Search This Blog

Friday, September 6, 2013

A memorable bear track for Buster and Susanne

This picture shows Susanne and Buster on one of the tracks they did in 2012.

By Susanne Hamilton

The saying that things get better with age is true although for me it comes as a two edged sword.

My dog Buster is 11 years old and has many jobs of which all of them he takes very seriously. He is my best friend, my constant companion, my horse show dog, my field trialing dog, my agility dog and last but not least my tracking dog. My friend Jolanta always says that there is no such thing as the perfect dog, but  to me this little guy is the embodiment of perfection and all I wish is that I could make time stand still to keep him just the way he is right now for ever and ever! 

I want to tell the story of a recent track  in which although we did not end up with a find, everything went right...

It was at 11:30 at night and I was just ready to get to bed when I got a Facebook message that someone was looking for a tracking dog to find a wounded bear in Maine. After a short conversation on the I couldn't resist going on this track even though I realized this was two and a half hours away. It was our first call of the season and both Buster and I were itching to go.

The man that called, Chris, is an experienced hunter and guide, and he was devastated because a good shot turned into a bad one. The bear moved the moment he pulled back the release of his bow, which resulted in the arrow landing on the upper part  of his hindquarters. The bear had taken off with a loud roar, then crashed, then got up again and crashed again, and after that there had been silence.

From the description of the shot, I did not think we had a fatally wounded animal, however, there is always the question "what if", and Chris, my hunter was really anxious. The arrow was a fixed blade, and from the description,  it was at least ten inches in the bear. I pondered it for a short while, and decided to take a chance.

There was no evidence of blood at the hit site, and Chris had really never found any blood during his search for the bear he had shot at 6pm that evening,  but Buster does not need blood to follow a track. We knew the bear had been hit high, with no exit wound.  The people who usually need blood evidence, are either a) the tracker, who would like to know that his/her dog is persuing the right animal or b) the hunter, who feels awful, that he took a bad shot, and made every effort to find a "bloodhound" and now doesn't really trust that a little 20 pound dog  on short legs with a blonde chick at the end of a tether could  in all actuality sniff out and recover his wounded game.

When we arrived at the bait site at about 2:30 AM, my eyes fell on all the bait scattered at the site...   to me it stank, but to Buster, it must have smelled like a feast.  I wondered for a split second, if Buster was going to show more interest in the food than in the bear track, but I was mistaken, and he never even glanced at it. As always, he was all business.

Chris  showed me the exact direction the bear had taken off after being hit, but Buster gingerly chose an entirely different trail in front of the trail camera.  I was puzzled,  and trusting my dog, I let him lead the way for a bit, but then  chose to reset him back onto the trail that the hunter showed me, and that he had been certain, the bear had disappeared. Buster threw me a short glance, put his nose down, and started tracking.

Off we went, and Chris who was searching for any evidence behind me was excited. He felt that this was exactly the direction the bear had taken,  just before he heard him crash.  Buster confidently kept up on the trail, swung slightly to the left after about 300 yards, and kept a good pull on the lead. He felt very consistent to me but after a half a mile with absolutely no blood evidence I made the decision to go back to the bait site to see if Buster would take the same track again.

My general rule is, if Buster tracks it once, I may on occasion be allowed to be a skeptic, especially if there is absolutely no evidence or signs to prove we're on the right track,  but  if he takes the same trail twice and he is committed to that track, I had BETTER follow his lead.

I carried Buster back to the bait site,  put him  on the same trail and asked him to "find that bear".  He gave me a look that one would get from someone who feels a bit sorry for you because you're a little slow on the uptake, but then turned, and patiently took me along exactly the same trail we had taken before.

I love tracking at night, there is something serene and quiet about it. There aren't any of  the loud abstract colors and distractions  that appear in the daylight, my entire world exists in the low glow of my headlamp and everything around us is dark. It gives you a feeling of being almost encapsulated. The little world includes only myself, my dog and often my hunter. One’s senses tend to sharpen to details of the trail.

 This time,  about 300 yards into the track, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tiny black spot, I did a double take low and behold, on a small fern, with only six or so fern leaves, there was a pin drop of blood. I hollered for Chris to come and check it out, and the excitement grew.  I marked the spot with some tape, and also marked it in my GPS. This pin drop of blood was to be the only blood we found on the entire trail.

We tracked to our half mile mark, and just when I told Chris that we were now passing the spot where we had decided to reset Buster the last time,  I found the chewed off  end of the arrow. Buster had stopped and pointed it out to me.

From that arrow, we could now tell that it probably had only penetrated about 4-5 inches, which made me suddenly realize, that this bear was probably at the most just "pissed off".

 However, Buster really pulled and told me to get going, and Chris really felt that he wasn't finished "looking" ye, so  we marked that spot and off we went again. This time, the track took us on a large circle, which after fifteen minutes ended exactly where I had marked the arrow. Then suddenly we heard a loud crashing through the woods, VERY close to us. Buster jumped directly behind me.  I have to give it to him.... He knows he's in charge of finding these bears, but when it comes to "killing them", he'd rather leave the job to one of his two- legged hunting partners.

 From this moment on, Buster tracked very close to me, which is usually a sign, that the bear is very close by.  This was evident on many levels, being that we had a heavy morning dew at this point, we could see where the dew was disrupted. It was also evident that this large male bear lived here.  There was evidence of bedding places, and bear trails, and Chris knew from the cameras, that this was the only male bear in the area. He had over 400 pictures of this bear, and we where literally right  in HIS living room!!!
The bear's picture caught on a trail camera
 When we had traveled a total of about two miles,  had tracked for 3.5 hours and the first signs of daylight where visible in the sky and it was 6:00 am , I looked at Chris, and on his face, I could tell that he was finally satisfied, that he had done the best he could, and that aside from the feeling of guilt causing an animal to suffer, he could accept that this bear was not going to get caught... not that night anyway! 

 I took off Buster’s harness, and we checked compass and GPS for the way back to the truck. Tired, sweat soaked, thirsty, but satisfied, I climbed into the car for a two-and-a-half hour ride home.

 Our reward....  Chris's awe and  pure amazement at what my little dog had done for him. We had taken a donation towards gas money, but that means little in comparison to the enthusiastic praise and re-capture of things he had seen Buster do, that "for sure made him the SMARTEST dog he had ever seen in his life..."  that "boy oh boy, he was sure glad that Buster didn't track HIM, because that is 20 LBS of NASTY". Hunters like  Chris, remind me why I can spend an entire night driving and tracking, not get a wink of sleep, but will walk around all day long, with a smile on my face :o)

 Chris called me at 10:30 AM to tell me that he had checked his trail cam, and that the bear had come back to the bait  five hours after he had been shot, with the arrow already gone and hungry for a snack. So I have much confidence, that his bottom will be sore for a few days, with the embedded broad head in it, but that he will recover fully.

 On a short note, the evidence of the camera showed that the bear  left the area EXACTLY where Buster first chose to track him until I reset him onto the colder trail.

 Upon getting home, my tired Buster refused to eat his breakfast, until, according to our tradition, I told Cliff the whole long tracking story. Buster  will sit in front of Cliff, wagging his tail, looking back and forth from me  telling the story to Cliff, ooooh-ing and aaaaaah-ing , and occasionally giving a woof  of encouragement.  It is only then, that he will eat and climb into bed...

What an AWESOME dog!!!
BTW, this is a note Chris left on the United Blood Trackers Facebook: You folks offer a great service and being somewhat of a skeptic prior to this event, I can tell you that I am not a skeptic anymore. This is the first time I have ever relinquished control on a tracking job to anyone else and it taught me a good lesson... A good dog is worth a thousand men, maybe more. Buster is THE MAN!

1 comment:

Stan said...

WOW! What a great story, from a great owner, about a great dog!