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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The French Connection - Blood Tracking Workshop in Quebec, Canada

by John Jeanneney
Full Cry June 2009

One of the North American hot spots for tracking wounded big game with tracking dogs is certainly going to be Quebec. They shoot a lot of moose up there, and with their early season starting in September many of these moose are not found until after the meat has spoiled. If a moose is shot in the late afternoon of a warm day and left to be found in the morning, chances are that the meat will be inedible. That means that the equivalent of 400 pounds of deboned meat is wasted. Because the body mass of a moose is so great, and the heavy coat is such good insulation, the animal spoils from its own body heat.

Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife decided that their existing laws did allow for blood tracking, although their interpretation, as it was written, is not very practical. For example a firearm cannot be carried while tracking with a dog.

In good part because of the influence of guides and outfitters, interest began to grow among hunters in general. When I gave a workshop last June at St- Apollinaire near Quebec city, there were about 35 enthusiastic people in attendance. An organization was formed after the workshop, and it was called the “Association of Tracking Dog Handlers of Quebec”. (The French acronym for this jawbreaker is ACCSQ.) This year’s workshop, which I attended as a member of the Association, drew 66 people who paid $100.00 or more for the two days. The Association had also opened up discussions with the Ministry about improving their regulations in various ways. A representative of the Ministry was present at the workshop.

The new Association in Quebec had made fruitful contacts with the French, multi breed tracking organization, UNUCR, which has over 2000 members. Some of these, like Patrice Stoquert, a forester whom I accompanied in 2007, take 100s of calls a year. Certainly the big game species in Europe are quite different from those of Quebec and there is a wild boar problem much more serious than the wild hawg issues of our American South. In France wild boars tear up the agricultural fields as if they had been invaded by a drunken gang of giant rototillers; wild boars even invade the suburbs to raid garbage cans. Boar hunting drives go on in France through most of the year, and this makes for a lot of tracking. But despite the differences in game species almost all of the French experience is valid for Quebec and the rest of North America.

The Association brought over from France my friend Patrice Stoquert, who uses Labs, and Philippe Rainaud, who tracks with European wirehaired dachshunds of the type I use myself. Wirehaired dachshunds are the most widely used blood tracking dogs in France, and it looks like dogs of this breed, also known as “teckels”, have already become the most popular dogs for this work in Quebec. No one seems deterred by the fact that moose or even a black bear are considerable bigger that a 20 pound dachshund or that the handler and accompanying hunter cannot carry a firearm. I hope that the regulations are changed before someone gets hurt.

Stoquert and Rainaud are old hands at giving workshops in France and they have a smooth, well-organized presentation. I have presented a few workshops myself on the subject, but there were important new things that I learned from them.

One of the first things to be learned in wounded game tracking is to evaluate the hit site for information about where the animal has been hit. This is pretty straightforward, but Stoquert and Rainaud showed that there is more to it than meets the ordinary eye at the hit site. They hung a road-killed deer up in a standing position about ten feet in front of several different lightweight tarps of white plastic. Then they shot through the deer with various high power rifles, a 12 gauge slug gun and bowhunting arrows. The holes and splatters on the tarps showed that there was actually a cone-shaped spray of metal particles, tissue and bone fragments around the bullet hole in the tarp behind the deer. It could also be seen that the projectile sometimes changed its trajectory by as much as 30 degrees in passing through the animal. Observers could see that a wider and more careful search for sign at the hit site would yield a better sense of what the tracking task ahead might produce.

Road killed deer hung up to demonstrate how bullets and particles exit from an animal that has been shot. Yves Martineau, ACCSQ President is holding rifle.

Rainaud also pointed out that an experienced dog, one with a hundred calls or so in his memory bank, can also inform us about the condition of the animal being tracked. If you know how to read your dog, his body language and the looks that he gives you over the first few 100 yards of track, you will know whether to forge ahead to the end, or on the other hand, pick up the dog. Stoquert and Rainaud, pointed out again and again through the weekend just how important practical experience is for both the handler and the tracking dog. Breed and genetics are an important base, but great tracking dogs are made on the trail, a trail that may be 24 hours old with little or no blood.

As previously stated, Stoquert and Rainaud are Lab and dachshund men, respectively. Therefore, they are thankful that they are licensed to track in France rather than in Germany. In Germany, using these two breeds, they would not be qualified to become licensed trackers. In Germany only handlers of the specialized blood tracking breeds can acquire a state license, subsidies and the authorization to track onto any property, even without landowner permission. In most of the German states this means having a Hanover blood hound, a Bavarian mountain blood hound or a dachshbracke. There is a lot of politics behind these state preferences and prejudices.

Actually Stoquert, a French forester with a British Lab, is invited to track at the big state sponsored drive hunts in Germany across the border from where he lives. The hunt managers are most interested in what a dog can accomplish!

Both Stoquert and Rainaud praised the nose of the bloodhound-based Hanover blood hound and Bavarian mountain blood hound. But they pointed out that both dogs are slow to develop psychologically. Their period of wacky adolescence often extends to three years. At the other end, their lives are comparatively short; they are usually dead or too old to work by the time they are eight. On average they have only about five years to fulfill themselves in the tasks for which they were bred. In contrast a dachshund or a Lab will be useful for double that length of time.

Patrice Stoquert, French workshop presenter from UNUCR, giving advice to Jacques Dion on handling his wirehaired dachshund.

The workshop was divided about equally between indoor discussion and field work using a few demo dogs at various stages of development. There was a tendency for even the more experienced Quebec dogs to work too fast. If you have to run to keep up with the dog at the end of the tracking leash, you are going way too fast to see the blood sign that will help indicate the condition of the deer. They pointed out that an excessively fast dog wastes more time than he saves. Tracking dogs in Europe are trained to point out blood sign, and some do this naturally with little training. Partnership and cooperation between handler and dog are at the heart of tracking wounded big game. Obedience training is important, but “command and obey” are not enough.

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