|Susanne Hamilton with Buster and one of the many deer that they recovered in 2011.|
Buster and the Lady Tracker
By V. Paul Reynolds
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and his new book is "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook."