By Tom Penders
In Australia a variety of dogs are used by deer stalkers. In fact, the Game Regulations in Victoria list thirty gundog breeds and eight deer hunting dogs as approved for use by stalkers hunting sambar deer. These dogs are commonly used both before the shot to ‘indicate’ deer, and after the shot to track and recover deer.
Our closest neighbours across the ditch have of course been using dogs to indicate and recover deer very successfully. It is not uncommon to see the helicopter coming in to transfer you and your mates to a sika hunting block unloading along with a few New Zealand hunters in shorts and wellington boots a Hungarian vizsla or a German wirehaired pointer.
A number of dog breeds that have been systematically created in Germany by hunters are commonly used in Australia on deer both before and after the shot: German wirehaired pointers, Deutsch drahthaars, German shorthaired pointers, dachshund, weimaraner and the German hunting terrier (jagdterrier).
It is difficult as a person with English as their only language to unwind the hazy modern history of European deer stalking and the use of dogs. However, there is no doubt that the tracking and recovery of deer as a speciality is well established in Germany. The Germans have a long history and tradition of hunting deer and using dogs to track and recover animals after the shot. In Germany they have: high numbers of game being harvested; a strong ethical base for hunting; and a practice of recovering all game animals so the meat is either taken by the hunter or offered for sale. This has helped to drive the interest in using dogs for tracking and recovery and German hunters are required to have a qualified dog and handler within 50 kilometres of the land they are hunting available day or night.
In Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom (and no doubt a number of other countries in Europe) the tracking and recovery of deer is also specialised, regulated and highly organised. Dogs and their handlers not only recover deer shot by hunters but also provide a broader service to the community following up deer that have been hit by vehicles on the roads.
Some areas of the United States and Canada have also seen a number of organisations spring up to provide hunters with specialised dogs and handlers to track and recover wounded deer as well as other big game like bears. The use of dogs to track deer is not yet legal in all states of the States.
Organisations such as the: United Blood Trackers (UBT), UK Deer Track and Recovery (UKDTR) and the Danish Schweiss Registret (roughly translated as ‘deer blood register’) operate along similar lines. A register of qualified dogs and handlers are available to be called out and help track and recover a wounded animal.
Quite a variety of dog breeds are qualified for these registers with all the usual suspects that we find here in Australia featuring in large numbers: labradors, German wirehaired pointers, Deutsch drahthaars, German shorthaired pointers, springer spaniels, beagles, bloodhounds, jagdterriers and dachshunds. Some of the more specialised deer tracking and recovery dog breeds developed in Germany that are not seen here in Australia like the Bavarian mountain hound and Hanoverian hound are also common in the European tracking and recovery organisations.
While the rules vary somewhat from organisation to organisation the basics remain the same. To qualify for the register involves the dogs and the handlers completing to the satisfaction of an independent judge(s) a series of tracking tests. The dogs and handlers must prove their ability to follow both new and aged tracks of ‘wounded deer’ over considerable distance. The track is laid by a volunteer using deer hooves or blood soaked sponge, a small quantity of deer blood and perhaps some bone fragments or pieces of lung or liver. All of the laid testing tracks end with a ‘find’ of deer hooves or skin. Different tests include:
· 400 m/3h - the track is 400 metres long and has to be left for three hours. There must be two right angle turns included.
· 400m/20h – the track is 400 metres long and has to be left for 20 hours. As well as the two right angle turns the starting point is not clearly marked but is within a 20 by 20 metre square.
· 1000/m20h and 40h – a 1,000 metre track with three right angle turns a section where the ‘deer’ has travelled back over the same track. The first of the 1,000 metre tests is 20 hours old and second test is where the track is left for 40 hours.
Sometimes the tracking testing is part of formal testing for all round hunting ability that is done to formally qualify a dog as suitable for breeding. For example, in Germany the JGHV (Jagdgebrauchshundverband) as the umbrella organization of all versatile hunting dog clubs provides standardized testing including blood tracking for all versatile hunting dogs.
For the most part handlers on the register are expected to be experienced hunters with the necessary skills and licences to use a firearm to dispatch a deer. A non-judgmental handler with enough discretion to not broadcast the name and details of the hunter involved is preferred so as to avoid reluctance on the part of hunters to call out for help.
Most of the organisations providing registers of volunteers providing tracking and recovery services also provide training for their members and require the collecting of data for each deer tracked.
Contacting handlers on the register is done via phone with most organisations looking to protect their volunteer’s time by having a process in place to weed out the non-genuine callers.
In countries like Denmark there is an issue for the organisation running the register around not having too many handlers and their dogs available in any one area as there may be not enough ‘work’.
Tracking is always done with dogs on a long lead (six to10 metres or longer) attached to a wide collar or harness. Dogs used for tracking and recovery are not trained to bring down or attack a deer. If the deer is moving in front of the dog and handler continually the dog is trained to be released and bail the deer until the handler arrives.
Australian Deer Association (ADA) members are encouraged by the Code of Conduct and formal training to make every effort to take only shots that will kill the deer immediately. However, the success stories of wounded deer being recovered after dogs and handlers have tracked them for long distances over difficult terrain in poor weather are many and memorable and it is a positive step forward for deer hunting in this country to look to emulate hunters in Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States and others.