This is a relatively short piece as I didn’t do any type of formal training with my labs. I used a basic system that turned my best friend into a deer recovery machine. Better than any hunter I know.
- Quicker recovery time of game.
- Ability to track wounded deer without a visible blood trail.
- A trained, skilled dog establishes obedience.
- You can assist neighbors and fellow hunters in your neck of the woods with tracking jobs. Maybe one day, you’ll need a favor from them or a hunting invitation!
- Incorporating your dog with the pursuit of whitetails creates a bond like no other. A bond that you won’t share with anyone else at deer camp.
My first lab, Duke, took to blood and the scent of deer fairly quickly. After a deer kill, I’d locate the animal but would not move it or step on any blood. I always wore rubber boots to help mask my scent. The idea was to know where the deer expired before releasing Duke. Sometimes he would stay on the correct path but if he did not, I could steer him the right direction.
It’s imperative to watch your dogs mannerisms and understand how he or she reacts when they follow the scent with good blood, no blood or when multiple whitetails flee the kill site in the same direction. Over time you’ll learn how your dog handles each situation. Keep in mind, they will encounter all kinds of smells: deer, raccoons, opossums and armadillos just to name a few. I’ll cover how to forge a thirst for deer over any other animal in the whitetail woods.
This buck dropped 15 yards from my doe decoy. However, I still used the opportunity to allow Duke to find the deer by walking him in downwind.
After several deer retrievals, you can start to gauge the dogs interest with deer and blood. However, it will take several seasons to fully develop the skill as it’s all about reps. The major key element for tracking success – allow the dog to spend time with the deer. At the skinning shed or the back of your truck, provide time for your canine to sniff, lick and get acquainted with the animal. They need to take in all scent glands, urine, organs, guts and blood. The latter is the most critical. If they try to, permit the dog to ingest blood as it’ll become a treat and create an primal craving. This alone will be the fuel to find the next wounded deer. The newly acquired love for deer should eliminate a dog from straying down a trail after another species when tracking.
Duke & Duck never miss cocktail hour at the skinning shed.
Both Duke and Duck developed a fondness for blood, raw meat and anything they could sneak from the skinning shed. Without question, this drove their natural instinct to hunt, track and use their nose. I’ve always given my dogs raw meat and organs at the time of kill. However, small quantities is crucial to leave them wanting more and to maintain solid health.
Do’s and Don’t:
- Do use a leash. I find it better to know exactly where the dog is and what it’s doing. However, you need to keep up the pace and not slow down your dog. I prefer a leash, as opposed to, the bell or barking method to reduce unneeded pressure on the deer herd.
- Do reward your canine when the deer is found. Positive reinforcement and a piece of raw meat has worked for me!
- Do let the dog stay on a trail even if you see no visible blood. If the scent runs dry you will be able to tell by the dogs mannerisms.
- Do keep in mind the wind direction and if you need to sweep in downwind.
- Don’t let people get ahead of the dog.
- Don’t let any hunters that aren’t skilled at tracking anywhere near the kill site or blood trail until the dog is trained.
A hunt I’ll never forget. Duke stopped and pointed a wounded buck that was bedded down purely on instinct. The deer has looking right at Duke. I never taught him actions to take with deer still alive. RIP buddy.
Very quickly your dog will learn when it’s time to track a deer and flip into “hunter mode”. Once training has been implemented and the fire is lit, you’ll have a better tracker than any hunter you know.