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Monday, October 6, 2008

Blood tracking with beagles

Today we received this e-mail from Dustin Hoover in Maryland.

Dear John and Jolanta,

I am interested in starting a deer tracking club in Md .I live in Pasadena, which is about central Md . I have been training a beagle pup for about 10 weeks now and he is only 18 weeks old. He has found 4 of 5 deer in the past 3 weeks of our bow season. They have been trails that decent hunters could have followed and found, but we have left it up to him and he has done great.

I talked to Jolanta the night I was going to go look at the dogs and she gave me great advise. He is from an award winning breed of rabbit Beagles but at this time doesn't know what a rabbit is. He is our house pet and has just amazed me and others at his skills during training exercises and on live trails. I have only read a little about training a dog like this. I have heard that many people in my area have been trying to train dogs to track. I figure this would be a fun thing to start a club and get these folks together for the common cause.

Please enjoy the photo of Gunner and his first find.

Thank you, Dustin Hoover

Thank you Dustin, and congratulations on such a promising puppy. There are quite a few people tracking in Maryland and I would suggest that you contact Andy Bensing 610-413-7094. Andy is in Germany now and we’ll back in the next few days. Even though Andy lives in PA, he tracks in MD and he knows other trackers there. I would also suggest that you join yourself. No need to re-invent a wheel; information and support are available for people who want to get involved.

This e-mailmade me realize that it would be a good time to post John's article on blood tracking with beagles. Here it is.

Blood Tracking with Beagles

© 2007 John Jeanneney

I get many questions concerning beagles as tracking dogs. Usually they come from people who have not been very much involved with beagles. But they do know that there are a lot of good beagles around; they sense that this talent could be used for tracking wounded deer and bear. And they are right. My own personal preference, in my part of the country, may be for properly bred wirehaired dachshunds, but I’ve admired beagles for a long time. I personally own a very good “gun dog” beagle. I’m currently in a beagle club, and I have been a member of a beagle club for most of the past twenty years.

One of the things that surprises me about my fellow beagle club members is that most of them can’t even think about a beagle as anything else but a rabbit hound. If they can’t sell all their pups to rabbit hunters and field trialers, they let them go as simple suburban pets. So much talent going to waste at a time when there is a crying need for tracking dogs!

The biggest plus of a good beagle is nose. You can get more nose in a thirty pound beagle package than in any other comparably sized dog. Nose is very important in a tracking dog, although it’s not the only thing. What is done with the information the nose brings in is even more important. Still, superior nose is very nice to have when you are working a 24 hour line, with no visible blood, on a dry, windy day.

The whole subject of beagles is far more complex than a lot of people realize. You can’t talk about all beagles as if they are clones of the same basic dog. Of course there are “good” ones and “bad” ones. But going beyond this, there are different types of beagles with very different, genetically based, working styles. At one end of the spectrum you have the brace trial beagle, which tracks a rabbit at a slow, walking pace, tonguing on every footprint and boring a hole in the ground with his nose when he comes to a difficult check or a point where there is no scent. At the other extreme there are the hare hounds, sometimes called large pack beagles, which run like a hurricane with terrific drive to overtake their prey. The hare hounds do better on a strong-scented northern hare than on a cottontail.

In the middle, between brace and hare hounds are the “gundog” beagles, which are judged in a small pack format at field trials. Ideally they are supposed to drive the rabbit at a moderate pace while maintaining good line control.

Many good beagles are never field trialed at all, but it is worth discussing field trial hounds to make the point that beagles have enormous variability. You can’t just say “I want to buy a good beagle, as you might say “I want to buy a five pound container of oatmeal.”

What you need for tracking wounded game is a beagle between the extremes of brace and large pack working styles. The hound must have enough initiative to reach a bit if it runs out of scent line. On the other hand you don’t want a hyped-up speed demon that might fit into the large pack scene, but lacks patience and responsiveness to the handler.

What you are looking for is a calm, steady beagle, the type that rides around with the boss in the cab of the pick-up, a dog that can adjust to circumstances, walk out a tough line when he has to, but drift it at a good pace when the going is easy. The hound has to love his tracking work and at the same time stay calm and focused.

Ronny Smith, down in Washington, Georgia had a beagle that could be taken as a model. When hunters in the area couldn’t find a deer, they would just go over to Ronny’s. If Ronny wasn’t home, the tracking leash was always hanging by the kennel. The local custom, which seems pretty laid back to us uptight Northern types, was to take the beagle out yourself is Ronny wasn’t around. The old beagle would ride out in the hunter’s pick-up, do the job, and then get driven back to his kennel. He loved his work so much that he would do it for anyone. Such beagles are not easy to find these days.

Once you realize that you can’t select a beagle on the basis of its AKC brand name, there are still some problems. Even great beagles are not the fastest learners when it comes to staying on the right scent line. And in wounded deer tracking, the essence of the art is being able to stay on the right scent line, overlain as it may be by a crisscrossing of hot lines and with no visible blood. You have to keep in mind that the beagle was developed as a pack hound, relating more to his pack mates than to his handler. At first he is not as likely to be all that concerned about what his handler’s desires; a beagle’s first priority is to run game with no special concern about whether it is wounded.

Tim Nichols, of Granville, New York has for seven straight years found more deer than any other handler in Deer Search. His fifteen inch beagle, Mickey, is quite a hound, and it’s unfortunate that he is nearing the end of his brilliant career. Tim admits that he had trouble with Mickey at first, because he would often go with a good scent line, even if it wasn’t the right deer. Mickey wasn’t a boy wonder, but once he got his lesson straight he was formidable. With beagle tracking hounds you have to be patient, but it can be worth the wait.

Tim Nichols with Mickey in 1998, when Mickey was a young hound.

Dana McLain in Arenzville, Illinois is a deer guide and outfitter, who got a started tracking beagle from Tim. Shiloh found a lot of wounded deer for Dana’s clients before getting run over in a tragic accident right on the farm. That beagle not only learned to stay on the right line; he was also smart enough to tune out rabbit scent when he was wearing his tracking collar and lead. Otherwise in the off season, Shiloh usually had a good rabbit run every day on Dana’s farm. It was a good way to keep him in shape.

Of course not all tracking puppies measure up to expectations, and with the scent hounds there may be more wastage than with Labs or curdogs for example. There are exceptions to this of course, but this seems to be a consensus among houndsmen, especially when they are talking about someone else’s breeding. One of the good things about a small hound like a beagle is that you don’t have to put him down if he doesn’t make the grade. It is nice to know that if your pup does not work out, there will be plenty of beagle pet lovers to take him. They will be much less critical than you are. Just hope that the new owner won’t breed him to a pug and start selling high-priced “puggles”.

Beagles are bred to tongue on the trail, and unlike a dachshund, a Lab or a curdog they will open while tracking a wounded deer. Tim Nichols tells me that Mickey opens if the scent line is less than a half hour old under good scenting conditions. In Georgia I saw Randy Vick’s beagle/treeing Walker hound Bob tongue continuously on a line that was six hours old. Tim and Randy both work their hounds on a 30 foot tracking leash.

Tim and Randy have no problems with their talkative hounds, but every individual has to decide what is best for him. Personally, I have tracked through suburban woods at midnight when I was happy to have a tighter mouthed dog. The Michigan regulations state that “A dog that barks while tracking the deer shall not be used on public lands.”

If you are planning to buy a beagle for tracking work, it pays to do some research. The sire and dam may not be tracking dogs, but you can learn something about the prospects of the pup by observing the working style of the parents on a rabbit or hare. You don’t want something wild and crazy; on the other hand you don’t want a hound that can only track from footprint to footprint. He will be more useful if he can put footprint and body scent together.

Some beagles are not especially responsive to their handlers, and I don’t think that this is all a matter of genetics. When beagles spend most of their lives in isolated kennels, this doesn’t help them to relate well with humans. The most important time for developing dog/human relations in a puppy is between seven and twelve weeks. If your beagle pup has spent those weeks in a kennel with little human contact, it will be difficult to repair the damage later on.

Effective tracking requires closer handler/dog communication than other types of hunting. Don’t overlook this point as you acquire and develop your future tracking partner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe that your dog must like the blood. I had a beagle that,at 9 months,figured he liked the blood. We had taken a deer and field dressed it. My lil man would drink the blood from the cavity. I used the blood itself from the wounded deer to start him off.I also never put him on a leash per say. I bought a body harness for this purpose. When i broke out the harness he knew what his job was. I'd take the blood of the deer, put it to his nose, tell him to find the blood. In his short career her was 5 for 5 finding downed deer. Just saying what I used might be helpful