The aim of this guide is to provide information on how trained dogs can be used to aid deer management. The guide also seeks to identify various blood tracking training methods whilst identifying when and how dogs should be used
Why use a dog?
Dogs can be used in a number of ways to assist deer managers. They are most commonly used for finding dead deer or tracking wounded deer* in concealing habitats such as woodlands. Dogs can also be used to indicate the presence of concealed live deer ( point, mark or set) or for moving deer out of cover.
- Ensure that a suitably trained dog is available for woodland stalking and night shooting**.
Suitable breeds of dog:
Many breeds of dog are used in deer stalking in Scotland. The breed selected often reflecting the stalkers needs (e.g. species of deer stalked/type of terrain) and domestic circumstances. Consequently, dogs used vary in type and size ranging from small terriers to the larger gundog breeds such as HPRs and Retrievers. Most of the working gun and hunting dog breeds can be trained to follow a blood trail and bay at a wounded deer. If selecting a puppy, it is often helpful if the parents have worked well with deer. Regardless which breed is used, a ‘suitable’ dog must be:
- Calm, confident and obedient in the presence of deer, game and livestock;
- Steady to the sound of rifle fire and to be relied upon to ‘stay’ at a specific point for extended periods;
- Capable of tracking a shot/injured deer and communicating its presence at the end of a track;
- Capable of securing — either physically or ‘at bay’ — the species of deer stalked..
Discipline is essential in a competent deer dog. Dogs should be under the handlers control and able to:
- Sit and stay for protracted periods at distance from the handler.
- Walk to heel.
- Be steady to deer, game and livestock
Training Dogs for blood tracking
Tracking dogs should be encouraged to use their noses and follow blood trails from an early age, starting simply with a dragged heart/lung or deer skin, progressing through time to an artificial blood trail. Blood trails are laid using a dispenser which leaves a fine spray. Laboratory spray bottles (25 cl capacity plastic bottles with spout) make excellent dispensers.
Blood can be obtained by either collecting it from shot deer or freezing it or by using cow blood. Use a blender on clotted blood then filter it to make sure it goes through the spout on the bottle. Initial training is normally done on a long (10m) line.
Gradually increase the length, complexity and time-lapse of the trail until the dog is competent. Always remember to praise and reward the dog at the end of the track where a dried deer skin is used to represent the dead animal.
A good basic standard for a 1-2 yr old dog would be a 400m track with at least three 90 degree bends made with 25cl of blood 3 hrs old.
Assuming the dog has had its basic obedience training, it can accompany the handler on stalking outings and gain experience in finding shot deer as and when opportunities arise.
“Reporting” is the term used for how a dog, having found a deer, communicates this to the handler. It is possible to continue working the dog on a long line as in training, but this would only be suitable in relatively open habitats. Alternative methods which can be trained include:
‘Free Reporting’. The normal method used by most people – the dog finds the deer then returns to the handler who ‘reads’ his dog for signs that the dog has found the deer (i.e. blood or hair around the mouth), then returns to the deer following the dog. Seems straightforward, but not always in practice. If the deer is a long way away there may be little or no sign on the dog. There is also little incentive for the dog to return to the deer. Rewarding the dog with a kidney or spleen from the dead deer can help in this respect.
‘Torvebeller’. Baying at the dead deer. Sounds easy but has its drawbacks, difficult to train, can result in a noisy dog and alerts other deer in forest of your whereabouts. However it could have a lot of merit if used by a good dog combined with telemetry. Particularly useful for dogs of hound ancestry and the larger species of deer.
‘Bringsel’. The Dog brings back a leather thong attached to its collar after it finds the deer. This is a surrogate for actually retrieving the deer. The dog then lads the handler back to the deer at the handler’s pace where the handler ‘swaps’ the dog a piece of gralloch (typically the spleen) in return for the bringsel. However, for this to work consistently the dog must be 100% proficient at retrieving. It also demands a degree of persistence in training on the part of the handler.
Indicating the Presence of Deer
- Ensure the dog walks quietly to heel or slightly in front of the stalker, where the reaction to windborne scent can be observed.
On scenting a deer the dog will generally become more focussed and alert, often arresting its gait, or in certain breeds, pointing.
Following-Up Wounded Deer
In most cases the deer will be found dead within 10-100m of the initial shot. Some mortally shot and wounded deer can go significantly further.
- Judge the appropriate action from the reaction of the deer* and evidence found at the strike – see table below.
- In all cases approach the area where the deer was hit cautiously, with the dog under control.
- Make the dog sit whilst gathering evidence from the area where the deer was hit and deciding a course of action.
Where the deer requires to be humanly dispatched**:
- If on approach the head of the deer is up and/or being held at bay, deliver the shot from relatively close range with the rifle (1-10m) when there is no risk to the dog.
- On no account use the rifle if the dog has hold of the deer or cannot be clearly discerned from the deer.
‘Free’ = Dog is working remote from handler
‘In a line’ = Dog is attached to handler by long (10m) light line, this is not practical in heavy cover, or when the dog is expected to move quickly.
‘Report’ = The dog makes the handler aware that it has found something, either remaining with the carcass and baying or returning to the handler then leading him to the deer.
‘HPR’ = Hunt, Point, Retriever a type of continental gun dog.
‘At bay’ = The wounded deer is still active but held in place by the greater manoeuvrability of the dog.
Follow up procedures:
|Bullet creases top of shoulder, not damaging spinal column*||Put dog on trail immediately (free)||Success depends largely on severity of injury. The deer is likely in most cases to evade the dog and recover|
|Outer head neck and head, mid haunch, legs, brisket*.||Put dog on trail immediately (free) - for a short period of time the deer will be confused and have difficulty finding its balance||Success depends on the speed with which the practitioner acts, the severity of the injury and the persistence of the dog.
Dog either secures deer and reports back to handler or holds deer at bay until it can be humanely dispatched**.
|Bullet through chest cavity including heart and lungs*||Put on the trail either free or in a line, depending on cover. Normally there is a good blood trail. A short delay (5 to 20 minutes) normally ensures deer does not get up on approach||Dog finds dead deer either in line or free then reports back to handler.
Trail likely to be relatively long but easy to follow
|Damaged stomach, gut or liver*.||Put on the trail either free or in a line, depending on cover. Blood trail variable with stomach contents. A longer delay (15 to 30 minutes) normally ensures deer does not get up on approach.||Dog finds deer either in line or free then reports back to handler.
If deer rises dog either secures or holds deer at bay until it can be humanely dispatched**
|No apparent evidence of any injury at strike||The dog should still be tried on the track in the line or free if experienced||No evidence at the strike should not be taken as a ‘miss’. In a surprising number of cases the ‘missed’ deer is found a short distance away shot correctly. The dog can differentiate between a hit deer that is leaving no discernible track and a miss|
Working the dog at night
- Where it is difficult to determine the site where the deer was struck, or find a deer that has fallen on the spot, use the dog to quarter the ground, downwind of the strike.
- Attach reflective material or a flashing light to the dog’s collar, so that it will be visible, and safe near roads. These can be found in pet shops.
- Do not allow dogs access to the larder, and storage areas of any vehicle used for transporting carcasses.
- This section deals solely with the welfare of the dog in a working situation – all other aspects of care should be attended to, ensuring that the dog is maintained in good physical and psychological health.
- Be aware of the risk of muzzle blast – ensure the dog is safely positioned before firing.
- If using a dog during night shooting operations on forestry clear fell sites, ensure that if the dog is wearing a collar, it is of a design that will either come off or break should the dog become firmly attached to any branches, undergrowth etc.
- Be aware of any stock fences or other physical hazards within the area. If the dog should not return from a track, check all such fences as a priority.
- Exercise caution, particularly where inexperienced dogs are concerned, when working with wounded antlered males.
- Inspect the dog thoroughly after every track for injury – particularly for puncture wounds, which should be treated by a veterinary surgeon. This is especially important if the dog has been working in the vicinity of restock sites or has had close contact with male antlered deer.
- On no account use a loose dog in proximity of a road.
- Micro-chip and register the dog to allow it to be traced, even if it’s collar is lost.
- Deer are protected from hunting with dogs under both the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002,
There are exceptions built into these Acts to allow for:
• The retrieval or location of a wild mammal by a dog that the handler reasonably believes is seriously injured or orphaned. Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, Section 5 (1) (c)
•The humane destruction of an injured, diseased or orphaned deer by means that are normally prohibited. Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, Part 3, Section 25 (a) (b)