Some 25 years ago I began deer stalking, after being brought up with other fieldsports, namely trout and salmon fishing and other forms of game shooting. At this time I had a passion for using working dogs to retrieve the game we shot, and I usually had several Labrador retrievers in my kennels.
As my involvement with deer management began to take off, I knew that having a dog for recovering wounded and lost deer was becoming more and more important. Until that point I had used my other gundogs to find any deer that had ran off, which although better than nothing, was not ideal.
To that end I sourced a German Wirehaired Pointer bitch from a friend, who’d worked its mother on deer and with hawks. She was my first dedicated deer dog. She did recover a lot of deer for us but was never trained to track properly. She would hunt freely, and when she found a beast she would come back and forth between myself and it, allowing me to eventually see where it was lying. The problem in those days was not having someone to turn to who could properly advise me on training and working the dog on large game. I knew what I was doing with gundogs, having trained and bred several over the years, but a tracking dog was alien to me.
I shoot large numbers of sika deer, which are known for running on, sometimes for several hundred metres despite fatal shots. I also guide guests on deer and often a track a beast that’s been shot late in the evening and cannot be found until the following day. This means I need a dog capable of tracking a ‘cold’ scent several hours old. I began initially to look at Bavarian Mountain Hounds as a possibility, but had concerns about the available lines in the UK. It appeared that many stalkers were using these dogs as the ‘latest great thing’ without having taken the time to establish exactly what they are capable of.
Given the ground, terrain and species of deer I stalk, the Hanoverian Schweisshund seemed to suit fit my needs better. As this was a breed I knew very little about with regards to temperament, breeding and training, I needed to speak to people who could offer guidance on those matters. Through websites I was able to track down Baron Georges Van Tuyll, who clearly had a connection with these dogs and sources of availability on the continent. After several months of conversing with Georges, I was introduced to Rudi Van Kets, who is the president of the Belgian Tracking Society, the Vlaasme Zweethonden Groep. It was clear they both wanted to know more about me and what my intentions were should they find a dog for me. I spent a lot of time discussing my needs, my experience and why I had decided on the HS as a deer dog.
Since Whisky came to Scotland, she taught me so much in recovering deer (it’s not me teaching her)
The result was Rudi kindly offering to find me a dog. In autumn 2011 Rudi contacted me to say the a friend of his in Hungary had a bitch he had put to a good dog, and a pup may be available. As it happened the bitch only gave birth to one pup, a bitch. It was a bitch I wanted and in particular a brindle one if possible. This pup was brindle, so I could not let this opportunity pass
Rudi offered to sort out all the details for me, the paperwork and export requirement. He also offered to home her with him in Brussels until the incubation period had passed for her inoculations that allowed her to travel to the UK.
In spring 2012 I drove from my home in the Scottish Borders to Rudi’s home to spend the weekend with his family and receive my first instruction and lessons in training a HS. I was welcomed into Rudi’s home and shown real hospitality by him and his wife and daughters. We spent a bit of time in the woods round his home with the pup he had humorously named Whisky because she was going to live in Scotland! Immediately I could see the early stages of this pup’s instinct when we began to follow roe deer running ahead of us.
After a couple of days I left to return to Scotland with Whisky in the rear of my car. We made the 12-hour journey back in one go, and only stopped once to allow her out for a walk. Whisky slept most of the way and never made a sound once. I have never had such a young dog appear so settled. That is in fact indicative of her temperament ever since. It was exactly the same when she was introduced to my other dogs, a Labrador, cocker spaniel and a GWP. In fact the GWP seemed to adopt her and they became so close, appearing to ignore the other dogs to play with each other. Sadly my GWP is no longer here, succumbing to illness last year. Incredibly Whisky is now treating two four-month old cocker spaniel pups I have in exactly the same way.
Since Whisky came to Scotland, she taught me so much in recovering deer (it’s not me teaching her). Rudi said two things to me when I first arrived to pick her up. Firstly, “This is how you hold the tracking lead,” and secondly, “Always, always trust your dog.”
She has proved her ability on several difficult tracks including one that crossed two small rivers. She did that when only a year old. She has been called out to recover beasts for other stalkers in the area, and everyone who sees her comments on her looks and her ability. She stalks every day I’m out with me, always walking to heel. She indicates deer ahead by lifting her nose to their scent and I can read her like a book now. She sits on my roe sack beneath a high seat when asked and will watch deer, rabbits and hares walk by without making a sound. I know traditionally this way of working such a hound may be frowned upon, but she offers so much more than being used as just a tracking hound.
She is, however, always worked on a tracking lead. She indicates sign very well along the track and will bark constantly at any found beast that is still moving. She shows just the right amount of aggression on deer I’m dragging or that are moving. The minute the deer stops moving, she too stops barking and sits watching over it. Sika stags can be aggressive when wounded, and a dog that runs straight in to try to kill one is likely to be at risk.
This breed is the ultimate deer dog in my opinion. As I said earlier, it’s her teaching me, and all I can offer her is guidance. We are still both young in our careers as trackers, and I know there is so much more for us both to learn, but I can’t ever imagine being without such a dog for as long as I stalk deer.