This past weekend was the archery season opener for all of us residing here in Zone C, as designated by the Florida Wildlife Commission. I had the great pleasure of enjoying the opening morning hunt with a good friend on property near my home. We hadn’t seen any deer yet, but by mid-morning, I was getting texts from a friend hunting about twenty minutes away who was. Not only was he seeing deer, he was fortunate enough to get off an arrow at a big doe for his freezer. The only problem was that she’d fled the scene into a deep, dark tangle of woods and he was having difficulty locating her.
Meghan, my guest for the weekend, decided it best that we should go and help him recover his deer and found the job quite a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. In fact, between the three of us, the tangled thicket of briars and tight underbrush made the job impossible; at times it was necessary to crawl about on your knees as the dense brush made it impossible to stand. In little time, we knew that we were in over our heads and needed some specialized help. Meghan pulled out her phone and called for the dog!
The use of tracking dogs began and was highly developed in Germany and other central European countries many years ago and that tradition has spread to many parts of the South here in our country. Today, the many breeds of dogs used to trail deer include bloodhounds, beagles, curs, labradors and golden retrievers, though the labradors seem to be most popular amongst the trainers I know of.
Tracking dogs are trained to follow the trail of the game animal either by its own scent, or by the smell of the blood and they make short work of a recovery. Usually within minutes, they can follow a scent trail and locate a downed animal in the most extreme conditions, where otherwise it would take a man hours to unravel the trail. Physically, dogs can slip in and out of the smallest trails with ease. Sure enough, once the Labrador arrived and was put on the trail leading into the jungle-like forest, he was off like a shot and guiding our way.
I’ve witnessed trail dogs used in the past to recover game, but until this weekend, I did not know that there is an entire network of handlers offering their services throughout the state, free of charge to any hunters having difficulty locating downed game. Their properly trained dogs ignore the fresher scent of healthy deer and stick with the main trail you introduce them to and the volunteers of this network regularly recover more than 125 deer per year. For more information about the Florida Blood Trailing Network (FBTN), you can find them on Facebook and they have posted a list of handlers for each county.
Obviously, hunters should not rely entirely on dogs for trailing deer. FBTN dog handlers get involved only after a hunter performs a thorough search and has basically given up hope because of no visible sign. That is when the FBTN members will join the search and their success rate is unbelievably high.
One handler I spoke to recently reports a FBTN recovery rate of approximately eight out of ten success ratio of all tracking attempts. This is remarkable since the hunter or hunters have already accounted for many, many hours in the woods. It’s his belief that the few deer that do go unrecovered were not struck a lethal blow and will recover. I took the time to burn up the phone lines last night conducting a very unscientific poll among my bowhunting friends and found that they were in favor of tracking dogs and were excited to learn of the FBTN. Each of them agreed with my own desire to not allow ourselves into a situation where we can’t recover our game, but if we ever do, knowing that there is a service out there to assist us is comforting knowledge!
Tracking deer and other big game is a major part of the hunting experience and is a skill, which can take many years to develop. I would highly encourage any hunters taking up a bow and arrow, to spend almost as many hours learning to track and trail as they do shooting their bow. It’s a very important part of the hunt. I’m thankful of the men and women of the FBTN for making themselves available to all of us for those rare occasions when we find ourselves at a loss.
As always, if you have any questions or comments on this week’s column, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. God bless and good hunting!