You gain enough composure to climb down from your stand and you walk towards the hit site. You look around and don't see any blood. You find your arrow, coated with a yellowish-green, foul smelling substance. You walk in the direction you saw the deer run, but to no avail, he is gone. Every piece of equipment, the hours of preparation, the thousands of dollars spent can't replace the one item you don't have...the tool that might just save your season…a tracking dog.
Bloodhound "Indiana" locates a 9 point buck which didn't leave any blood trail to follow.
Before calling all your closest neighbors and grid searching the area, there is a better option here in Michigan you should consider– a deer recovery tracking dog and Michigan Deer Trackers. The popularity of tracking dogs has skyrocketed the past five years, and for good reason. In 2017 alone, over 600 deer were recovered for heartbroken hunters by trained tracking dogs in Michigan. As a dog handler, I get to experience the same lows the hunter is feeling when we interview them about the shot, and the ultimate high as I call out to the hunter that my dog has located their deer. Watching someone wrap their hands around the antlers of their deer for the first time will never get old.
So what can you do to increase your odds of locating your deer?
Before deer season, locate a trained tracking dog in your hunting area and store their number on your phone. Calling as soon as you know something went wrong will dramatically increase your odds. Be prepared. Storing the number for a tracker is no different than that concealed pistol…you hope you never have to use it, but are glad you have it just in case.
Increasing your odds
First things first, allow adequate time for your deer to expire. When left undisturbed for the appropriate amount of time, most fatally wounded deer will bed down fairly quickly and expire in a close proximity from the hit site. When pressured too quickly, an injured deer can run for miles. A heart or lung shot can be tracked as soon as 15 minutes, but to be safe, allow at least an hour or two. Go home and have a cup of coffee and sharpen your knife. A liver shot should be given at least 8-12 hours to expire. A gut shot should be given a minimum of 16-24 hours. Last year my dog located a paunch hit buck 22 hours after the shot, still very much alive. It was surprisingly vibrant for the injuries it sustained from the initial shot the day before. The deer finally succumbed to the follow up shot about 100 yards later.
After waiting the appropriate amount of time to track your deer, tread lightly. Stay off the actual path the deer took so that any blood or hair evidence is not contaminated or spread inadvertently all over. Staying a couple feet to the side will allow a dog to track the undisturbed deer scent. Take photos of any blood or hair, the shaft and fletching of your arrow if you find it. An experienced tracker can help determine if your deer is fatally shot by interviewing you prior to bringing their dog out. Viewing photos of deer sign can also help us solve your mystery.
If all of your own efforts fail, back out and call your tracker. Wait for the dog to come and work its magic. Waiting and scent contamination/dissipation are the two biggest factors you should consider when tracking a deer on your own and are considering a tracking dog. Never grid search alone or with friends. A grid searched area will spread the deer scent in every direction making it more difficult for the dog to follow a direct path to the missing deer.
Losing Blood...Gaining Trust
They are known commonly as blood tracking dogs…but tracking blood is far from what they are following. When a deer is wounded, a surge of adrenaline flows through the animal and causes all sorts of chemical changes within that deer. This allows a dog to pick out the injured deer from every other deer in the woods. The interdigital gland scent between the hoof is unique to each and every deer.
Saliva, digestive gasses, dander, and skin cells are all individual scents a tracking dog can identify and follow. Blood is often our only visual confirmation that we are headed down the same path as the fleeing deer. Here is where a big problem lies. No blood. How do we know our dog is correct and not taking us for a joy ride when there is no blood to follow? The very simple and frightening answer is: we don't. If a handler cannot learn to put complete trust into his dog, that dog will often fail to recover the deer.
Choosing a Dog
So what if you'd like your own dog? What breed should you get?
First and foremost, choose something that will fit with your lifestyle. A 130 pound bloodhound may not be a great choice for your 500 square foot studio apartment. A small dog has never been your cup of tea either, so the dachshund is out for you. Do your research, some dogs need constant exercise and training, and some are more sedentary. Choose a dog that is specifically bred for tracking deer. Bloodlines are important. A small dog may be able to get into those small tight spaces a large dog cannot, and a larger dog may have the stamina a small dog lacks. Many of the dogs in Michigan have been imported from Europe or are first generation litters of imported dogs.
It is not hard to train a tracking dog. But it is very time consuming and takes 100 percent dedication to developing your dog into the best it can be. And keep in mind that tracking deer is dangerous. Every year I hear stories of dogs that are tossed into the air by a deer, or even gored.
When you are ready to commit to training a tracking dog, check out Bavarian Mountain Hounds, Dachshunds, Bloodhounds, Lacy, German Shepherds, Catahoula and Labradors. They are all popular choices for tracking partners.
Peace of Mind
As you wait in your treestand this fall for your trophy buck or freezer filling doe, remember there are options when things don't go quite as planned. Store that local tracker's number in your phone. Be prepared for when things go wrong. It will bring peace of mind knowing you are prepared to do everything possible to recover one of our most precious natural resources.
Michigan Deer Trackers is an organization which promotes the ethical recovery of wounded animals using trained tracking dogs. Each handler is independent and is dedicated to helping hunters in Michigan and surrounding states recover deer. For more information on Michigan Deer Trackers go to their Facebook page, website; www.michigandeertrackers.com or call 517-652-3763.