I was looking for something on the internet and came across this article by John Jeanneney, who is a well known author on the subject of tracking wounded deer.
I think it highlights perfectly why any deer dog should be trained on tracking where no blood is present.
It is also worth noting that the track was not hours or days old, but is one I think that would have caused many 'trained deer dogs' in this country to fail. It is an example of what any stalker could face every time they go out with a rifle.
I have not posted this to cause any further argument on the subject, but thought it may be of interest to anyone who has a dog and would like see what it should be expected to be capable of.
It may also highlight to any doubters the importance and method of using tracking shoes in training a dog.
What a Tracking Dog Can Do by John Jeanneney
I guess we’re stuck with the term ” blood tracker” but it’s certainly misleading as a description of the whole job that a tracking dog can do. Yes, a trained blood tracker can follow a heavy or a light blood trail, but his real value becomes apparent when there is no blood at all to be seen.
The lack of visible blood may be due to rain or snow cover, which are not much of a problem for a good dog. But my dogs have taught me that they can be a big help when there was never any blood on the ground to begin with.
On December 18, 2004, I shot a buck with my muzzle loader. It was a long, standing shot, but I was almost positive, on the basis of his reaction, that I had hit him hard. I went down to the hit site to check things out. There was no hair; the brisk wind could have explained that. But there was absolutely no blood either. I worked out along his escape direction for a hundred yards; there was not a drop of blood and no drag marks or other sign in the frozen leaves. Finally, I went back to the house and got my tracking dog Sabina. Equipped with her tracking leash, my handgun and a light we went back down to the hit site. Now I let Sabina check it out.
“Yes”, she said. “You hit him hard!” Let me explain that I "read” Sabina a lot in the woods by her body language. I had full confidence now, but we tracked more than a half a mile before I saw a spot of blood. Shortly after that we jumped the deer. What followed was a long and exciting chase that I’ll tell another time. The point I want to make now is that a smart dog’s nose can tell us all kinds of thing about a deer. There’s a lot more to it than just letting the dog tow you along in the direction that the deer went.
You don’t want to spend a whole day trying to track a deer that is only slightly wounded. A skilled dog will show you the widely separated blood drops and smears that tell you where the deer is hit… perhaps too high (high blood smears) or perhaps too far back so that you know you have a gut shot deer, destined to die for certain. A dog can certainly pick up the scent particles that drift off a wounded deer; they know the deer is wounded for sure. But I’ve discovered that they also use other kinds of scent to recognize and follow an individual deer.
I‘ve been learning a lot by using a fancy German invention called the Faehrtenschu. (You have to be very careful how you pronounce this word) I had some doubts about the Faehrtenschu at first, but now I am convinced that it is the best advanced training tool we have short of actually tracking real wounded deer.
Very briefly the Faehrtenschue are like heavy rubber sandals that you strap to your rubber boots. There is a well-made aluminum casting attached to the heel, and on this casting are mounted two hose clamps, one above the other. The two sets of hose clamps, one on each sandal, firmly hold deer hoofs.
You can walk along through the woods and fields and easily lay a deer track. Of course a smart dog knows that this is not the real thing, but he likes to track it anyway. At first I dribbled a little blood along sections of the “F” shoe track, but then I stopped using blood altogether and found that it worked just as well. I could lay out a track in the early evening, and then my dog would follow it twelve hours later. He did this through alfalfa fields and wooded areas that I knew had been frequented by deer during the night. He was also able to do this on a 24 hour line if the conditions were decent.
The dog was probably following the interdigital scent from the deer feet in the “F” shoes, but I wondered if he was also using my own human scent to help him stay on the line. My wife pointed out that in the summer I often have so much human scent that a duck could track me.
Well, I tried an experiment. First I used lots of deer hunting soap in all the right places. Then one evening I laid out a half mile line in open fields, marking it with widely spaced, red surveyors’ flags. Then I changed the deer feet in the “F” shoes to those from a different deer. Early the next morning I laid cross trails with the new feet cutting back and forth across the original track. I marked the new cross lines with pink flags that were not set right on the intersection where they would be a clue for the dog.
My human scent was on both the original track and the cross tracks laid with feet from the second deer. When I worked the dog at mid morning, he hesitated a moment at the intersections, but then he always took the proper, original line. It was pretty clear that for him each set of deer feet had a distinctive, individual deer’s scent. Probably the individuality was in the scent given off by the waxy substance in the interdigital glands which are positioned on top of the foot where the two cloven halves come together. This scent, which is not placed in direct contact with the ground, holds up amazingly well. All this made me wonder if dogs rely on interdigital scent much more than we realize when they are tracking a wounded deer.
The ability to track individual animals certainly applies to following a wounded bear with a tracking dog. This is obvious to bear hound men, but may not be so obvious to others. I find that bear foot print scent lasts over 40 hours, and this is what a dog has to go on when all blood is absorbed by the fat and hair. You are lucky to have the dog show you a blood smear on a tree trunk every few hundred yards. This confirms the line, but it is not what the dog is tracking.
I have actually had hunters tell me, “ I didn’t call you because there wasn’t any blood except right at the beginning. I thought you had to have blood for a blood tracking dog.” There are times when I wish that the term “ blood tracker” had never been invented!
From Full Cry, October 2006, p 66.