By Andy Bensing
On a recent hot, humid morning I received a phone call that really made my day. It was the first week of August and deer season was still 1 ½ months away. The last thing I expected that morning was a chance to go blood tracking. But much to my surprise on the other end of the phone was the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife asking me to come and track a wounded bear. Wow! A pre-season track and for a bear no less. Tracking a bear is a real treat for most blood trackers. I had tracked a few in years past up in New York State but never with my current dog Eibe. I had trained my dog on bear blood a few times and encountered them as cross trails in some training exercises but never actually tracked one. I could not wait to get in the field that afternoon.
The Park Police eye tracked the blood trail for about 385 meters and the blood petered out at the edge of a swampy thicket. The NJDFW also brought out their bear harassment dog, a black mouth cur, in an attempt to locate the wounded bear but were unable to locate him. The bear harassment dogs are not really trained to track but it was certainly worth a try. The harassment dogs are normally used by being visually put on bears just like goose dogs keep geese off golf courses.
Until I finished my work for the day in Pennsylvania and drove the 105 miles to NJ it was 4:30 PM when I arrived. The plan was to track the bear on leash with my wirehaired dachshund and have the handler of the bear harassment dog follow behind about 30 meters back. From the description of the wound, it was not very likely the bear would be found dead. Our goal was to hopefully get close enough to see the bear get up out of his bed and then release the cur dog who would be able to easily tree it. Once treed, the bear's identity could be confirmed and then he could be dispatched.
I started Eibe at the spot the bear was initially shot and she easily took up the trail and led us to the swampy thicket where the visual blood trail ended. From her actions in the small thicket, I would say the bear likely spent some time there and likely left the thicket when the eye trackers approached. It took about 15 minutes for Eibe to figure out the bear's exit from the thicket but eventually she got it figured out. The bear looped back and worked his way up onto a ridge that the bear followed for about 1000 meters before dropping off the side into the next swampy thicket much like the one he had been tracked to in the first place.
After the point of loss, myself nor any of the wildlife officials accompanying me saw any blood. Eibe was working strictly by the individual scent of the wounded bear itself. Because of the thick fur and fat cover a bear has, the blood trail left by a bear is usually minimal. That's the bad news but the good news is that they are pretty smelly from a dog's point of view and are generally easy to trail even if they are no longer dropping blood. As we tracked along at about 850 meters after the point of loss Eibe found and clearly indicated to me a small bear track. I had seen her check out a few larger tracks along the way but this was the first one she actually indicated. About 200 meters later after dropping off the top of the ridge she indicated another identically sized track as well. 150 meters after that while I was on my belly crawling through the second thicket she locked up solid in front of me and when I finally crawled up to her she was standing directly in the middle of the bear's wound bed. I could tell she was extremely proud of herself for finding it. I was very happy with her as well. In training I teach her to stop and stand at significant points of sign along the track and she clearly knew this was important. The only problem was that in my haste to run out the door to take this surprise out of season track I did not bring any treats along to reward her for finding sign. When I gave her the okay to continue tracking she just stood there and kept looking for me to give her a treat. All I could do was praise her like crazy and after a few seconds she finally continued on. I will stick a few biscuits in my tracking pack as emergency spares so that does not happen again.
It took a little time to work our way out of the thicket. Just like the first thicket the bear had entered, it appeared the bear had moved around in the thicket before bedding down. Shortly after finding our way out of the thicket and Eibe indicating another foot print, the Park Police accompanying me received a call that a bear matching the description of the bear we were tracking had been seen by some other officials straight out ahead of us over a mile away. At that point the track was called off. We had tracked the bear over a mile from where it was shot and pushed it from its bed but the bear was in too good of shape to get close enough to it to use the cur dog to tree it. The NJDFW official did not want to push the bear any further away. They suspected the bear would stick around if not pushed and might be caught in one of the snares they had set. And it turned out they were exactly right. Two days later the bear was caught within 100 meters of the camping area where the whole thing started.
|Click on the map to enlarge.|
It would have great if we had actually been able to get the bear that day but just like 50% of the time when a leashed tracking dog is brought in to find a wounded deer, the end result was that we were able to confirm that the quarry was not mortally wounded. That in itself is a success from a dog handler's point of view. And after all, I could not have thought of a better way to spend that Wednesday afternoon.
Not the NJ Bear but here's a small bear we found in NY State a few years ago. Six hunters had previously spent a whole day grid searching for him in a swap. My old dog Arno and I found him dead 600 meters from the point of loss 48 hours after he had been shot. That was a pretty fun day too.
|The bear found by Andy and Arno few years ago.|
Media coverage of the bear that Andy tracked few days ago: