The decision to let a dog loose to track on its own can be a complex one. Rudi Van Kets considers the things to be aware of
For many of us, the decision to release a dog on the track and to find the wounded deer is very difficult. The question we have to ask is whether our dog is capable of tracking down and holding the lost game until we can give the final shot.
On many occasions I have seen movies about the way people run a trail, and most of the time this is very inexperienced team on a fresh trail. I ask myself then what was intended by it. Releasing the dog on a trail is an important part of the tracking work – a part that deserves attention.
When it comes to a heavy trail, where we are dealing with a scenario in which the animal has been hurt pretty badly, it will be appropriate to release the dog on the track. A shot that has wounded the animal in its body will inhibit it more than if the animal was hit in a limb. If the deer is hit with a shot in the abdomen it will rise from its resting place at the appearance of the dog. This has the advantage that our dog can approach the wounded game fast. The dog will bark and so we, as hunters, have a chance to find and shoot the animal.
We have to take into account an important point here, namely releasing the dog at a recently used, warm resting place, as it might also be the case that it has been a longer time since the animal pulled up in that resting place before we could arrive with our dog. It is in such moments that someone with experience will take the decision to release his dog on a track. Pay attention if we are dealing with a young dog with little experience, as it might be better to delay the release.
In this case, the message is to remain calm and not react in a hectic manner by pulling off the collar from the dog and giving it a loud command to follow the track. Take your time, stay calm, and this calm feeling will also spread to the dog. Take the collar off and let the dog take time to explore the track. What is completely incorrect is to call to your dog. Rest on the track can do wonders. When our dog is loose then he tends not to go with his nose on the ground, but will obtain the scent line in the wind. As a result, he will know what he is doing and will take the easy way out. If I may give a tip, during his training let the dog track a healthy piece of game by releasing your dog on a known trail. Something I often do myself with a very young dog to have a simple, fresh trail run on an open meadow. I can perfectly follow the dog and I also know whether or not he can follow the trail independently.
Remember that success is important, especially in the development of our dog, and in particular to the commitment in the first release on a track. Stay silent, keep your ears open, and listen for the possibility of the dog coming back. Put the dog on a leash and do the tracking back together.
During this tracking work we often are in the company of someone who wants to assist us, but sometimes this person can make the tracking work more difficult. Personally I prefer to search on my own, at my speed. However, having someone with me that is happy to follow at a safe distance can come in handy when you’re in an unfamilar place, but being at a safe distance is important so that our work is not hampered and the dog does not become distracted. In principle it is always useful that someone follows, as this person could possibly pass on information to us when we are tracking. He or she can also provide information about the direction and the situation of the area we are in, and you can leave someone at a road if the dog must cross it and so on. So a supervisor can therefore be of great importance.
Though I’ve mentioned the importance of the person who assists, they can be also important during the releasing of the dog on the track. They can deliver a shot to the wounded animal when we see it and if it’s possible. They could be stationed in a place that gives them an overview over the terrain, so that one can observe the situation in the wild and thus whether it is safe to fire. Observation is very important and it is therefore unthinkable to place our helper somewhere where, for example, they hardly have the opportunity to see or say anything. Overview is so important, especially if our dog is too close to the game for a shot to be given and so it moves on, and our posts can inform us where the game has moved on to and whether the dog follows. This information can sometimes shorten the time we need to take for the follow-up, which in the short winter days can be very important.
There are of course situations in which we do not have the ability to let go of our dog, for example in a public forest, a turnpike, at the edge of a residential area, or close to the border of another hunting area, so it’s a good thing to consider what should be done or can be done.
This next point is perhaps the most important of all, and I hope that every hunter, young or old, understands. The final shot to the wounded animal is most often given by the owner of the tracking dog, the hunters often left behind at their post as the dog secures the track to finish it. What trackers often forget to consider is the adrenaline. How often has it happened that a shot was fired and fragmentation of the bullet was close to affecting the dog – with all the consequences.
We have now talked about releasing the dog on a track, but one very important item we have not mentioned, something that is of capital importance, is barking.
Releasing the dog on the track raises the adrenaline, and we can follow the noise knowing that as long as he is barking he is on the wound track. It is a relief to hear this sound – we have a direction and a distance for the trail, and we can tell when our dog has set the animal somewhere so we can approach to a possible shot location.
It is therefore important that loud dogs are put on the track, and if we have a a quiet dog then we are forced to find other means to enable us to follow our dogs when loose on the track, though there is a wide range of technology available today that lets us follow our dogs at a distance when they’re released on a wound trail.
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