They call it “blood tracking”, but the name is certainly misleading. Hunters, especially men of my age, sometimes say. “If there’s blood to track, what do we need a dog for? Dogs and deer hunting don’t mix. EVER”.
The same problems exist in French where the equivalent term for blood tracking is recherche au sang. The Germans are more sophisticated; their term is Schweisswerk, literally “work on sweat”, involves more than blood scent alone.
For many years I’ve been tracking wounded deer after hunters gave up on them because there was no more blood. I even do my advanced training with tracking shoes, deer feet attached, that lay a scent line produced by the interdigital glands between the cloves of the hoofs. This works, but my deer hunting experience this fall reinforced my faith in the capability of a dog to follow a designated, deer, even an unwounded one, just as a police bloodhound can follow an individual “alleged perpetrator”.
I was hunting on a food plot in my own woods when a doe came in. Following her was a buck , a big six of the sort that never has a chance to get much better in my part of
. I had caught him on my trail cameras and he was distinctive; there was nothing else around like him. I waited and finally I got the “perfect” shot down into the oat plot 50 yards below me. The cross hairs were just where I wanted them, and at the shot the buck took a big leap into the brush, and disappeared. New York
I went down quickly to the hit site. No blood, no hair. Oh well! I knew this does happen sometimes. I knew my gun and I was confident/super optimistic as even experienced hunters can be when it is there own deer and a good one. What I did not see, until several days later, was the top of the log behind which I had been sitting as I shot.
My scope had shown a clear shot, but the rifled slug barrel, an inch and a half lower,
had been in line with the top of the log as you can see. The shot had been deflected, and I had never hit the buck at all. All this I did not know until I went back to this stand several days later.
It was getting dark and I didn’t have much time to look for sign in the briars and logging slash. I had seen nothing, but I knew that my tracking dog would make short work of the problem after supper. And we would get there before the coyotes.
After supper I took Joeri down to the woods. My plan was to work the woods roads around the five acre block the deer should be in. I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a blood trail leading out of it and down into the valley. Normally I begin at the hit site, but I had already checked this thoroughly, and I didn’t want to work through the thick stuff again if I didn’t have to.
On the circuit around the block Joeri indicated, at one point, that a deer had crossed the woods road, but there was no visible blood; Joeri was willing to leave this line, so I just marked that point with tape and continued around to the hit site.
I put on the long, stiff tracking leash, said “Find him!”, and Joeri began to work down through the briars and logging slash. He had a definite scent line, but I never saw a trace of blood. Oh well! Once you get started, you don’t quit. If a hunter had called me from 30 miles away to say that he had shot at a nice buck, but had no evidence of a hit, I would have gently turned down the call. But with my own deer on my own land it was different. More about this later.
Joeri came out of the slash, crossed the wood road exactly where he had previously indicated scent and I had marked the scent line. Still no blood, but the scent line was only two hours old and Joeri had no problems. He is a slow, careful worker, which is just what a 76 year old guy needs.
We worked down into the valley and on to property where I had permission to track. Now it was not so thick and with my coonhunter’s headlight I could see 50 yards ahead. We had gone about a half mile on the steep timbered hill and there he was! He got up and he flagged as he took off. I could distinctly see the high rack. I’m not too sure about why he was lying down and let me get so close, but there was no blood in the bed where he had been. And he had raised his white tail as he took off . Not good! But we continued for another 3/4 mile over hay fields and across a creek. Sometimes I could see his tracks in the frosty grass. I’m sure we crossed the scent lines of other deer, but it made no difference to Joeri. He was on his designated deer.
We crossed a state road, and I had no permission for the property on the other side. I marked the crossing and the next morning we were back with the necessary permission. We tracked another half mile, which was much more difficult. There was still no blood or bloody beds. When we came to another creek, wide and deep this time, I gave up. I still had my doubts, but Joeri and I had done all we could.
When I later returned to my stand and saw the log in the photo, I felt better. I knew that I had not killed that buck for the coyotes.
As I said earlier I would have turned down this call if someone else had called me from a distance with the information that I gathered at the start of my track. The problem is you can never be certain as you screen calls. Earlier in the bow season a bowhunter called me on my cell while I was having lunch at Subway. All he had was a couple of drops of blood, and he had searched in vain all morning. Since he was very close by, I said, “All right, I’ll check it out for you.” It didn’t sound good.
Joeri took the line. No blood for 300 yards. I told the hunter and his buddy, “It doesn’t look like we’ve got anything here. Everyone agreed but Joeri. When he saw we were ready to turn around he yelped and pulled. “All right” I said, “I’ll give it another 100 yards.” Fifty yards farther on, there lay the deer.
In most European countries, where tracking dogs and handlers are much more numerous than here, it is the custom, and often the law, that all shots, which are not clearly a miss, have to be checked out with a tracking dog. These are called “control searches”. One study of control searches for roe deer shot in
showed that 25% of the control searches there led to finding the deer. Denmark
We are a generation away from anything like this over here. Tracking dogs and handlers are still spread so thinly that we usually have to screen our deer calls and only take the ones most likely to produce a dead or mortally wounded animal. We like to learn that there is a good amount of blood at the start. But once we are at the hit site, a good dog knows that there is a lot more to blood tracking than blood.