Having to track a wounded deer with a dog combines deer hunting’s worst-case scenario with man’s best friend. In some states it is illegal, in others it is legal but only done as a charitable favor between hunters, and in some places it is big business.
In every case, it is a sight to behold and often the only way some deer are ever recovered.
“The first thing you learn when you track as many deer as we do, is that all the old wives’ tales about what wounded deer do are nonsense,” said Ryan Rothhaar, Cloverdale, Indiana.
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Rothhaar and his partner Katia track deer within an hour of their home every year at no charge using their professionally trained, four-year-old Standard European Dachshund, Oskar.
“We have never tracked a wounded deer that went to water to die, for example,” he said. “Almost all of them simply go to a bedding area, whether they were shot in the morning or in the evening.”
He also revealed that the majority of deer not recovered by hunters are shot too high in the deer’s body.
In this, and any other situation that requires a dog to find a wounded deer, Rothhaar has some advice to make success more likely.
“Stay off the trail and call us immediately,” he said.
In fact, most deer trackers prefer talking to hunters before season. There are situations they can help the hunter avoid which will make the odds of success a lot better.
For example, even the best tracking dog has a tough time following a wounded deer from the point where hunters lost the trail. Rothhaar says that spot is like a “scent-bomb” to a tracking dog and prefers hunters don’t even follow a trail if they think they made a bad hit on a deer.
“People wander all over in these spots trying to re-find the trail. They trample any deer scent and leave all kinds of foreign smells for the dog to sort out,” he said. “If we get past the scent-bomb spot and back on the trail, we are usually pretty successful at finding the deer, but it can be tough.”
Not every wounded deer Rothhaar tracks is recovered or even dead, however. For this reason he doesn’t take any money for his services.
Money makes him an employee of the hunter and he prefers reserving the right to decide if a hit was nonfatal. If no money changes hands, Rothhaar feels comfortable ending the search, regardless of the hunter’s opinion.
Not all deer trackers work for free. Many accept a fee to cover gas money. Others charge gas money and a nominal fee for their time.
In some places, dog-tracking services are big business and can even cost a hunter as much as $1,000.
Where big deer are big business, and clients pay ranches upward of $10,000 to shoot record-book quality deer, they don’t blink at a $1,000 fee to find their deer.
There are dog-tracking services in these places where handlers make a good living simply finding other people’s deer.
The right dog
Nearly any dog can be trained to track wounded deer but some are better at it than others.
Rothhaar likes his Dachshund because it comes from a proven, hunting bloodline and is small enough to handle easily in the field. He does not believe the sex of the dog makes a difference.
Bloodhounds are the traditional favorites among some trackers, and for good reason.
A human has about 5 million olfactory receptors in their nose, a German shepherd has about 225 million and a bloodhound has a whopping 300 million! That is more than any other canine.
Additionally, bloodhounds’ droopy ears and wrinkly skin help collect odor molecules, and their body shape helps them keep their noses close to the ground.
Despite their exceptional smelling ability, however, Rothhaar warns against using bloodhounds to track deer.
“Bloodhounds are perhaps the best blood trackers but they are huge and exhausting because they routinely drag the handler around the woods night after night,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of every track job can be done successfully by any hunting breed, so a bloodhound is a bit of an overkill.”
He also pointed out that deer tracking only takes place a couple months a year, so it is important to choose a breed that you enjoy living with all year.
Ryan and Katia Rothhaar and their dog are available for hunters within an hour of Brazil, Ind., and can be reached at (812) 241-2802.
Hunters around the country in need of dog tracking services should check out www.unitedbloodtrackers.org. The site not only contains contact information for trackers across the U.S., but also tells hunters where it is legal to track wounded deer with dogs.