A short story for you.
I was on my way home from stalking last Sunday and had a call from a friend whose client had shot a muntjac doe that was hard hit but had run. They had searched for nearly an hour but hadn't been able to find it, so I stopped off with my lab, Fallow.
Now Fallow is a general purpose dog who I use for picking up and beating, but also take stalking. I've never really trained her for deer other than taking her on Stone's Deer Dog day a few years ago and subsequently trying her on a few simple trails. That said, she's found deer for several clients in the past, including in one memorable instance a muntjac buck that a client had shot at last light and that she found the next morning. Oh, and I always let her work her way onto any deer that I've shot.
We walked to where the muntjac had been standing when shot and I put Fallow onto the trail. Within a minute she had worked her way up to the muntjac which was lying stone dead but well hidden under some thick pine fronds - even walking next to them you wouldn't have seen the muntjac.
There are several points to my story above:
First, any dog is better than no dog
Second, we use training to hone a dog's natural skills - but those natural skills are there nonetheless
Third, you don't have to have a highly trained, dedicated, deer dog to find deer - your plain, Jack-of-all-trades, lab can find deer. Perhaps not always, or under the most testing conditions, but they can find deer.
Fallow is primarily a family pet, the matriarch of the pack and - to be blunt - a cantankerous old bitch! But she loves coming stalking and is steady to deer at 10 metres and less. She will sit beneath a high seat for a couple of hours (with only the occasional whine), and will walk and sit at heel when I'm stalking. Yes, sometimes she will just sit down and sulk for no apparent reason, and her love of retrieving a pheasant will occasionally get the better of her when out stalking, but in the General Ledger of my stalking life she is still hugely in credit. She may be a cantankerous old bitch, but she's my cantankerous old bitch, and I love her for it.
I often read threads in this section of the site and think "why would anyone ask a question about training dogs for deer, when it seems you need some special tracking breed with a whole slew of German qualifications after its name, and have to dedicate yourself to training it all day every day, when all I've got is my old mutt!".
Don't get me wrong, it would be great to have a "proper" deer dog, but I simply cannot justify it. If I was stalking every week, and particularly if I was guiding clients full-time, that would be another matter.
I know the above trail was a simple find - not a 2,000 metre, 20 hour old trail - but in my experience represents the most common type of need the average recreational stalker has for finding a wounded/dead deer, at least here in the soft South.
I also know that comparing what my lab does to what a dedicated deer dog can do is like comparing an egg and spoon race to the Olympic 100m final, but most of us don't aspire to run the Olympic 100m final. I do realise that there's a huge amount of satisfaction to be had from training a dog to be able to follow cold, complex, intermittent trails.
I hugely respect those people who have dedicated deer dogs and the time, energy and dedication to devote to training them, but my life outside stalking prevents me doing that, at least for the present. So in the meantime I will carry on with my grumpy, farty, frustrating - but loveable - do-it-all lab.
So to anyone who might read these threads and perhaps feel intimidated by not having a "proper" deer dog, or who has a dog that is used for general shooting and that you haven't tried on finding deer, my advice would be to just give it a go. You may be very pleasantly surprised, you may not, but at least you will have tried everything in your power to find that deer.