We all get that question, "What's your success rate?". In the leashed tracking dog states we have to tell them, "Around 35%" because we know that what they are asking for is the frequency with which we find the deer and tag it. It goes without saying that the non-productive 65% are FAILURES.
If you have tracked for a while you come to realize that it's not that simple. Some of those FAILURES, when you didn't get the deer, actually become sources of pride and satisfaction. Our tracking adventure this afternoon is a good illustration.
We got the call this morning. The buck had been hit behind the shoulder late the previous afternoon with a Rage expandable broadhead. As happens, all too frequently, there had been inadequate penetration, four to five inches. The one thing that made me take the call was detail that the buck was occasionally blowing fine droplets of blood from his nose; a lung had been penetrated, but it was impossible to know how much damage had been done. A deer can go on one lung, and the damaged lung can eventually heal and become functional again.
Another slight complication was that the hunter's son was playing that morning in a high school football game. A good father knows that family comes first! It wasn't until 1:30 PM that Jolanta, Tommy and I started on a long ATV ride back to where we were to begin tracking. We didn't start at the hit site, which is the normal thing to do, because the buck had been eye-tracked so far the previous night. Tommy, our tracking dog, started on a drop of blood and took off across the very dry leaves and pine needles.
|Occasional drops of blood reassured us that we were on a right track.|
|John's worn out tracking coat.|
I began to realize that there would be no "successful find" on this call. This buck had come too far and had stayed strong for too long. If he had been fatally gut shot, things would have been different, but clearly this buck was not losing blood now and he was in a condition to keep going, back into the thick stuff, as long as we wanted to follow.
The decision to quit is a delicate matter. I like to have the hunter participate and agree that there is little chance of catching up to the deer. Would the hunter believe that we were still on his buck and not just rambling around on hot lines of healthy deer? Then the hunter's buddy, who had been following us closely, found blood, a tiny drop, but it was fresh and still wet. I checked Tommy for briar scratches, which might have left that drop. Tommy was clean, and Tommy was right. We were still on the wounded buck, and the buck was still strong after 22 hours. We pushed on for another 200 yards with Tommy pulling confidently.
We came to an ATV trail through the thickets. Tommy pushed on across but the humans were ready to stop. The hunter knew that the trail led back to where we had originally left the ATV. We called back Tommy and he seemed to understand. There was no getting this deer even though he had done his best. The whole tracking adventure seemed a success, not a failure, both for Tommy and for the folks who had supported him from the other end of the long tracking leash.