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Friday, October 21, 2011

Realities of blood tracking with dogs

Most of the time handlers of blood tracking dogs write about their successes when they find a wounded deer or bear that the hunter could not find on his own. After reading these success stories novice handlers might have unrealistic expectations and become discouraged when their own tracking attempts do not always end up with recovered game. There are many potential reasons why a tracking team fails to recover wounded game. The account below of 36 hours in a life of tracker John Jeanneney will present the reality of occasional failures.

This story starts at 1 PM on October 17 when John and Joeri started to track for Bill Cafariella of Charlton, NY. Bill shot a really nice buck at 6 PM on Sunday, October 16. He thought that he had a gut shot deer that probably had not gone too far. He tracked it for a while but then it started to rain. There was probably half an inch of rain overnight, and next morning all signs of blood were washed away.

On the approach to the hit site.
 John and Joeri started to track on Monday at 1 PM, and I went along to take pictures. Joeri with difficulty carried the line for 300 yards, and after that he no longer seemed to be positive. Around 3 PM I asked John whether he was ready to go home as I had to go to a post office to ship some books. His firm and very emphatic answer was “no”. I drove to a nearby post office, which was closed for an afternoon break, and when I got back to, 45 minutes later John was still in the woods searching. He searched the area until 5:30 PM, but Joeri never picked up the line again. We left disappointed feeling that the buck was lying dead nearby.

Bill and his eight friends resumed the search and found the deer next day, totally devoured by coyotes, in the brambles, probably 65 yards from where Joeri had lost the track. Coyotes left only the deer head intact. When we started to track we were under the impression that the deer was gut shot through the stomach as Bill found some corn on the ground. Actually the arrow had come down through the shoulder blade, passed through the chest cavity and exited out of the bottom of the stomach. The deer must have died very quickly, and coyotes must have destroyed it during the first night. We are not sure whether the abundant coyote scent in the area was a problem for Joeri.

Bill with the remains of his buck.

While John was working on Bill's buck, another call came in. This one was from Fernando Gonzales, for whom we tracked a bear two years ago. He needed John to track a bear for his friend. Fernando was sure that Andrew Torres’ bear was dead or mortally wounded as they found 15 feet of small intestine. Under normal circumstances John does not track bears at night. But knowing that the bear would be dead, he decided to go. So we drove back home where John got a quick meal, and after a short break he drove to Rensselaerville and took Billy with him.  John was taken to the point of loss rather than the hit site, and it was heavily tracked up. The cover was very thick with dead falls. Billy was unable to take a positive line out of the area so John decided to come back home and resume the search next morning. When John and Billy went back next morning they made a large 200 yard radius circle around point of loss and managed to pick up the line. They tracked 150 yards to the dead bear. The 200 pound bear was wounded low in the abdomen, and he would have not been found without Billy.

Andrew Torres (hunter), John and Billy (the tracking team) and the bear.

The same morning that John and Billy found the bear another hunter at the lodge, Ron Burris, had shot a large buck too far back. Material on the the arrow showed that it had passed through the stomach. Ron had waited a couple of hours, then jumped a deer from a bed, but here was not enough blood for him to track. John and Billy began to track this deer shortly after noon. They jumped the deer still strong and tracked it through rough cover for 2 miles. The deer remained strong so when he crossed the road John marked the line. With the intention of returning a few hours later John drove back home, luckily in time for dinner.

He did not get much rest as the phone rang again, and this time it was Dan Hardin, a licensed handler who does not have a tracking dog yet. Dan needed tracking services as he had wounded an eight pointer that evening. So it was agreed that John would take two dogs, Billy and Joeri, and with Dan's assistance he'd finish tracking Ron's deer first.

Around 8 PM that evening John and Dan resumed tracking. Billy started because he knew the line and the scent of the deer. Joeri who had rested more took over, and the handlers worked both dogs while getting occasional drops of blood to verify the line. They followed the buck for three more miles through rough wooded country, returning within a thousand yards of where the deer had been shot. To their amazement the deer had shown no sign of weakening after 13 hours and five miles of travel. It is very unusual that the stomach shot buck will be on his feet and moving strongly 13 hours later. But it happens. Finally the handlers picked up the dogs and headed for the road where they were picked up by another hunter from the lodge.

John and Dan then drove about 10 miles to Greenville, where Dan lives and where he had shot the deer. It was now shortly before midnight. John handled Joeri, who found the deer in 200 yards. The deer was shot in the back part of the ribcage and the arrow had passed through the liver. 

John was in his bed at 1:30 AM.

Joeri with Dan's deer.


Andy Bensing said...

You beat me to it Jolanta. I was going to write a story of my exploits so far this year as well to highlight how a well accomplished dog just like Billy and Joeri certainly never get them all and sometimes don't even get the ones you absolutely think they should. In brief, I started out this year with 4 quick finds in a row and since have only found 1 out of the next 8. Of the 7 no finds 3 ended at private property, 2 I was pretty sure were not mortally wounded, but 2 I definitely thought we should have recovered but did not. Actually, one of those two was just like the gut shot one you described after the rain. Gut shot is usually very easy to track but for some reason that day after a big rain which is normally not a problem Eibe had a very difficult time locking in and advancing the trail with certainty and when it appeared she finally got it figured out we went a long way, never found the deer and eventually just gave up. (I hope not too soon but you never know)

Jolanta Jeanneney said...

Thanks Andy! Our post should not be preventing you from writing about your experiences, good and bad. I hope you will share them with all of us.

Andy Bensing said...

My posts are less frequent these days as I am extremely busy with all sorts of things that are taking away from both my writing time and unfortunately my tracking time as well. I have turned away 6 calls this week that I would have normally taken. Boo hoo for me :-( the good news is that my distractions are all fun things as well. I am enjoying starting a new business that unavoidably conflicts with tracking this year, PA is progressing in legalization efforts which requires my time at meetings and my computer and of all things I drew a PA elk hunting permit as you know but the season falls right at the height of the tracking season. I will be lucky if I can get in 25 calls this year.

Michigan deer track"n hounds said...

Simply put, if the deer is shot with a bow and is hit in liver, stomach, or anything far back there is a extremely high percent chance my hounds will find my clients deer. If shot with a bow and shot placement is forward or high 9 out of 10 times I fail to make a recovery. If the shot is forward and shot with a gun chance of recovery is 50/50. My suggestion to new handlers is to screen your calls and try to put your new dog on deer you feel is a mortal hit. ( mid-to far back shots)

Dan Hardin said...

A good point from Michigan deer track'n hounds. Sounds like a suggestion born of much experience. I have only been an active tracker for 2 seasons now and call screening is one of the most challenging things to do. Some hunters will insist on great shots or "lots of blood" and its not until I get there and see it for myself that I realize I just drove an hour to do a track where there was no visible blood. I have also been bored and taken a call where there was almost no blood reported by the hunter and we found the deer within 200 yards.