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Friday, February 6, 2015

New Jersey’s Leashed Tracking Dog Program: Call to Action

by Darren Doran

This article was published in the Winter 2015 issue of Tracks and Trails, publication of the United Bowhunters of New Jersey

Unlike in the Southern States dogs and deer hunting have never mixed in the Northeast. Over fifty years ago the New Jersey legislature passed a law that prevented dogs to be used to hunt deer. The law is as follows.
23:4-46. Dogs not to be used
No person shall at any time, or for any reason, hunt for, track, search for, seek, capture or kill a wild deer with a dog.
Amended by L.1957, c. 116, p. 488, s. 1, eff. July 2, 1957.

This law was enacted to protect a fragile, recovering deer population from over-hunting, and what was considered an unfair advantage with the use of dogs.

Since that time New Jersey and its whitetail population has vastly changed. The loss of habitat to development and the ability of white-tailed deer to adapt to these landscape changes has created a thriving population of deer as well as greatly increased hours of recreational hunting in order to manage this increased deer population. Bow season now starts as early as mid-September in some parts of New Jersey when it is typically hot and the forest is still in full foliage. Add the seemingly increasing presence of coyotes to the scene and it becomes extremely important to recover deer that have been shot by hunters as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage or loss of venison from scavenging.

Most deer shot by bowhunters are recovered by the hunters themselves, but every bowhunter knows that even a well placed arrow that kills quickly can produce a blood trail that is very sparse or non-existent for a human to follow. A deer is a valuable resource and every ethical hunter will do everything in their power to recover a deer they have shot. A leashed tracking dog is a conservation tool that can help recover a deer that a hunter might not have been able to recover him or herself. This law that was originally designed to aid in the restoration of whitetails never took into consideration the conservation use of a leashed tracking dog to help recover a deer for a hunter.

Currently there are 37 states that allow some kind of big game recovery with a dog. New Jersey’s experimental tracking program began in 2008 when the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife issued a special wildlife management permit to study the usefulness and feasibility of using a leashed tracking dog to recover deer that had been shot by hunters who were having issues recovering those deer on their own.

The research permit is issued to Dr. Leonard Wolgast and it is he who is tasked with compiling and analyzing the data from the sub-permitees which are the dog handlers. That first permit had only three handlers on it which covered a limited area of the state, and had a very limited scope. Today there are 11 certified handlers and dogs on the permit, and tracking by these handler/dog teams may be conducted statewide.

The tracking permit is issued before the start of the early bow season in September and a new handler must be certified by mid-August in order to be included on that permit.
In order to show credibility to the program and basic ability, a handler and dog must complete at a minimum, a United Blood Trackers UBT 1 evaluation. This evaluation is a pass fail evaluation administrated by a UBT judge and requires the dog and handler to complete an unmarked test line consisting of 8 oz. of deer blood, 400 meters long with two 90 degree turns and 1 wound bed. The line is at least 2 hours old and the dog must lead the handler to the deer skin at the end. There are currently two UBT judges in New Jersey.

Upon successful completion of the evaluation, the handler and dog team will receive a certificate from the United Blood Trackers and inclusion on New Jersey’s permit. The handler by inclusion on the permit is then required to complete the tracking data and submit it monthly to Dr Wolgast. A tracker that does not submit their monthly reports or year-end report may be removed from the permit.

Before a tracker enters the woods with a hunter a track report is started. This includes the name, address, phone, email and CID number of the hunter. The location of the property is also included on the report. The hunter then signs the top part of this report stating that he has permission to hunt this property and that tracking is allowed. The handler then calls the regional law enforcement office in that area and reports the tracking attempt to the office. If the deer is recovered the hunter must sign the report stating that the deer was recovered.

During the tracking process all Fish and Game laws and regulations pertaining to that season must be followed. The tracking of a deer does not allow trespassing on private property without permission of the land owner.

In the early years of the research permit, few New Jersey hunters knew this service was available to them. As time passed the word has spread, and today more and more hunters are taking advantage of certified tracker and dog teams to assist in the recovery of a deer they can’t find on their own.

All the trackers are volunteers and there is no cost for this service (though a tracker is allowed to accept a donation for fuel, vet bills, dog food etc.). Please keep this in mind when you call a tracker and they are unable to respond. They all have jobs, family commitments and most of them are hunters themselves.

The New Jersey permit has stood the test of time. Past and present permittees have proven that a certified leashed tracking dog can work successfully in New Jersey. There have been no incidents involving law enforcement since the study’s inception. The United Bowhunters of New Jersey, The Traditional Archers of New Jersey, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsman Clubs, and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife support this. So why isn’t it legal? The answer is simple. The law needs to be amended by legislators in both the state Assembly and state Senate and then signed by the Governor. This is not a law that can be changed by members of the New Jersey Fish and Game Council via a Game Code amendment.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has proposed the added language that would legalize tracking in the state of New Jersey and is as follows,
23:4-46 Dogs not to be used
“No person shall at any time, or for any reason, hunt for, capture or kill a wild deer with a dog. This shall not preclude the use of certified tracking dogs on leads by persons permitted by the Division of Fish and Wildlife to search for and recover deer lost by hunters during the regular deer seasons.”

We have reached our goals with this permit, and it’s now time to approach our legislators and let them know this is important to us. Every hunter I have ever tracked for, whether we found the deer or not was grateful and supportive of the service. We’re here to help you and now I’m going to need to ask you for some help. In the near future, with the help of the UBNJ, I need to initiate a letter writing campaign to selected legislators to let them know this is important to voting hunters. Very few bills that are introduced are ultimately passed each year in Trenton, and in order to stand a chance of amending a bill that most legislators would consider insignificant they need to know it matters to their constituents. A flood of letters from voting hunters will get their attention.

If this amendment became law a certified tracker would still need to call the Division of Law Enforcement before tracking, track on lead, obey the game laws, and respect the private property rights of landowners.

It will be the responsibility of the handler to obtain the required UBT 1 certification for each dog they track with and have it in their possession while tracking. If asked to produce it by a Conservation Officer while tracking, the handler must produce it or risk a citation.

The reason this will be required is to insure that this amendment will not be used as a loophole to have a dog in the field actually hunting deer. Calling the track in and having the certification will insure that the use of the dog is for the ethical recovery of a deer. The handler and leashed tracking dog team is a conservation tool used for the recovery of a dead deer. A leashed tracking dog being used to recover already shot deer is no different than a retriever used for recovering upland birds or ducks. The hunting of the deer has already been done.

Currently there aren’t enough trackers permitted in the state to meet the demand. Legalization would open the doors and attract more handlers that might be interested in tracking, but aren’t really interested in doing the paper work required to be on the permit. The more trackers available the less chance a deer with no blood trail or a lost blood trail will go unrecovered. We as hunters owe the deer we hunt every legal option we can use for recovery. A certified leashed tracking dog is another conservation tool to help meet that goal.

If you have a dog that you would like to check to see if it has an aptitude for tracking you will need to get some training materials. One way to do this is to collect blood, the liver and skin from your own deer harvests. Collect the blood and liver when you gut the deer and put it in a zip lock freezer bag. Once at home put the blood in a blender, strain the blood pour into 8 oz water bottles and freeze. One bottle will be the right amount for a training line. Take a cap of the same type of bottle and drill a few small holes in it. When you are ready to dispense the blood, switch caps. The liver can be divided into thirds and used as a drag. Take a knife and poke a slit through the liver and attach a piece of parachute cord for the drag. These can be frozen and used more than once. The hide will be saved and used to represent the deer at the end of the trail. A half of hide is plenty and these can be refrozen and used over. You will need something to mark the line so when you come back with the dog you will know exactly where it is. Clothespins with strips of flagging material work well. Clip these on branches or brush at eye level. Remove the pins as you pass with the dog. Don’t make the line too hard. Remember your first step is to see if your dog has an interest in this activity. Place the skin at the end, wait a couple of hours and see if the dog can get you to the skin. You may just find that your dog is a natural.

The time to legalize the use of certified, leashed tracking dogs to recover deer in New Jersey has come, and with your commitment to help this might become a reality.

For additional information about tracking dogs in general go to
For additional information about the New Jersey program or certifying a dog please contact Darren Doran at