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Friday, November 7, 2014

Practical application of "search" command in tracking wounded deer

By Darren Doran (and FC Theo von Moosbach-Zuzelek)

I finally got a chance to hunt last night for myself. I passed a small buck and when I got out of the woods there was a message from a hunter needing help to recover a deer. He had shot the buck from a ground blind at 2:10 and watched him cross an 100 yard rye field and lay down on the edge of it and a hedge row. He could see blood low on the deer’s side with his binoculars. The deer was there for about 40 minutes then got up and walked with difficulty into the hedge row.

The hunter snuck out of the blind and looped around the deer by going up the neighbor’s driveway. He tried to get another arrow into the deer but it didn’t make through the brush. The deer got up and was gone. The hunter searched until dark and found a couple drops of blood on a tractor road between the hedge row and the standing corn.

The weather forecast for today originally called for a drenching 2 inches of rain. I checked the forecast and it had been scaled back to steady rain starting in the night and ending in the afternoon. I elected to take the track in the morning to give the deer plenty of time to die.

I arrived at 7:30 and it was raining steady but not that bad and there was no wind. When I start Theo I always start at the hit site even if the is no blood there. If the hunter has an arrow, I will let Theo smell it, if not, I tell him to “search”. The reason for this is that I want Theo to end up at the hunter’s first blood sign. If he does, that I’m pretty sure he knows what deer we want before he even smells blood.

In this case there was no arrow. Theo searched around the bait piles in an ever winding circle and suddenly he tracked across the rye field right to the bed. There was still visible blood despite the rain and you could see it on both sides of where the deer had laid. Theo tracked down the hedge row through it and onto the tractor road where the hunter had found the last blood. Theo tracked down the road then turned into the corn. This seemed logical to me and I went with him. After a while he tracked out of the corn and to a large green field and into it. At this point I was starting to have my doubts. He then cut the corner and headed to another brushy hedge row and I thought, well this is better, he might be right. We got in there and it was apparent he didn’t have it. 

This problem of dropping the right line and taking the fresher line I believe has started because during the last 5 recoveries we have done, we have put out our deer and went hot. It’s almost as if now he expects it to happen. What I’ll do in this case if I think he’s wrong is I just stop on the line. I don’t say a word to him and I let him pull against the leash. This may take a half a minute but I just stand there. If he’s not right or not sure he’ll pick up his head and most times he comes back down the leash. I then tell him in a stern voice “get back on the line find the blood”. If he went too far from the know line and this command is not reasonable, I pick him up and restart. That’s what I did in this case and we went back to the first bed.

Theo tracked right to the last blood and it was obvious that this deer had spent a lot of time in this area. Theo smelled what could have been beds from this deer. He then began to systematically search every deer run in the hedge row along the corn field. We got to the end to where the corn ended and the green field began and he began searching the runs to the left of the corn in the hedge row but between the green field. He went about 100 yards and wanted to go back to the last blood and we did. This time he was searching the corn side of the hedge row. He would go in, search, come back out, go down and go back in, search and come back out. 

This went on for a while then all of a sudden he didn’t come out and the leash was still going out. We were on a different line from the first trip through the corn and I went with him. I told the hunter to look down the rows as we went through them in case the deer was laying there. I couldn’t see Theo but I could see the tops of the trees and I knew we would be out of the corn soon. I did see some white hair on the track but it could have come from any deer. I never saw any blood on the line except for the first bed. Theo tracked out of the corn and into a hedge row next to a horse corral. I stayed put at the edge of the corn and I could tell he was searching. He came out of the hedge row and down along the corral and stopped. This is where a 50 foot lead comes in handy. I asked him to “search here’’ and he came back to me and went back into the corn and in 20 yards he had the deer. I don’t know if the deer came out of the corn and back in or he just missed it, but neither the hunter nor I saw it laying in the row as we passed.

This track took almost 2 hours. I love watching this dog trying to figure out a track. He knew where he last smelled the deer and he knew the line had to be there. The way he systematically picks apart the terrain is just a pleasure to watch. The way he buries his nose in the ground under leaves or raises up to smell high weeds or brush are his natural working style. I’ve never taught him anything like this. You can almost see the thought process on his face when he’s searching and he never gives up.

Theo’s reputation in Jersey is growing. I haven’t placed an ad anywhere in the state this year and my phone doesn’t stop ringing. I have successfully tracked for the research professor in charge of our tracking permit as well as the Division of Fish and Wildlife on a game violation case. Leashed tracking dogs are starting to turn heads in the right places. I’m starting to get a good feeling about the probability of legalization in the state, but only time will tell.

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