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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Buster and the Lady Tracker

We are starting this New Year with the excellent article written by V. Paul Reynolds, who is an editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. I think this is one of the best articles on the use of dachshunds for tracking wounded game. Many thanks Paul for letting us post it on the blog. And congratulations to Susanne Hamilton and her tracking teckels Buster and Meggie.

Susanne Hamilton with Buster and one of the many deer that they recovered in 2011.

 Buster and the Lady Tracker

By V. Paul Reynolds

The last thing any deer hunter wants is a wounded deer, but it happens - even sometimes to the most skilled hunter. The buck that Tim McClusky wounded came trotting by his treestand from left to right, and presented a quartering away shot at about 60 yards. With his .50 caliber blackpowder gun, McClusky took the shot. The deer bolted. There was some hair and blood, but after a while no blood, no deer, nothing. An ardent and ethical outdoorsman and hunter, McClusky was sick at heart. But he had heard about the lady deer tracker from Montville and her dog tracking dog Buster. The woman, Susanne Hamilton, has developed quite a reputation in the Maine hunting community. She and her dog, licensed by the state, have been racking up a very good success rate in locating wounded deer for hunters like McClusky.

On opening day of the Maine muzzleloader season, Hamilton took McClusky's call and agreed to meet him shortly at his home in Orono. A German native who emigrated to the states in 1984, Hamilton, who is an internationally known horse- training expert, and Gold Medal winner in dressage, decided to get into tracking as a sideline. This came about not long after she and her husband decided to share their 65-acre farm with a  wire-haired male dachshund. Buster, who is also a German native, has brought home medals in field trials. He also has found many wounded deer.

This same day, about  a week after Hamilton was a studio guest on my radio program, Maine Outdoors, my phone rang. "Hello Paul, this is Susanne Hamilton. I'm on my way to help a hunter find a wounded buck in Orono. Want to join us?" she asked from her cell phone.

It was the first day of Maine's two-week blackpowder hunt. "Love to," I said.

Forty minutes later, Hamilton, Buster, Tim McClusky and his hunting friends -  Tom Davis and Scott Abbott -  and myself were on the track.  McClusky walked us through the shooting scenario with his buck and a few minutes later, Buster was on the scent and moving out. And move out he did. Buster was attached to a 20-foot long, hunter-orange leash that snaked through the fir thickets behind Buster as this tracking dog sniffed, bobbed and weaved over rocks, under blowdowns and through swale swamps. All the while, Hamilton, by some miracle, stayed with the dog, occasionally giving him words of encouragement. As it turned out, the challenge was for the rest of us to keep up with Hamilton and her dog.

For a short-legged little critter, Buster is a canine dynamo with an uncanny nose. During the first half hour of the tracking, when we ran out of blood drops on the leaves, I could sense that a couple of the hunters were growing skeptical, worried that Buster was on the wrong deer track.  Suddenly, without fail, Buster's track would once again lead to small blood droplets. "You gotta trust the dog. This is not his first rodeo," I told one of the skeptics. ( Before this day, Buster had located 11 wounded deer during the 2011 deer season).

As it turned out, we never got the McClusky buck. We jumped him just once, but there was no chance for a followup shot. By nightfall, we knew we were beaten. We tracked the buck for eight gruelling woods miles over a six-hour period. As bucks will do, he knew we were on to him and he tried to lose us by taking us through alder swamps, water holes and dense fir thickets.  Halfway through this deer-tracking adventure, a couple of our dog-tired hunters dropped out of the race, and Hamilton elected to give the intrepid Buster a well-deserved rest. She brought in Buster's daughter Meggie, attached her to the long tracking leash, introduced Meggie to the trail scent, and we were off and running, literally.

For a youngster, Meggie proved to be as persistent and determined as her master and there was no let up. But we ran out of blood signs altogether as darkness came on and it became disappointingly clear that it was not to be. The buck's incredible stamina, despite his wound, was more than a match for our tracking team.

A tired McClusky, though crestfallen, was nonetheless deeply appreciative of Hamilton's Herculean effort to find his wounded buck.  As much as Hamilton wanted her Meggie to find the deer, she remained upbeat and philosophical about the whole affair. "I'm sorry we didn't find the deer, but we did all we could do. And Meggie did wonderfully today. I'm so proud of her!"

The dogs impressed me. Although I have had some exposure to working hounds on bear and bobcat, I never realized the incredible noses and true grit possessed by these little dachshunds. As for Hamilton, she is a one of a kind - a meticulous professional with a solid working knowledge of wounded deer behavior. Couple this with her enthusiasm, unbounded stamina, and skill in dog handling, and you have a true tracker in every sense of the term.

If you are a deer, bear or moose hunter, you know that sooner or later, you may unintentionally wound an animal that can't be found. When it happens, call  Susanne Hamilton at Leashed Dog Tracking: 207 249 8078.


The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM  101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is and his new book is "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook."


Claire said...

Susanne has it all: beauty, mad skills and great dogs. Way to go Susanne!

Susanne said...

Wow thank you claire!! I dont know about the beauty part, but I sure have gotten lucky with my dogs!!

Teddy said...

And from your constant admirer now in Delaware, well done, Susanne and hounds.

David Bell said...

Good job. Buster reminds me of my dog Quella. She is a short haired wire also. People probably think I'm a little crazy when I say she's a wire haired dachshund. Great looking dogs you have also.