One of the main reasons I eventually became a hunting dog owner was to ensure I’d maximize my chances of finding downed and wounded game. Particularly, in my case, ducks. Not being able to retrieve ducks I’d knocked down just made me ill, and I vowed it was either stop duck hunting, or get a dog. I got a dog.
These days I don’t hunt ducks much; I spend more time in pursuit of upland game birds like grouse, pheasants and partridge, and of course I still hunt deer and other big game, with a passion.
My dogs are Wachtelhundes, a German breed that are, like many of the German hunting dogs, used for tracking, trailing, flushing and retrieving just about anything one wants to train them to do.
My friend Gary, who has run a hunting lodge not far from where I live, depends on his Wachtelhundes for ducks and upland birds, but also to find big game, including bears and wolves, his guests come to hunt. Gary instructs his guests not to try and chase down any game that runs-off’ after they shoot; rather, they are instructed to wait until Gary’s return and he’ll track down the animal with his dog. Almost all his hunters hunt from high stands, a practice they are very familiar with as most of his guests come from Europe, where this is the common hunting methodology used.
I haven’t used my dogs for tracking downed moose or deer I’ve shot at because, with one notable exception, every big game animal I’ve shot has pretty much dropped dead in its tracks. A few went a short distance, but were easily retrieved. The one exception was a large buck I shot and hit, but was unable to retrieve. I didn’t use my dog – Brill – to help find it because I had never trained her to do blood tracking, and because there was not a lot of blood, I figured, in a distraught frame of mind, the dog would never find the deer. I still think about that deer, and know I made at least one big mistake by not letting the dog have a chance to track it. She had a much better nose than mine, and to think I could be a better tracker than her was plain stupidity on my part. I also believe it was a mistake not to have trained her to do blood trailing in the first place. It may not have been necessary for her, but it would have been good training for me, at the least. Even though this event occurred several years ago, it still bothers me.
And it should. Making every possible effort to retrieve wounded game should be a priority for all hunters. Striving to make as clean a kill as possible should be the top priority, but mistakes can and do happen. It’s hunting – conditions to dispatch quarry are usually something much less than perfect.
Not long ago I heard from a former colleague of mine about an organization that’s dedicated to using leashed dogs trained specifically to track down wounded big game. They call themselves the Big Game Blood Trackers [Ontario] (BGBTO) and they’re having an introductory seminar and field workshop in the Peterborough area of Ontario (a couple of hours east of Toronto) this July (Saturday July 18 & Sunday July 19), at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) Hunting & Fishing Heritage Centre. It’s a good place to hold this type of event.
They’ve lined up a number of knowledgeable speakers from the USA and Canada on topics such as the history of using leashed dogs in Europe and North America to track wounded game, how to select a good tracking dog (it doesn’t rely any any particular breed) and practical dog training, with a number of in-the-field examples of dogs at work.
If it was closer, I’d be attending. Too bad it’s a two day drive for me. But if you are interested, and within range, I’d strongly recommend one should at the least think about attending and registering for what promises to be an enlightening and entertaining weekend. A lunch and evening BBQ is part of the package, so it sounds like a good time. Hunters have had a long and successful relationship with dogs, and I’m thinking this is the kind of event that should help that tradition continue.