By Jacob VanHouten
“Never give up” was the last thing I said before giving it “one more shot” at finding the lost black bear I and two others had been looking for the last 4-5 hours. The bear had been shot the previous night with a crossbow bolt at 16 yards. The hunter was sure he had made a killing shot with a clean pass through from a broadside angle.
The arrow was located with blood on shaft and fletching…but only a small trace of visible blood at the shot location. One pin-size drop of blood was located about 30 yards away and that was it. The three of us had made numerous circles, grids, and moose trail searches without any luck. As we sat on a stump trying not to sweat to death in the Ontario August heat, I told the group I was making another run at it.
Following a well-used bear trail that I had already checked out, I went about 200 yards until it slowly dissipated. I decided to “bush whack” and headed at a right angle towards a ridge…meandering through the path of least resistance, I went at least another 300 yards past the trail and there he was. Lying on its back was a nice big (400 lbs. plus) boar. The shot had entered well, but had angled out his groin and the wound had not bled at all externally. It was eventually a lethal shot, but I had really gotten lucky (the harder you work, the luckier you get) and so had the hunter who had given up hope of ever finding his trophy bear. Getting that bear back to the boat and into camp is a whole other story.
After that experience and several “unrecovered” deer, I made a decision to do something about finding lost big game.
INCREASING YOUR RECOVERY ODDS
If you are a bear hunter, (especially hunting over bait), the loss of a bear may either happen to you or someone you know during your hunting life. An underutilized method to increase your odds of recovery may include the use of a tracking dog. I am not talking about traditional “bear hounds” used to run and tree. I am talking about “blood tracking” dogs following a bow, crossbow, rifle or shotgun wounded animal.
The first time I observed a “blood tracking” dog was while volunteering as a deer tracker for limited mobility hunters participating in a NWTF Wheelin’ Sportsmen deer hunt. Held during the first three days of the rifle season, the hunt allowed hunters to have a chance at bagging a buck or doe with the assistance of staff and volunteers. One of the volunteers brought along his dog, “Gus.” Several volunteers and hunters were watching Gus, the “different looking” dog, wander around the meeting site greeting people as they arrived.
“What kind of dog is that?” people would ask. Gus turned out to be a standard wirehaired Dachshund. To the untrained eye, this handsome dog did not appear to be a “wiener dog,” which is what most people think of when they hear “Dachshund” (and don’t say “dash hound”), in either size or appearance.
After a group of us “master tracker” volunteers could not locate a participant’s wounded deer, Gus came in and found the deer, with absolutely no visible blood, in less than 20 minutes. This was a serious “wow” moment for me. I kept the memory of that experience tucked away. Fast-forward 10 years, after sharing the experience with my brother-in-law and loaning him the book: Tracking Dogs for finding Wounded Deer by John Jeanneney, he purchased a pup. He had great success with his dog, which convinced me.
The aforementioned book was written by the man that may be considered the “father” of on-leash tracking dogs in the U.S., John Jeanneney of Berne, New York. First of its kind and in its 2nd edition (2016), his book provides everything needed to start using tracking dogs to recover wounded big game. Richard P. Smith (well-known Michigan native bear man) considers this book a “ground breaking volume” and also says, “This book should be required reading by all state and provincial commissions and administrators who are also responsible for setting regulations regarding the recovery with dogs.”
A retired university history professor, John Jeanneney is a hunter, tracker, dog trainer/breeder (of wirehaired dachshunds) and author. John began tracking deer in 1976 after being granted a research license from New York State’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Since that time, he has personally recorded over 1,000 deer “calls” for deer tracking/recovery, as well as numerous bear recoveries
If interested in finding out more, the group United Blood Trackers (unitedbloodtrackers.org) provides a good starting point. They are “dedicated to promoting resource conservation through the use of trained tracking dogs in the ethical recovery of big game.” The term “blood tracking” is most often used, even though it can be misleading in that usually when called into action, the dog will be on a track where there is little or no blood present. With experience and training, dogs can track individual wounded animals by other scents. Although primarily used to recover whitetail, tracking dogs are used for many big game animals such as bear, moose, elk and hogs.
THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR BEAR RECOVERY
1. Wounded bears many times leave little visible blood, but their strong scent makes them easy to track as far as dachshunds are concerned. They adapt almost immediately, even if they have never tracked a bear… although the dog may give you a “funny look” at first.
2. Bears should not be tracked with a dog at night when visibility is poor.
3. In my experience, mortally wounded bears won’t travel as far as deer, so if the track goes on for “miles” (literally), the bear will most likely recover and the tracking job can end.
4. Most dogs that track wounded deer will track wounded bear without any specialized training.
5. Bears can be hard to track by eye, but they are easy for a dog because the body and pad scent of the bear is overwhelmingly strong.
After the decision to purchase was made, the application and other paperwork was complete and accepted (yes, this is serious business), my wife and I made the trip to New York to meet John and his wife Jolanta (publisher/editor Teckel Time, Inc. www.born-to-track.com), to pick up our new puppy. Jolanta and John are an incredible couple that truly care about who will purchase one of their puppies and will spend at least half a day with the new owners demonstrating training techniques and other priceless information. The Jeanneney’s only offer one or two litters of puppies per year, so it is not cheap and not easy to acquire, but we were very happy to get one on June 3rd of this year.
Seeing our pup for the first time in his pen with 5 other puppies, we fell in love with “Jager”… pronounced “Yager,” (the “a” has an umlaut in German), which translates to: “Hunter.” It was chosen due to his lineage being direct from Germany (the breed itself was developed there to hunt badgers and foxes. Dachshund translates into English as: badger hound). Tommy, the sire Dachshund for Jager, is a proven deer and bear tracker and came directly from Germany.
John and Jolanta spent time showing us how to use a liver and blood “drag” line to train our young puppy. At only 9 weeks old, Jager readily followed a one hour-old line, which included three 90-degree turns. Jager is a born tracker and is now a very happy member of our family. He has made many dragline tracks since and is currently 5 months old and will be ready for his first real test this fall. My family jokes that I got this dog only for “poor shooting relatives.” Not true, but if needed, I am confident that Jager will be ready to try his first recovery this fall.
Training and Use of Tracking Dogs
There are many breeds of dogs that can be used for tracking bear and/or deer. These include the scent hounds such as dachshunds, beagles, bloodhounds, coonhound; pointers/retrievers like labs, golden retrievers, Chesapeakes; curs/border collies; and old breeds like jack russell terriers and German shepherds. All have their own advantages and disadvantages, of course.
The dachshund has shown to be a formidable and versatile breed for tracking wounded bear, deer and other big game. With their innate hunting sense, training of a newly purchased dachshund puppy can lead to an excellent chance of developing a usable tracking hound, by reinforcing natural instincts, basic obedience training, and motivating and encouraging a young pup, as well as “on lead.”
The owner/handler must work in tandem as a team with the tracking dog. Communication with the hunter is important to determine perceived shot location or “wound” which will add to the successful conclusion of any track. Young dogs can be started on a “drag line” of liver and blood and even the preferred German technique of using “Fahrtenshuhe” (Tracking Shoes) which uses an actual deer leg attached to a boot or shoe. The leg from an individual deer must always be used as dogs recognize individual deer through the interdigital gland found between the hoofs. A 30-foot lead that does not easily catch on brush can be used (different types of line/rope are used). Typical rewards at the end of a dragline include “nibbles” on the liver, hide/skin or leg.
Like any other dog/handler “team,” it is essential that they work together closely. Each can recognize in the other behaviors that will result in the positive outcome of a wounded game animal tracking event, which is of course what the hunter is hoping for, either in the location of the wounded game, or the determination that the shot/wound was not lethal.
Obviously there is much to know and learn about tracking wounded big game such as bear and deer. Many books and videos are now available (other than the previously mentioned book), but a few other good books include: Tom Brown’s The Science and Art of Tracking (Berkley, 1999); Richard P. Smith’s Tracking Wounded Deer, How to Find and Tag Deer Shot with Bow and Gun (Stackpole Books 1988); and Niels Sonergaard’s Scent and the Scenting Dog (Denmark, 2006).
As previously mentioned, the group United Blood Trackers.org (firstname.lastname@example.org) is also a good place to inquire and gain further information, including “Find-a-Tracker” listing and regulations for each state that allows the use of tracking dogs.
This season and in the future, whether using a bow, rifle, shotgun, crossbow or black powder, make every attempt to make a good lethal shot. However, if not, consider utilizing a tracking dog (either of your own, or from an experienced handler… check state regulations as well) to make your recovery. Good hunting.