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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Adventures of Kevin and Quenotte, a tracking team from the suburbs of Northern Virginia

Kevin Wilson hunts  and tracks for BackyardBowPro which is a suburban hunter certifying organization (non-profit) in Northern Virginia. His tracking partner is Quenotte, a daughter of Joeri and Keena. He wrote a nice post about his tracking experience with Quenotte, who is just over three years old. Thank you Kevin!

17 September 2013:
Quenotte and I tracked two wounded deer this week in support of the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) suburban bow hunts.

The first deer was gut shot around noon and the trail had been lost amidst a series of islands and creek channels.  I started her at the shot sight and she re-traced the trail to the first water crossing.  On the other side, the hunters had marked the blood trail and she regained it quickly.  We were now on a smallish island where the hunters had lost the trail and then grid-searched causing a lot of human foot traffic.

In the middle of the island, Q's body language indicated that she was unsure and it was impossible to see blood on the trampled brush.  We re-started once at the beginning of the small island unsuccessfully.

The island was not large and the deer was definitely not on it so we moved off the island and investigated the likely crossings leaving the island.  On the first crossing site, Q made a circle then picked up the trail again and we advanced rapidly across a larger, un-trampled island with good visual blood sign accompanied by positive body language from her.  At the end of the island, she went down over a steep bank and moved along a small mud flat.  At first, I wasn't even sure how I was going to get down to her.  However, she was positive and even tried to enter the water.  After finding my way down to her, I discovered fresh tracks and deep purple blood flecks at the water's edge indicating that the deer had crossed the creek on an oblique angle.  The water was too deep to cross on foot so we circled around to the opposite bank by climbing across a downed tree.  Finally, I put her down and she moved along below the opposite bank and then tried to turn up the bank.  It was so steep that I carried her over the edge but we were rewarded with the doe lying at the very top of the bank.  The hunters were elated and impressed.  This is one of our best successes ever.

20 September 2013:
The next call was two days later and involved another gut shot doe.  The hunter had hit the doe during the previous evening and lost the trail after about 150 yds.  His lab (named Moose) was on-scene and Moose had advanced the trail some before our arrival.

Moose weighed about 80 lbs and had a lot of energy.  The hunter asked if Moose's presence would be a distraction for Quenotte and said I yes (definitely).  Moose went back in the truck.  We started the trail at a spot where the doe had crossed a road and then moved through about 100 yards of easy tracking with some blood.  The doe then entered an elongated thicket running next to a split rail fence line bordering the neighborhood.  Moose had lost the trail amidst this thicket and the hunter thought maybe the deer had turned to go under the fence and enter the adjoining neighborhood.  Note: I have never seen a suburban deer seek the neighborhood environment when wounded.  Quenotte went past the point of loss and worked through two turns inside the thicket.  Blood was present and I caught a whiff of decaying flesh so I was beginning to think maybe the deer had died in this thicket somewhere.  The trail straightened and we continued parallel to the fence along a major deer runway.

As the thicket tapered, we went past a final blood spot and then Q took the trail across an open area and entered into a denser thicket.  She was pulling hard and I was on my hands and knees trying to keep up with her (and keep the leash untangled).  We crawled through about 50 yds of ungodly mess and I could see no blood.  In retrospect, I suppose the scent trail had widened and maybe the blood was off to one side.  In the midst of the thicket, Quenotte broke into a slightly more open area and I could hear a man saying "Hello Little Fellow".  I emerged from a rabbit run brush tunnel to find Quenotte greeting a hunter who had participated in the search earlier.  He was a marking a trail through the center of the thicket (for some unknown reason).  I asked if he had seen the dead deer and he said 'no'.  Mistakenly, I assumed that Q had followed the hunter or blood scent from his boots.

There was no blood sign visible and I (mistakenly again) assumed that we had lost the trail.  I picked her up and we returned to the last blood in the previous thicket.  We started 4 more times from this spot, going in differing directions and investigating along the fence line without finding additional blood.  We back-tracked into the original thicket and tried three more starts to see if we could identify a diverging trail. At this point, we were both exhausted and I told the hunter that we were done.  He asked if he could bring Moose back out and I said 'yes' but I would hold Quenotte while Moose worked.  The hunter returned with Moose and Moose bounded through the thickets while Q and I prepared to leave.

Just as we were leaving, Moose discovered the dead deer just 50 feet beyond where Quenotte had met the hunter in the thicket.  If we had persisted with the original line, then we would have found it easily.

Certainly, the hunters would not have come close to finding the deer if we had not advanced the trail as far as we did; however, I was disappointed in myself for pulling her off the original line.  I still have much to learn about when to trust Quenotte and when to re-start her.

Reported recovery rates in these suburban park hunts exceed 90% by ratio of reported shots taken to deer recovered (archery only).  Historically, this is a very high, archery recovery rate and finding two extra deer can make a big difference at the 90% margin.  This is the 5th year of the park hunts and my participation has shifted from hunting to tracking...although I still hunt private, suburban properties.

A while back, Jolanta asked for stories of unsuccessful tracks...

February 2012:
Quenotte and I could probably write a book of lessons learned the hard way.  This is a story with an unexpected outcome from last winter.  Q and I were called out to track a doe hit in the shoulder by a very reliable crossbow hunter on a private property.  The deer had been with a group of four deer and the hunter claimed to have hit the deer in the crease 'right behind the shoulder'.  The shot site was on the bottom of a long hill and the hunter claimed that the deer had gone downhill and crossed a road into a nearby stream valley park. Reportedly, the other (un-injured) deer in the group had gone uphill.

The shot site was amidst a pile of old trash (washing machine, sewer pipe etc) and it was a difficult place to begin the trail normally and safely.  I put Q down near the hit site and she immediately turned uphill.  She went about 50 yards with no blood and I presumed that she was following an un-injured deer.  The hunter said that it was the wrong direction but she was so sure that I let her go.  We went another 200 yards uphill in the direction of massive honeysuckle thicket bordering the client's yard.  She entered the thicket with increasing certainty and I followed discovering blood in the thicket.  Although it was winter, the honeysuckle vines were dense and intertwined with various trees.  I had to relinquish the leash several times to take a different route.  On the third evolution, I returned to the leash just in time to see the tag end disappear into the thicket (to my horror).

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to catch up with the leash or the dog.  It was impossible to even tell what direction Quenotte might have gone and I was afraid that the deer would emerge from the far side of the thicket and head towards the street.  I crashed through the thicket and into the neighboring yard but the dog wasn't there and the blood trail did not emerge from the thicket.  I could not hear Quenotte in the thicket but I suspected that she was still in there so I re-entered.  To compound my troubles, the neighboring property is owned by a rabid anti-hunter so I was unable to use my larger light (he wears a blaze orange vest while gardening if we are hunting neighboring lots).

There were a lot of terrible thoughts going through my mind and I just wanted my dog back at this point.  Almost immediately, she sounded off about 20 yards into the thicket so I headed towards the sound.  To my surprise, I emerged into a small open spot with the deer lying at my feet showing only a nasty but obviously non-lethal shoulder wound.  Quenotte was on the opposite side of the deer raising hell and the deer just looked confused (but not for long).  I didn't know whether to be thrilled that I had not lost my dog or concerned that the deer was going to go ballistic after being cornered.

The deer settled the issue by regaining its feet and rocketing out of the thicket in a manner that convinced me that it would survive.  Gratefully, I picked up Quenotte and we called it a night.
The evening was a success because we located the deer cooperatively but a painful lesson learned for me on leash management.

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