Deer Tracking-Dog Tales

When a trailing-dog hits the ground after a wounded deer, some interesting things can happen.

Roy Kellett | November 4, 2005

GON has been running a list of deer-trailing dog owners for the past several years as a way to ensure our readers would have every possible advantage when it comes to locating a deer. We also began to hear some neat stories, so we called a few folks and asked them to share their experiences with us.

Talk to a few trail-dog owners and you are likely to hear all kinds of outlandish, funny and downright amazing things. Because anybody who has ever hunted in any fashion with dogs knows that animals can do some things to make you smile, scratch your head or just say wow.

Jade, a blue Weimeranner owned by Susie Van Brackle of Adel, is part of a two-dog trailing team that found five out of seven deer last season. Jade located this buck for an unidentified hunter last season.

Going for a Swim with Bella

One cold evening a couple of deer seasons back, Brian Sheppard’s phone rang. Biologist Glenn Garner was calling because Jay Foxworthy, brother of Jeff, had shot a nice deer and couldn’t find it.

Brian took Bella, his Catahoula Leopard Cur/Lacy Blue cross, to the property and began searching. When Bella got on the track, she scurried along ahead of Brian, Jay and former Braves’ pitcher Darren Holmes.

Bella, like most curs, tracks silently and bays when she gets to wounded game. When Brian heard the barks, he knew the deer was down. What the group was going to find out was that the deer was down deep. As in at the bottom of a small pond on the property.

“Bella was out in the middle of the pond swimming in circles and barking,” Brian said. “I told them somebody had to go out there and get that deer, and they didn’t believe it.”

They started to believe because Bella wouldn’t leave the pond. At that point, the group was willing to trust Brian’s judgment. Darren was game to go have a look.

“It was cold and Darren stripped down to his skivvies and went in the pond after the deer,” Brian said. “When he got out there where Bella was, he actually stepped on the deer, and then he dove down and pulled it up.”

I imagine Jay still hears quite a bit about how Darren swam out into the cold water at night to retrieve his deer. What a buddy!

“Not only was it funny, it was a good find,” Brian said.

Brian’s dog was given to him by a Texas man whose family has raised trailing dogs since the mid 1930s. The Catahoula is a cattle dog by trade, used to track and round up loose cattle, but the man discovered the dogs would track wounded deer.

“We probably catch 25 or 30 deer a season,” Brian said. “I get 50 calls or more, but I can’t take them all.”

Brian is confident in Bella’s ability to track any deer, but he knows there are limitations. He encourages anyone who calls him to track a wounded deer to have permission from anyone whose land the deer might have run across.

“With the way land holdings are shrinking nowadays, a deer can get off a piece of property quick,” Brian said.

A Girl and Her Dogs

Susie Van Brackle of Adel is a double anomaly. She is a lady who is a serious deer hunter. Admittedly, that’s not that rare. However, Susie is one of the only female trailing-dog handlers out there.

If you are down south and you  are having a hard time tracking a deer, you can get Susie on the phone and she will bring her pair of Weimeranners, Hummer and Jade, out to help you find it.

I had to know how a young lady gets into the trailing-dog business so I asked. The answer was as simple as my question.

“I got into it through a man named Bob Meyers,” Susie said. “He had some good bloodhounds, and he helped us find somebody’s deer.”

Susie was enamored with watching the dogs do their thing, and Bob eventually gave her one of his dogs that had been injured.

Later, Susie got Hummer, Jade and another dog she says goes along but doesn’t help the others find deer.

“She just goes along for moral support,” Susie said.

Susie started the dogs by taking pieces of a deer hide and freezing some blood. When she wanted to work with them, she would spray a little deer blood on the hide and drag it around, then the dogs would try to find it.

Last season was the first year for Susie and her dogs on the deer-tracking circuit, and because she wasn’t on the GON trailing-dog list, her customers came from word-of-mouth testimonials.

“We found five deer out of the seven calls we got last year,” Susie said.

With her number on the list for Cook County this season, Susie is likely to be busy in the coming weeks following Hummer and Jade around the woods searching for downed trophies. She hopes she can help as many people as possible because of her own experience with losing a wounded deer.

“I have lost a deer before, and it is just a sick feeling,” Susie said.

Last season, Susie got a call from a man who had shot a deer but couldn’t find it. He called about 8:30 and said he was on his way to dinner and asked if Susie would meet him later that night. She obliged and the dogs did the rest.

“By the time we got there it was probably 11 o’clock,” Susie said. “He had made a 15-yard shot, and there was no blood he could find.”

She put the dogs on leads and they went to work. Hummer works by winding game, so he moves with his head up. Jade works back and forth across a trail like a bird dog.

The dogs were heading for a swamp. Hummer, excited, took the lead and dragged Susie through the wet bottom land before going out of the swamp and around a field to the edge of some planted pines.

“The deer was right there,” Susie said. “In fact we almost tripped over it.”

Susie is ready to go again. If she shoots a deer, she knows she’s got plenty of help to find it.

“They are amazing animals to work with,” Susie said.

Randy Vick (left) and his dog Bob found Hal Jackson’s Thomas County buck, Hal’s first buck with a bow, earlier this season 23 hours after the buck was shot.

A Cold-Nose is a Hot Commodity

Randy Vick of Thomasville is a dog man in the truest sense of the word.

“I usually keep a bunch around that I can mess with,” Randy said.

Randy didn’t know what he had in one beagle/Walker hound mix named Bob when he was using the dog to run deer at a Jesup club. Bob was good at finding dead deer and staying with them until somebody arrived to retrieve the animal.

These days, Bob stays on a leash when he is in the deer woods, and he is usually looking for deer people have already shot, not looking for deer to run to hunters.

“He opens (barks) on a track and shuts up when he finds the deer,” Randy said. “I work him on about a 30-foot lead. I had him looking for a deer once, and I was back there fighting briars and Bob hushed. When I got there, he was at the deer.”

Bob found a deer last season that had been shot 16 hours earlier.

“The guy was here from Alaska hunting, and he called early the next day, and we went out and found it,” Randy said.

As nifty a job as that was, Bob topped it early in bow season, finding a buck that had been on the ground for nearly an entire day.

Hal Jackson had shot the buck on a Tuesday evening. It would be his first bow-killed buck, so he was especially interested in finding the deer. He and several friends spent the better part of the evening searching for the buck before giving up. Randy had brought Bob out to help one of the other guys before, so he told Hal to give Randy a call. Randy went the next day, Bob went on the trail and found the deer within an hour.

“He shot the deer on Tuesday, and I went out there Wednesday evening and found it,” Randy said. “The deer had gone about 800 to 1,000 yards, and it was almost exactly 23 hours after he shot it.”

Last year, John Jeaneney, president of a New York-based trailing-dog club, headed down to Thomas County to spend a few days with Randy.

“He had written a book about trail dogs,” Randy said. “Up there, they use mostly wire-haired dachsunds, and he was researching for a second book about the dogs people use in other parts of the country.”

Randy said he gets 30 or 40 calls per deer season and estimates he gets half or more of those deer back for people.

Have Dog, Will Travel

“If my dog could talk, he could tell some real good stories I imagine,” said Richard Bryant of Cordele.

Richard routinely travels as far as Macon or Warner Robins with his Kemmerstock mountain cur, Treemont, to help people find deer.

Richard said the dog found 32 out of 36 deer he tracked last season, and he is confident in the dog’s ability to find any deer.

“I would put him up against any dog,” Richard said. “If you have a speck of blood, he’ll find the deer.”

Treemont’s talents were discovered almost by accident. See, the dog was a coonhound. Richard’s son  Rusty went hunting one afternoon and shot a deer that he was having trouble finding, so he returned home and got Treemont out of the pen.

“He came in and said he was going to see if the dog would find his deer,” Richard said. “It worked, and we started putting our name on the GON Trail-Dog list.”

Last season, Treemont had a couple of shining moments that Richard recalls fondly.

He found one buck for a friend’s son after a long and arduous search turned up nothing.

“We looked for a couple of hours and gave up,” Richard said “We got to a road and sent the kids around to get the trucks and Treemont started acting funny.”

Richard had asked a couple of times if the deer had crossed the road, and nobody seemed to think it would have. But when the kids went to get the trucks, Treemont had different ideas about calling off the search.

“My friend asked if he always acted like that, and I said no,” Richard said. “I let him follow the track, and he went right into the swamp and bayed the deer in about two minutes.”

In late November, Richard got to see something he had never witnessed, and one man got to see something he probably won’t soon forget.

“It was late November and a buddy called one night,” Richard said. “I rode out there, and he was so shook up he couldn’t find any blood.”

The gentleman already had five or six people out helping him look, so when someone found some blood, Richard put Treemont on it and the dog earned his pay.

He went tearing through the woods in the direction his nose told him the deer had run. It wasn’t long before Treemont was baying, meaning he had located the wounded animal. Richard said the flashlight beams bouncing through the late autumn woods looked like the horror movie, The Blair Witch Project.

Things got a little scarier when the group, which was approaching, lined up several abreast like school kids playing Red Rover, reached the wounded buck.

“He jumped up and ran right at us,” Richard said. “Everybody went one way except one guy and the deer hooked him in the thigh and had him down shaking him like a ragdoll.”

Fortunately, the deer’s brow tines went right around either side of the man’s leg so no real damage was done. A short run later, the buck went down for good and the man had his deer.

Richard does charge to find a deer, but he won’t ask for money if there is a kid’s deer involved. Especially their first.

“I love to help kids find their deer,” Richard said.

Any trail-dog handler in the state probably has dozens of great stories about the things they have seen and the people they have met while they are out helping locate deer.

If you can’t find a deer this season, go back to the glove compartment and get the trail-dog list we printed in the August and September issues. Call a trailing-dog handler in your area, and not only will you have a better chance of retrieving your deer, you will also get to watch an amazing animal at work and maybe get some stories of your own.

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