What belongs in the kitbag of someone who works with a tracking dog? How can we make our job easier? What materials are tough enough to withstand constant use in the field and in training? These are common questions for those who begin tracking work.
All too often I come across people who think tracking work just consists of following a dog. They imagine the dog working on a long leash in front of them, taking the easiest path. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know that wounded game often takes the most difficult route available, though immensely think cover. And how often have you seen quarry cross a stream? You know it happens.
To track down a wounded animal, your dog is the primary tool. We must rely on the primitive instinct of our dog to do the bulk of the work. The ‘capture’ of game is one of the fundamental principles long passed down through generations of dogs – it is a trait they have often been purposefully bred for. Apart from that, a hunter will often choose a male dog or a bitch, based on expectations of its character. An independent male will provide us more stressful moments than a caring bitch, who in turn may be more social. So the choice is down to you.
Our dog we already have. We now come to another important item: our firearm. We need something that can quickly dispatch wildlife and stop it suffering. Having one is obviously not a luxury, but opinions differ as to what’s best for the job. There are people who swear by handgun, but most stick with a long firearm, preferably a repeating rifle. There are differing opinions but the modern sporting gun industry offers a rich choice of specially made tracking rifles. A tracking rifle should satisfy the following conditions: It should be a repeater with a magazine of at least three-round capacity, an action and chassis that are robust (resistant to dirt, snow, water), and most preferably made of plastic with a weight of about 3kg. On top of it, you’ll want a small riflescope, but one that’s equally robust. Again the choice is yours as to specific models and makes, but always take the time to gather the necessary information.
It is important that you choose the correct ammo, and always consider backstop when making the decisive shot. You don’t want to risk your dog being hit by a ‘splinter’ of ammunition.
What’s next? A hunting knife is an indispensable part of your arsenal. In photography you often see outdoorsmen with a long, pointed knife with a sturdy handle kept on a belt. The knife serves mainly for dispatching a wounded animal, but when you’re using a bullet to do that job, the type of knife you need changes. You need something small enough to do precise work on shot game.
Your choice of clothing is absolutely essential. This should keep our body warm and dry – both on the outside, from rain, and on the inside, from sweat. Clothing manufacturers have certainly not been idle: more and more brands include special tracking clothing in their ranges.
When it comes to selecting suitable garments, you’re probably spoilt for choice – but always take the necessary time to choose the right one. You want flexible, strong, waterproof clothing. Choice of material is important – jacket and trousers should both water resistant. Though some companies tend to focus more on the technical qualities of their jackets, for this purpose, you’ll want to pay more attention to the trousers. Here, you want a great deal of attention paid to safety – see if any brands have developed clothing for forestry workers, as these are perfectly appropriate to act as tracking clothing.
Maybe it’s not yet fully penetrated into the UK, but on the continent there is a lot of this specially designed tracking clothing, usually coming in striking colours. This makes us clearly visible, which is one aspect of security. Staying on the subject of sight, sometimes glasses protect against branches or needles when we are heading through dense cover. Definitely not to be missed are a good pair of leather gloves. They offer us a good grip on our leash and save us from injuries when thorns or nettles are nearby.
Appropriate footwear is very important. Everyone knows the ‘wet feet’ problem. It’s not pleasant or quick to remedy, so prevention is better. Fotowear can be a major investment, but one which is worth it. Personally I swear by high-quality stalking boots – I feel much more comfortable in them than Wellington-style rubber boots.
That’s the essentials covered. We can add to these a number of accessories. First, a small first-aid pouch, and mobile so we can call someone in case of emergency. Then, a lighter, spare handkerchief, and flashlight.
But we have overlooked one major category: the equipment used on and for our dog. The classic collar, three to four inches wide, with no choke effect and made of high-quality leather. Add a photo-tag with the key details (phone number, name). Central to the collar is the Wirbel, a rotating ring that provides the link between the collar and the tracking belt. Standard tracking belts are eight to 10 metres long – but the hunting industry has also been very creative here and produced a lot of different variants, some better than others for varying purposes. I leave the choice to you.
Through proper maintenance, you can keep your tracking leash in a perfect state. I still have my first tracking leash, bought 20 years ago. So maintenance of the material is important. You also must protect the dog. A safety vest is not a luxury – it makes the dog safer against an attack from a wild boar or sharp thorns.
The tracking world has certainly not stood still when it comes to technology. Using a global positioning system is recommended when your dog will be roaming over large swathes of terrain. Again, consider what you’re buying here, and inquire thoroughly before making a decision.
Then there’s transport. It’s not just about comfort for you when on the move, but also for the dog. Make sure he has the necessary provisions – a customised car, ‘kennel’ area with a blanket, pockets for the dog kit, a water jug for him to drink from, nutrition, and a compound first aid in case the dog gets injured.
Tracking requires a lot of attention, but in terms of making a difference to the results, equipment is definitely the most important aspect to it all. During long tracks you’ll come to appreciate the usefulness of well-chosen equipment that saves you a lot of inconvenience. Take your time, and seek as much advice and recommendation as you can.