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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why We Track

by John Jeanneney for Full Cry March 2010

At some point all of us dog folks have to step back and consider what we have done with our lives…and what we are going to do with the rest of life that lies ahead. This is not always easy. Whatever you have been doing, beyond earning a living, seems like an empty time-waster to someone else who doesn’t understand it. Well, you do what you have to do, and you don’t live just to please someone else. But sometimes it firms up your own determination and gives you some comfort if you can explain your passion to yourself and recognize it in others. I began stewing about all this at New Year’s Resolution Time, and now in March the stew is starting to thicken into something that tastes pretty good. As regular readers of this column know by now, my own strange passion is working with a good dog to track and find wounded deer and bear.

      One of the things that has helped me understand myself better comes from communicating with other trackers, The United Blood Trackers organization has on its website ( a forum where member trackers swap stories, give advice and share their thoughts. Through this forum I learned that I was not alone in my extreme fascination with tracking. As a matter of fact I learned that some of my friends there were even more extreme! I would like to quote some of their confessions to being an addict, so passionate for tracking wounded whitetails that it becomes even more important than hunting them from a deer stand.
      The majority of serious tracking dog handlers were serious hunters to begin with. They were avid deer hunters; many of the best also had a strong background of coon hunting at night. It is difficult for a “normal” hunter to imagine that a tracker, who was once a dedicated deer hunter, could actually become so carried away that he prefers tracking to waiting in the woods on a deer stand.
     Money doesn’t seem to be a big motivator for most of the trackers I know. They may take gas money, but they don’t see tracking as an important way to increase family income.

A good example of this psychological transformation was expressed on the United Blood Trackers discussion forum. Greg Accardo, who lives in Louisiana, wrote:
      The other day I tracked a six pointer for a hunter who wanted to pay me for finding the deer. I told him "no need to" because what I do is a volunteer service, and I enjoy working with my dogs. Then he asked me something that was shocking, only because of my response, or, lack of response. He asked "do you hunt", meaning he wanted to invite me to come and hunt on his place with him for my service. And I had to think for a minute, Do I hunt? The question really put me on the spot because it forced me to think back to the last time I hunted.
     Four years ago I looked into buying a blood tracking dog for the same reasons most people do. I was tired of losing deer that were hard to track. Before that time nobody hunted more than I did. And when I wasn't hunting, I was preparing for hunting season. Then I bought a dog from Andy Bensing, trained it, and now I have a good and loyal tracking dog, But when someone asks me "Do you hunt", I have look at my self after four years and say "not much at all". This experience with blood tracking has changed me. I can honestly say, this dog thing has changed my life. Instead of sitting in a bow stand for hours, I sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. Instead of spending the off-season working with hunting gear, I work with my dog. Do I miss the hunting? I don't think so because my passion has shifted. Is that a good thing or bad thing? I guess it depends on the individual. This I do know, after all the deer I've killed in my life time, maybe close to 200, nothing tops the feeling of excitement I get working with my dog and finding that deer and watching her act like she's conquered the world. The final question is, Will I ever hunt again with as much drive and passion as before, I don't know. All I do know is I've found my new passion, and I'm not ready to trade it for something else.
Greg Accardo on right after a worthwhile day with his tracking dogs.

 Joe Walters in Indiana responded, I couldn't have said it any better. I agree totally. I gave up deer hunting to also sit by the phone after finding my hunt site was a dead zone for my cell phone. I track in seven different counties. All I ask for is gas money. Never over twenty dollars. I've also had many hunters ask why I don't charge for my services. I then ask them if they get paid to hunt. I get more enjoyment from a find by my dachshund Doc than any big or small game that I've ever shot. Sunday I refused gas money from a young lad that arrowed his first deer. You have the same feelings I have and I believe it extends through all the members of UBT. 
Dick Blythe and Joe Walters' Doc

Jeff Murphy of Michigan wrote, I thought that I was the only one that felt this way. I have only been tracking for a couple years but (I find) myself sitting in the woods hoping that someone else will get a shot at a deer and call me. It is addicting and amazing how much a dog bonds with you when you start tracking as a team.

What are the explanations for this shifting of priorities from hunting to tracking? First let’s recognize that tracking is psychologically, if not legally, hunting in another form. Our hardwired passion to hunt has not been lost; it has been transformed.
      We can speculate that part of this is the fascination of bonding with our tracking dog, another social species that extends our own capabilities and understandings as we track lost game. Dog and man search together and become more than the simple sum of two individuals. For me personally, this is a very big factor.
      Part of our new fascination may be in response to a declining interest in, killing game animals for ourselves. In the first decades of a hunting life we have something to prove. “The bigger the trophy buck, the better the man”. Later in life the killing and claiming part of hunting becomes less important to us. But in its new form, as a passion for tracking, the desire to hunt remains very much a part of us.
      We continue to seek the human camaraderie of the hunt, and we learn that there is no better way to make a new friend than to help him find his game and share his joy.
      Finally we know that tracking and finding wounded big game animals is the right thing to do. We know that we reduce animal suffering and prevent the waste of a valuable natural resource. This final, politically correct reason for tracking is probably the one that we mention first to outsiders. Fortunately this reason is reinforced in our own minds by the powerful and primitive motivations we have to go out on a cold, rainy night to find someone else’s deer.

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