Years ago, while archery hunting, I had taken a shot at a young buck and then watched as it disappeared into cover. After climbing down from the stand, I located the arrow and found good blood covering the shaft. And, as any experienced bow hunter knows, the work begins with tracking duties.
A friend and I scoured the tall grass and found enough blood to track the prize to a tributary of the Looking Glass River, but not beyond. After several futile hours, and as my pal was leaving for home, I remarked that I would get my dog, Leroy — a black Labrador retriever that never tracked a deer. I was desperate.
Back at the scene, the highly excitable canine, was put on the track and hurriedly pulled on the mandated leash up and through the same water where we had given up. My heretofore inexperienced four-footed friend pulled hard right through the waterway, when I scanned the path with my light. To my delight he was on the blood trail and within a minute he was on top of the fallen buck. This was my epiphany moment — one never to be forgotten.
I had learned that an untrained family dog can become a successful tracker if given a chance. From that point in time, I always allowed the dog to find any deer I had taken, even if I knew exactly where they succumbed. I considered the exercises as refresher courses.
After Leroy went to the happy hound hunting grounds in the sky, we obtained another mutt that was struck by a vehicle in Lansing and left in the road to die. We paid the bill for veterinary services and located the owner, who for whatever reason declined to reimburse us and gave us the dog we named Annie. This had been a city dog tied to a chain all its life outdoors and I never considered to take it afield until one day that I had exhausted myself during another unsuccessful deer tracking adventure.
Annie had never hunted anything. Nonetheless, she was leashed and freed to find my venison and that she did. Although she never showed signs of following a scent trail, she poked along without a whimper until she followed her nose to the whitetail. Even then she exhibited no real interest but it didn’t matter; her success was my success.
Next in line years later, a friend’s beagle mix dog, Reese, became my dog (in spirit only) and was called into tracking duty. Reese was a natural and not only found the first deer for which we needed help, but found many afterward. As a reward, we would share a bit of fresh, wild meat with the little guy who thoroughly enjoyed it. Reese is still alive and well, but has moved to another home in Livingston County with his owner and is still my friend.
Now, my hunting partner, Joe, has had a young blue tick hound mix named Junior for over a year now and he is the heir apparent to the line of house-dog trackers. Although he remains untested afield, he is certain to provide his nose when needed and I have no doubt as to his level of desire and ability.
If you’ve never given an available canine a chance to assist in tracking chores, leash one up and hang on. Just make sure to check the hunting regulations, because there are many aspects of using a tracking dog legally to be aware of.
If you cannot come up with a dog to help find your fallen trophy, there is a contingent of Michigan tracking dogs available for hire on a moment’s notice. They can be found online at michigandeertracknhounds.com.
The point is not to give up tracking unless you’ve given a dog a chance to help, because the nose knows.