by Darren Doran
This April Theo turned four years old and is developing into a solid tracking dog. We had somewhat of a disappointing tracking season last year as the call volume just wasn’t there. I really only got a few calls that I would consider difficult enough to test Theo’s current tracking ability. With that in mind this spring I decided I would really push Theo hard to see where he really is in his development.
My first line was a 800 yd, 24 hour old tracking shoe line with about 1 oz of blood used. He ran this in about twenty minutes and it was obvious that this was too easy.
My next line was a 880 yd, 40 hour old tracking shoe line with no blood. Again Theo ran this with no problem.
My third line was a 700 yd 72 hour old tracking shoe line with no blood. Part of this line went through a controlled burn area in the woods that was done three days before I placed the line. Theo made one mistake when he left the line on a turn to follow only what I imagine was fresher deer scent. I gave him the opportunity to correct himself but he didn’t. Also his body language was such that if the line wasn’t marked I would have followed him. The second spot that slowed him up was the burn. He really had to pick his way through this. Even though he had a mistake and got slowed up it only took 40 minutes to finish.
So far my training with him had been excellent. So I decided for my next line I would try to make it as close to a real hunting track as I could. In New Jersey you are allowed to bait deer and most of my tracks start in a bait pile. I have a spot in a natural county park which holds a lot of un-hunted deer. I train here frequently and I decided that I would pack bait into the park in two spots. After the deer started feeding there I would start a training line in one bait pile and track through the second about 300 yds before the line ended. In about two weeks I had the deer cleaning up about 25 lbs of corn every two days or so. I had a trail camera out at what was going to be my hit site and pictures confirmed that deer were there regularly and at any time of day, but mornings and evenings were the best just like in hunting season. I also had raccoons visiting the corn at night as well.
|Deer visiting the bait|
I decided that Friday after work I would pack in another 25 lbs of corn and the materials needed to make the training line. I dumped the corn and put on my tracking shoes. This line was going to mimic a bow shot deer from a high tree stand with a pass-through the liver and gut. I brought an old half of an arrow and put it in a plastic bag and poured blood on it and let the fletch soak it up. I put a wad of hair in the hit site and dropped in the arrow. I was going to walk out of the hit site for 30 yds put down a small squirt of blood every third time my right foot hit the ground. After the 30 yd mark there would be no more blood on the line. I tried to walk out so that I wasn’t on a deer run but there were tracks everywhere. I wanted to make it as evident as possible that Theo was taking the line and not just any deer leaving the bait.
|Getting ready to lay the track|
One thing I want to mention is that all my training materials used on a training track come from the same deer. The feet, blood, hair, and skin and not only that I only use materials that come from a deer that has been shot and run before it dies. I don’t use road kills or deer that die instantly from a gunshot.
I believe a deer that has been shot and is going to die smells different to a dog or predator than a healthy one. I see a difference in my dogs tracking style on a deer that we get as opposed to one that is high back or shoulder hit. I want my training lines to be as close to real thing as possible.
|Shed buck in the bait 1.5 hour before the start|
The line ended up being about 900 yds. It started in a creek bottom and went through various terrain to include saplings, a gas line crossing, brush, mature forest and finally across a power line.
The second distraction was located in the mature forest in a clear area amongst a bunch of blow downs. This was about 300 yds from the end of the line. Again I left the distraction in a way that was not being used by the deer so I could tell if Theo was tracking the line correctly. I also lost one of the hoofs from the tracking shoe in this area and didn’t realize it until I was finished.
We started the track on Sunday morning at 9:15 am it was 34 degrees and 40 hrs after the line was put down. Also we had a steady rain most of Saturday. This was going to about as close to a real track as I could get. The trail camera had pictures of deer up to an hour and a half before we got there.
I started Theo at the hair and arrow. The rain had washed all the blood off the arrow but I was sure the fletch still held some scent. Theo started too quick and really didn’t lock onto the hair or arrow. He was all over almost instantly. The amount of fresh and old scent there must have been intense.
|Working the hit site.|
As with most of my hunting tracks, I had a direction of travel the deer took from the hit site. I didn’t let Theo take any of the deer runs for any length of time. He crossed over the line a couple of times and didn’t acknowledge it. I was beginning to think that this was just too hard. I restarted him three times and made him smell the hair and arrow each time. The second restart he had part of it but pulled off. On the third restart he ran right down the line to the spot I picked him up at the second time, made a correction and started tracking the line. He had it! We spent over 15 minutes at the hit site and by him settling down recognizing the proper scent and ignoring the hot scent we were finally making progress.
We tracked out of the bottom, through the saplings, across the gas line, into the brush and finally to the mature forest without any real problem. He located the wound bed in the forest and I gave him a meat reward. Theo was now heading for the second distraction. When he got into the blow downs and other scent he started searching. He found the dropped hoof and I made a mistake here. I rewarded him with some meat, and I think he thought the track was over.
I was encouraging him to track and he kept going to where the hoof was laying and smelling and digging in the dirt. I imagine that there was a lot of scent there as the hoof laid there for 40 hrs and was rained on for a day. I finally got him going, and he was now tracking only 1 hoof . We went up through the hardwoods and turned towards the power line. He tracked to the power line and out into it. He was searching around and moving side to side in an arc moving in a forward motion. The skin was just inside the edge on the far side. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t think he really had it but at one point he was heading right for the tree that the skin was behind. I dropped the lead expecting him to find the skin at the tree but he passed on the upwind side and went right past it and into the next woods. He continued on and I called him back and was going to do a controlled search on the power line. On his way back he air scented the hide and went right to it.
This line took 55 minutes total and 17 minutes at the hit site and maybe 5 minutes at the second distraction. Once he locked on to the right scent he had no problem finishing this line.
Theo has a very good nose but he also has great mental ability on a track. Put those two things together and you get a very honest tracking dog that gets the job done without a lot of mistakes or very little help from me.
I couldn’t be happier with our training so far and I’m already looking forward to the next tracking season.