Unfortunately, not every deer shot by hunters will be easy to recover. Maybe the hit was too far back or too high. Perhaps there’s not much blood sign to follow. I learned many years ago that there is still a very good opportunity to recover your shot deer by letting your dog follow the sign to your prize. Yes, this might sound weird, but a properly trained dog just might be the extra help you need.
Why can’t a dog be trained to follow the scent of deer blood? The answer is that he can. With just a few minutes each day in as little as one month, any dog, no matter the breed or size, can be trained to be a bloodhound. The trick is to train your dog to follow the scent of blood, not the scent of a deer. You do not want your dog chasing every deer it smells.
A dog wants nothing more than to make his owner happy. There is no question that a dog that is well cared for and treated with respect 365 days a year is more likely to perform well for his handler the few times you might actually need him.
Start the training by teaching the dog basic commands like stop, stay, and slow. It’s good to be able to control the dog while in the woods. After your dog has mastered these commands, it’s time to start training your dog to trail blood.
I start working with my dog a couple of months before deer season begins. I use blood from a deer that was killed the previous year that has been kept in the freezer. (Blood can be kept in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for several weeks or in the freezer up to one year. Shake well before using.) A couple of days before you are ready to start training, take the blood out of the freezer to thaw. By the time hunting season rolls around, your dog will be more than ready to trail the scent of blood.
A hunter has two ways to obtain the blood for training. Either from a previous kill, or blood obtained from a butcher shop. Drop the blood for a couple hundred yards or so along a trail in a zigzag fashion. Use more blood when you first start training your dog than what you will use as the dog advances in his training. At first, you might have to use as much as two pints. As your dog gets better as a bloodhound, a few drops every 7 to 8 yards is enough.
When starting out, use a short lead that is no more than 10 feet long to control your dog while on the trail. Keep your dog calm by rubbing him and talking to him in a gentle voice.
Allow your dog to smell the blood. If you have to put the dog’s nose down to the blood, do it. But be gentle. Repeat the command “search” a few times. Eventually he will be able to associate the word search with the smell of blood. Let your dog follow the blood trail while you control the pace. Do not let him run. A slow walk is best until the dog has trailing understood. Continue to follow the blood trail until the dog has a grasp of what it is supposed to be doing.
Just like when you take a young child hunting, you don’t want to let your dog get bored with the experience. If the dog is no longer having fun, he will not want to go back out and try it again. As soon as the dog shows that he’s tired, stop for the day.
The dog has to know when he’s reached the end of the trail during the training. Saturate a rag with deer blood to simulate a dead deer. Place the blood-soaked rag at the end of the blood trail. When your dog finds the rag, reward him. Pleasing you pleases your dog. When he knows how to make you happy, he’ll want to do it again and again.
Work with your dog 15 minutes a day for a month. By the end of the month, your dog will be pretty darn good at the art of trailing deer. Two months of this and he will be as close to perfect as you can hope for. After your dog has been out of action between seasons, remind him of what to do by having him run a couple mock blood trails.
While on the blood trail, if your dog starts moving erratically, his tail stills, and he stops smelling the ground, chances are that he lost the trail. Take your dog back to where you know there is blood and let him go at it again. When he begins to bark and growl, your deer is close by. Keep in mind that the deer still might be alive, so be ready for a follow-up shot.
While you’re hunting, make sure your dog is well cared for. Supply your dog with a bed and blanket for comfort. Keep this in the floor of your truck while you are hunting. Your beloved dog is sure to be thirsty after spending time on the trail. Have water available for your dog when you return to your vehicle so he can quench his thirst. A dog that is warm and well rested will perform better when the time comes, much more so than one that has been left out in the cold.
This is a new approach to find a wounded deer. Other hunters may think you’re a little nuts at first. This will quickly change when they begin to see the results. It won’t take long for your dog to be the most popular amongst your hunting buddies. Don’t be surprised if your friends unexpectedly want to babysit your dog one night shortly after sunset.
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