Tradition and legalities of tracking wounded big game with dogs
Using dogs to help find wounded deer is as old as Man's prehistoric relationship with wolf-like hunting dogs. In its modern form blood tracking with dogs is most highly developed in Germany and other countries in Europe. In North America dogs were used on the frontier to find wounded big game, and this practice has continued in certain areas where it has not been specifically prohibited. In much of the United States blood tracking with a dog, even on a leash, became a prohibited activity, outlawed along with the general abolition of the use of dogs in deer hunting. Recent legislative and regulatory changes have once again permitted the use of tracking dogs in 20 states where it was once illegal. In the South and in certain specified counties of Texas the use of dogs to find wounded deer has continued in the forms that it took in the days when this area was first inhabited by white men. In the Province of British Columbia the use of dogs to find wounded game is legal on leash for hoofed game animals and off leash for bear.
Hunting regulations in North America are controlled by the states and provinces, except when endangered species are involved. Therefore, any hunter who is interested in the possibilities of blood tracking must consult the legal authorities of the state or province. In general dogs were outlawed in all forms of deer hunting when deer became rare in most of the Northeast and Midwest, at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Hunting was legally defined in such a way that the use of leashed tracking dogs to find any deer that might have been wounded was also rendered illegal. Because of the open country in most of the West the use of dogs in driving deer made less sense, but the prohibitions against using dogs in all forms of deer hunting, including deer hunting, was established there also.
In the areas where dogs are prohibited in all forms of deer hunting, some sort of legal authorization is required. In New York State, where we are located, a special tracking license is mandatory. One must pass a difficult examination and pay a fee of $50.00 for a five-year license. Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire also enacted legislation virtually identical to the New York State model. Other states, which have legalized the use of leashed tracking dogs are: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin. Details of regulations vary from state to state. For more information go to the United Blood Trackers website.
If you hunt in a state or province that currently has no legal provision for blood tracking, you will probably have to enter into a discussion with your Fish and Game Department. The first reaction of wildlife officials may well be negative out of a concern for the administrative work which might be involved, and because they see blood tracking as a possible cover for unethical and illegal hunting activity. You will have greater persuasive power, if you can show that you have the backing of sportsmen's organizations in your state.
How we do it
Each year our dachshunds are called upon to track over 30 wounded deer and an occasional bear. The dogs are worked on a thirty-foot tracking leash made of stiff, light mountain climbing rope that seldom tangles in dense cover. Since we live in the Northeast, the hunter has almost always made a very thorough attempt to find the deer on his own before we were called in. The dog has to work through an area that has been tracked up by the hunter, on through his point of loss and beyond to where there is not enough visible blood for eyetracking. Situations in which the game backtracked are frequently encountered. The scent lines we follow range from 6 to 30 hours old, and they have always been crossed by the tracks of many uninjured deer. The dog must discriminate and focus only on the wounded deer.
Moderate rain or snow on the scent line is no problem at all, but dry, windy conditions often make tracking difficult or impossible. The leashed tracking dog method is not magic, and of course the deer or bear must be seriously injured if the dog and handler are going to catch up. About 2/3 of the deer we find are dead.
The difficulty of tracking a wounded deer depends upon the nature of the wound and upon atmospheric conditions more than the age of the track. Bear, which often leave little blood trail, are nonetheless easy to track because of their very strong body and footprint scent.
When we talk with a hunter on the phone, we gather as much information as we can about any blood, hair or bone fragments that were seen at the hit site or along the track. We try to rule out calls where there is very little chance of recovering the deer.
In recent years coyotes have become very numerous in New York. They have learned to take advantage of hunters and find the deer first. If you value your venison donít follow the old tradition and wait until morning. The coyotes donít wait.