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Thursday, April 19, 2012

JJ Scarborough and his Lab Rosie, a super-achieving blood tracking team from Georgia

With this post we are going to introduce a new feature on our blog – interviews with experienced trackers/handlers of blood trailing dogs. The handlers such as JJ Scarborough have enormous experience, and we will be able to learn about various aspects of training and tracking from them.

We are going to start with JJ Scarborough, a United Blood Tracker member and forester from Macon, Georgia, where tracking with dogs off lead is completely legal and acceptable.  JJ and his tracking Lab Rosie’s accomplishments in the field are simply amazing, so let’s have some numbers now at the beginning of this interview.

JJ Scarborough and his tracking partner Rosie. The picture was taken at Trackfest 2011 at Pocahontas, AR.

JJ, how many calls did you take last year?
Last tracking season (2011-12) I had 175+ calls, of which I took 132  and recovered 74 animals (38 live). I take almost every call when I’m in town. Almost all of the calls I get and don’t take are when I go out of town to hunt. This year while in Kansas, I left a message referring calls to other trackers. I explain to hunters what I expect the odds of recovery to be, and take any call that they will cover my expenses (even ones that seem to be backwhacks or no blood possible misses). In 2010-11 she recovered 67 of 105 calls with 32 alive.

Rosie’s numbers lifetime are 275 recoveries of 568 calls taken. Only deer, hogs and bear are included in these numbers, and 117 animals were still alive when we found them.

Tell us more about Rosie, your extraordinary tracker.
Rosie will turn 8 this month. She came from a backyard breeder near Macon where we live. I never got to see papers for either the sire or dam, but I met them both. I was told the sire was from English lab bloodline and was whelped in Alaska. The dam was American/Field bloodline. Both parents were black.

How did you go about training Rosie?
Rosie is my first tracking dog. She was always with me and started tracking natural lines before I had really done any training specific to tracking. She was in training primarily to be a retriever and generally obedient working partner. I read John’s book before her first deer season when she was only about 6 months old. I decided to postpone tracking training until later just because I thought that the tracking lead would be confusing. Retriever training requires the use of a lead as a check cord. I got a harness and ran a few liver drags right before deer season and put her on about a dozen tracks the first year (all friends and hunting partners, no outside calls). She seemed to really enjoy tracking natural lines early on and was never really too excited over artificial blood lines.

I have spent much more time training Rosie for retrieving and obedience than tracking. She enjoys tracking much more because she is able to take charge and doesn’t have to be structured like during retriever training. She is a handling retriever. She runs multiples and blinds and swim-bys. She was force-fetched at 8 months. She lost most of her hearing at age 3 after ear infections from doing water work. I’ve seen her retrieve geese and ducks in the morning, doves in the afternoon, and a deer in the evening; all in the same day. She has also tracked wounded turkeys, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, raccoons and armadillos.

Do you let her off lead when you track?
For the firsts 4 ½ years she worked exclusively on lead. On lead she recovered the deer about 40% of the time and about 1/3 of the deer that were recovered were live recoveries. After that she has worked both on and off lead. The last two years have been almost exclusively off lead when highways and property lines will allow. Off lead she has recovered about 60% of the deer with about half of them live recoveries.

I have worked her on lead at the beginning of old tracks, but I prefer to let her work off lead any time conditions are difficult. I know she can work them out better without me and the lead.

When she bays, 10 or 11 yards is the distance she likes to stay away in fairly open woods with a standing deer. When the woods are thick or the deer is weak or lying down she will be closer. She will grab a swimming deer by the tail if she is able to catch it. I’ve seen her drown a weak buck. She has grabbed and killed some does, weak bucks, and hogs on land when she could tell they were really weak. She runs silent on track, squeals in high pitch when she sees fleeing game, and chop barks when animals turn to face her. She will eat from the tail end of the deer any time she is left alone with a find for very long.

Have you had any bad experiences with her tracking off lead?
This year was the first year she was injured while baying. A big boar cut her just before deer season this year. Three different deer got her with antlers this year. The first two got her with two tines each that were flesh wounds in the right ham and butt area. The last one went between her ribs on the right side and punctured her lung. The lung didn’t collapse. It really bothered me and the vets but didn’t slow her down at all. She even swam in 2 ponds and caught the deer about ¾ of mile after it hit her. I know that she has been run over many times by deer and hogs without getting hurt. They don’t usually catch her unless it’s real thick.

Her oldest continuous track with recovery is 47 hours and 472 yrds. She has had 2 deer hit by automobiles while we were tracking them. The longest track ending in recovery is 4.25 miles. She tracked one over 6 miles on lead that got away. She recovered 6 in one day on 2010. I have dispatched deer that she bayed that had only one front hoof shot and hanging from below the dew claw. We lost her for almost 14 hrs. when she pulled away from another handler on lead. She got the lead hung up while baying over half a mile away. I owe Ken Parker and A.J. Niette who tag teamed to re-track the deer and find her. She was sitting on top of the deer with water running on both sides when we found her.

What are Rosie’s strengths and what are her weaknesses?
Rosie’s strengths: she enjoys tracking; she’s hard headed and won’t give up easily; speed and stamina off lead on land and in water; she is very trainable and intelligent and has learned from her many tracking experiences.

Rosie’s weaknesses/limitations: she is too big and strong (pulls too hard) to run continuously on lead; she was very slow to develop the ability to follow old cold tracks (mostly my fault); she has a tendency to overrun her nose (poorly attached to the line); she had to train her novice handler; she had to make believers out of my hunting public so that they would call us and give us opportunities (now the opportunities are increasing every year).

Have you tracked with other retrievers?
I have worked with about ten retrievers and have tried each of them on simple tracking lines. Most of them lacked the concentration and/or interest needed to follow even simple lines early on. My six-year-old black Lab Codie is a high-drive retriever. Obedience and retrieving desire come naturally for him. It was obvious early on that tracking was not his forte. One other male yellow lab that I have met and all six Drahthaars seem to have all the natural skills to be good trackers.

Does Rosie live in the house or kennel?
Most of the time Rosie, Codie, and Jazzie (my young female DD) are inside dogs. Rosie is equally comfortable in the kennel, the yard, the truck box, the crate, or the motel room.

How long is your tracking season - when does it start and when does it end?
Archery season in GA starts in mid September and stays in for four weeks. There is a one week muzzleloader season following archery. Youth hunters may shoot centerfire rifles during muzzleloader week. Firearms season starts after muzzleloader season in mid to late Oct. and goes through early to mid Jan. Our season lasts 18 continuous weeks start to finish. The limit is 12 deer per season 2 bucks 10 does. We have opportunities to track hogs all year.

We started tracking this deer about 8 pm on lead.  We pushed him just over 3 miles in a big circle.  About midnight I cut her off lead. The first time she jumped him after that she caught and bayed him.  My 7 year old hunter took pics at the taxidermy shop where a neighbor told us he had multiple game cam pics of him since June.  A few days later he checked his cam on video mode and saw the final video.  Evidently Rosie went by the cam while it was timed out.  We dispatched the deer just after midnight. 

How do people learn about your tracking services?
Georgia Outdoor News Magazine has played an important role in getting me started tracking. They maintain a list of tracking dog handlers by county on their website. Every year they dedicate a page in the September issue to promote the handlers and the web list. Now the majority of our calls come from personal referrals, but early on G.O.N. was a big help.

How far would you drive to take a call?
Early this year I drove over 4 hours one way to track a bear after attempts to refer the track to the local guys failed. My average distance is about 30 miles one way to track. During peak weeks it doesn’t make sense to travel far because I will miss a call near home. I would be willing to travel as far as work or other circumstances will allow, as long as my expenses are covered.

What would you say is percentage of your calls from hunters using bow vs firearms?
A little more than 1/3 of my calls are archery calls. I get three or four muzzleloader calls a year. The rest are rifle hunters with a high percentage of youth and female hunters. More than 90 percent of them are bucks, which leads me to believe that many of the does that could be found go unrecovered. As a bowhunter some of the most memorable calls have been live recoveries during archery season. I have been fortunate enough to witness bowhunters who were able to make finishing shots on standing P&Y Class bucks on three different occasions. All of these were over 10 hours after the first shot and 2 were the next day. One of the bucks was near 170 inches and all three were daytime recoveries.

It was definitely worth the almost 3 hour drive to help Amanda Wilson find this outstanding Georgia buck in early Dec 2011.  The entire hunt including the recovery was caught on video by Logan McNulty of Greenback Tactical Hunters. The track was about 1000 yards and 20 hours old with no visible blood. The video is still being processed, but you can read the entire story at click here.

Do you have a special system for keeping records?
Every year I keep a weekly monthly appointment notebook with all the details from work and tracking. Its all hand written and summarized monthly. The last thing I ask of my hunters when we don’t recover the deer is that they report back to me if they ever hear from the deer again. This way I can go back and update things if the deer is killed later or found or shows up on game camera. 

Thank you so much JJ for sharing your experience with all of us. Would you like to add any comments?
The fact that I read John’s book gave me a huge advantage as a novice handler. The foundation was there to read and build upon. That resource helped to speed up my development as a handler and take me to higher levels. The experience that Rosie and I have gained together will give Jazzie and future tracking dogs that I handle the same foundation. There were so many things that I could have done differently to help Rosie’s development and take it to higher levels through training. The biggest advantage that Jazzie and others will have that Rosie did not is that she will be given over 170 opportunities per year to gain experience on natural tracks.

I hope I didn’t ramble too much and answered most of you questions. Tracking is one of my passions and I could go on about Rosie and tracking all day.

Rosie, a tracking super-achiever, all relaxed.


Gentian Shero said...

I met JJ and Rosie at the Track Fest in Arkansas last year, where I really enjoyed talking to JJ about tracking. Indeed, they are both a great team with a lot of experience! One surprising fact to me was how much more effective Rosie was when tracking off leash. The best part of the conversation, however, was understanding JJ's southern accent and vise-versa JJ understanding my South-Eastern European Accent :-).
Keep up the good work JJ ...

Kevin Wilson said...

These interviews are an awesome resource for (us) in-experienced trackers! Great reading about Rosie!

texas hunting said...

Great going JJ and Rosie.
Keep up the good work.

Stan said...

First-Thank you, Jolanta, for this new feature, and the great interview.
Having also met JJ last year at Trackfest in Arkansas, this was especially interesting--I knew he and Rosie were a good team, but WOW-this is just amazing stuff! Keep up the good work, JJ and Rosie!!

Pat Patterson said...

You would never get a hint from JJ or his buddy Randy just what JJ and Rosie have been accomplishing the last 6 years. It sure seems to me that it is in fact part of the "cutting edge" of this sport. With the hunter, deer, dog and technology understanding of JJ combined with the ability, versatility
and enthusiasm of a dog like Rosie and supported with the 30 yrs. of experience set out so well in John Jeanneney's book,this handler and his dog have produced this great story that Jolanta has presented to us so well. Thanks to all!

Vince Crawford said...

Outstanding interview! Really great information! Thanks to JJ for taking the time to share all this information, and thanks to Jolanta for putting it all together!

Loved the pictures to go with the information!

Vince Crawford
Hamilton, MO
(Parker on GON)