By Josh Boyd
As anyone who has ever found themselves on a lengthy tracking job can attest, searching for a wounded deer to no avail and with nowhere to turn is nothing short of nerve-racking. When a seemingly easy to follow blood trail dries up in a matter of feet, leaving you with little recourse, your stomach seems to clinch in knots, and anxiety sets in.
We are ethically bound to pour every ounce of effort into recovering any wounded game animal, and it can be crushing to come up empty at the end of our exhausting search. We replay the hunt over and over again in our heads, wishing for a better outcome. Unfortunately, the despair that is felt when running out of perceivable options is a tough pill to swallow.
As troubling as this scenario can be, many states have recently opened the door to a new means of rectifying such a situation. At this time, over half of the states in the nation allow the use of tracking dogs for deer recovery.
However, hunters in these states often wrestle with the fine details over when to call in a tracking dog, and what to do in order to give a dog and their handler the best possible chance of successfully recovering their deer.
When to Make the Call?
Ben Pedigo is a man that is quite versed in the art of tracking. Pedigo spends each fall fielding calls from hunters with nowhere else to turn, and anguish in their voice. He and his dog, Trapper, respond to an untold number of calls every year, and maintain such a track record of success, that his phone seldom sits idle during the better portion of the season.
From Pedigo’s experience, he feels that one of the biggest mistakes that hunters make is that of waiting for a significant amount of time before calling in a tracking dog. He says that this can often make the track more difficult. Pedigo feels that a hunter is best to call in a dog as soon as they realize that a less than satisfactory shot has been made.
“If you get to the location of the shot, and do not feel good about the situation, or know that the shot was bad, do not begin tracking on your own if you know that a dog can be called. The more scent that you lay down, and the more that a particular area is disturbed, the harder a trail becomes for the dog to follow,” says Pedigo.
The Anatomy of a Blood Trail
When attempting to decipher how well a deer has been hit, Pedigo speaks heavily of the value that is afforded by educating yourself as to what different blood trails tell a hunter. Although a dog tracks by following the scent emitted by various physiological changes that occur in the body of an adrenaline-addled deer, Pedigo says that the blood trail itself can provide a wealth of information.
“Lung blood tends to be bright and bubbly, liver shots typically give off dark blood, and stomach shots often leave stomach vial in the area of the shot. It is important to know the individual signs of various shots, because this can be relayed to a tracker when they are first called,” Pedigo says.
According to Pedigo, hunters who are unsure of the meaning of what they observe also have another tool at their disposal. Today’s cell phones are capable of taking clear and concise photos, which in turn can be sent to a tracker for further interpretation before their arrival.
“A hunter can send pictures of the shot area to the tracker so that they can see what is going on. They can look at the blood to get an idea of how the deer has been hit. This is important because it allows a tracker to determine whether or not to wait for a certain period of time, like in the case of a stomach or liver hit,” Pedigo says.
Taking Up the Trail
Much like falls of the past, Pedigo expects to take up a number of trails in the months to come. He has seen the aftermath of less than desirable shot placement, and has witnessed the dismay of many dejected hunters. However, he feels that it is important for hunters to know that they have a resource at their disposal when desperation sets in.
“Some tracking jobs become long and do not always end in the outcome which we hope for, but it is worth every bit of effort when you see the smile on a fellow hunter’s face at the end of a successful track,” Pedigo says.