Those who are interested probably know by now that dachshunds are tracking wounded deer in many states. The total number of wounded deer found by dachshunds now exceeds 2000 (in 2003) and their reputation is established. What remains a quasi secret is the role that dachshunds have been playing in assisting Conservation Officers and other Police Officers.
Many dachshund trackers have received a cheery invitation at midnight to come out and track an illegally shot deer. It is difficult for a Conservation Officer to make a case for conviction if the deer shot by the poacher or “jack lighter” is not found and sent to a forensic lab for examination.
A tracking dachshund can find a deer that runs off into dense cover to die, but we have learned that they can also follow the scent of a deer that has been carried to a house or vehicle. Poachers will do this to avoid incriminating drag marks, but there is plenty of scent coming down from the carcass, which a dog can follow. Even the threat of calling in a tracking dog has resulted in confessions and guilty pleas.
Often one Conservation Officer in an area will have a trained dog for enforcement work. Usually these are German Shepherds trained to scent game hidden in vehicles or outbuildings so that there is “probable cause” for a search. These dogs are also trained to deal with uncooperative suspects, but as a rule they are not trained to track wounded deer in the woods. These are the situations in which a handy little dachshund is very useful.
This summer an enterprising Conservation Officer called me to come and try something that I had never even considered. A large male bear had been found dead about 50 yards in from a populated country road. The bear had died from a gunshot wound and had been dead for at least two days. The Conservation Officer’s idea was to track the bear backward to determine the location where it had been shot.
The trick was to get into the woods and pick up the line without letting my dachshund Sabina either see or scent the bear. Fortunately the wind was favorable and the line was old enough so that Sabina could not determine its correct direction. The bear had not gone far because it has been hard hit. The line backwards seemed to terminate on a lawn behind a house, and there was evidence that a shot had been taken out of the back door. The bear, including a thousand blowflies, went to a forensic lab for analysis.
Deer hit by motor vehicles often flounder off the highway and go some distance. It is important to determine their status and put them down if they are suffering. Legal authorization is required for this. A deer can have broken legs and be badly broken up inside, and yet produce no external bleeding. The dog must track the individual deer, which is of course something that an experienced dachshund can do.
In the late 1980s a young bull moose wandered down into southern New York State, where he was definitely out of place. It was almost inevitable that he would wander in front of a car on a well-traveled highway. It appeared that the vehicle sustained more damage than the moose, but just to make sure two Deer Search dogs and their handlers, Don Hickman and Roger Humeston, were called in by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The two wirehaired dachshunds had never smelled a moose, but it was not difficult for them to make the adjustment from wounded deer. They took the DEC Officers along the track for about a mile. There was just enough blood to identify the line, but the moose seemed to be moving well on all four legs. There was sufficient evidence that the moose would be all right, and the tracking operation was terminated.
Bear are also hit occasionally on highways. In the summer of 2000 Bob Boccolucci of Stockton in western New York was called in to track a bear, which had been struck by a truck-towed flatbed trailer. The public was concerned not only for the bear, but for their own safety.
The Conservation Officers had only been able to track the injured bear a hundred yards, but Bob’s wirehaired dachshund Vrena picked up the scent line much later the same day. Vrena led the Conservation Officers about a half mile through swamps to where the bear lay severely injured but not dead.
My favorite bear story involves a brave little dachshund that breathed her last breath this past week at the age of 14. In honor of Crystal I would like to present the story full-length in the form that it was originally written.
Crystal was a little old wirehaired dachshund, 18 pounds little and 13 years old. She didn’t quite fit the image of the dog to track a bad, wounded bear, but this is the true story of what she did on July 22, 2002. Her owner and handler is Gary Huber of Hamburg in western New York. Crystal and Gary were a tracking team for 12 years and found many wounded deer together.
The story takes place in North Harmony, Chautauqua County, beautiful farming country, which hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. Currently this is a “no bear hunting” part of New York, but this restriction may change. Right now some of the bears of Chautauqua County lack respect for humans.
On the morning of July 22, a bear came right into Dennis Stratton’s barn and grabbed a big Holstein calf that was tied up there. Mrs. Stratton was in the barn working, and she saw it all. Her presence didn’t seem to bother the 250-pound male bear a bit. He broke the rope on the calf and dragged it out into the pasture where he killed it. The bear was still out there enjoying his veal when the deputy sheriff arrived at Mrs. Stratton’s call.
The deputy took a shot at the bear from 90 yards with his 12 gauge slug gun; the bear spun around, ran a few strides and then walked slowly out of the field, across a road and into a big woods. As happens so frequently, the bear hair soaked up most of the blood and very little made it to the ground. The sheriff’s deputy was able to track the bear for only about sixty yards before it crossed a road and went into a big woods. At this point the bear stopped leaving any blood trail at all.
The next step was to bring in reinforcements and a canine unit. These German shepherds had never been trained for tracking wounded deer or bear, and they did not seem much interested. Neither the dogs, nor the men, could make any progress tracking the bear. Then the authorities turned to the Western Chapter of Deer Search. They called Gary Huber who lives an hour and a half away.
At 13, Gary’s dachshund Crystal was a little past her prime, so Gary invited another Deer Search handler, Craig Frank, to come along too with his tracking dog, a big German wirehaired pointer named Fritz. The bear’s departure route through the woods had been pretty well muddled up by the sheriff’s crew and other helpers, and then there had been a heavy rain shower.
First Big Fritz was placed on a mark where there had been some blood before the rain. Fritz either couldn’t smell anything or he just wasn’t interested. The final option was to try Old Crystal. Bears do leave a lot of scent and Crystal picked it up right away.
She worked through a couple of points where blood had been marked earlier, and then she tracked across the road into the big woods. She followed the scent trail down a ravine into a creek bed, in and back out of a tangled deadfall, and then into the timber again. At this point a call came in on the cell phone. A bear, “running at full gait”, had just crossed a road about a mile ahead where spotters had been posted. It seemed like this bear couldn’t be hit very hard, but there was just a chance that it was a different bear than the wounded one. Gary wanted to keep going and verify that the bear seen was the one that Crystal was tracking.
They went about a half mile more; the briars got thicker and it was getting dark. Gary had Conservation Officer Frank Lauricella right at his shoulder with a slug gun. There were shells in the magazine, but at Gary’s request the chamber was empty. Gary moved up close to Crystal on the 30 foot tracking lead so that all but about eight feet of it were dragging out behind him. Then the bear stood up out of the briars right in front of Crystal who backed up barking. As Gary went for his handgun, he heard a click from Frank’s shotgun. The chamber was empty, and for a moment things were a bit tense. The bear seemed about ten feet away, but he was wobbling and obviously pretty sick. Frank got a shell into the chamber, made his shot and it was all over.
The original wounding shot in the field near the barn had entered the chest cavity about six inches behind the shoulder. But because of the angle it had not penetrated deeply enough into the chest. Still it was surprising that the bear went so far with a wound that would have eventually killed him. The bear’s big head and small ears suggested that he was fully mature, but he was very thin. If he had carried the normal amount of fat, he would have weighed much more than his estimated 250 pounds. The whole carcass was sent off to the wildlife pathology lab at the other end of the state to be checked out.
Crystal liked the bear dead more than when he was alive. She had a good chew.
Crystal is already a Deer Search Hall of Fame dog and this was an impressive performance to wind down her tracking career. Gary’s underwear checked out fine, but he was pretty wound up and had some trouble sleeping that night.