Blood Training the Invisible Dog
My dog Angus almost disappears on a jet black night when you need one flashlight to help you find another. Following him on one of his first blood trails was like having an invisible dog on a leash.
I had already unraveled the trail that evening and discovered John’s buck at its conclusion. But I wanted to train Angus to be of more use in the field. He is good at retrieving birds and usually pays attention to verbal commands and hand signals to help him in his search, yet I have rarely used him to track wounded big game. Though after twenty plus years of guiding, there have been occasions I could have really used a dog’s nose to unravel a trail.
My hunter’s shot had been excellent but the buck had still managed to travel several hundred yards. This would be a great training run for my Airedale/Standard poodle cross.
This wasn’t John Pole’s first hunt with us. Looking back through the records, I discovered that he was one of my rare one hundred percenters, folks who always fill their tag.
Not only do you have to be a great shot, but you have to have all of the other qualities that allow you to sit long hours on stand undetected. John has the type of personality that projects confidence into each outing and he expects success. He is always ready on time and safety is his number one concern in the stand. He doesn’t fall in love with any single deer and turn down great shots on all of the rest. He comes out to gather meat, experience the beauty of the prairie and hills, and recharge his spiritual batteries. Since his first hunt in 2010, I don’t believe he has ever needed more than two days to fill his tag.
My confidence in John’s abilities let me unravel a blood trail that didn’t follow the script. He had texted from his location that he made a good hit and had watched the deer lay down. But after ten minutes he thought that its head was still up. Those two pieces of information didn’t add up.
When I got to the stand, John told me that the deer he had been watching had gotten up and moved off. I’d brought Angus but left him in the vehicle while I tried to use the last of the fading light to take the trail as far as it would allow.
John admitted that he might have been watching the wrong deer. He estimated more than 100 deer had been in the field and that in the excitement and confusion after the shot, that he might not have followed the right one with his eyes. His one certainty was that the arrow had penetrated through both sides but not completely passed through. There had been substantial bleeding before it had left his view.
Once discovered, the trail was one that even my fading vision could follow. It just didn’t take the route John had expected. His buck had expired within moments after his shot, but in a totally different direction than he originally believed and only after bolting a great distance. With the buck recovered and John congratulated, I thought it was time to put Angus on the trail.
I’ve had this dog since the day he was born. His mother had a great personality and good looks but no nose. His dad had been a genius but a city boy. Angus has never shown any interest in anything with fur. He is a bird dog that needs to be converted.
I was initially very pleased. Angus put his nose to the trail and pulled at his lead. In South Dakota, dogs may only be used on a blood trail if on a leash and the game is believed to be wounded or dead. I wanted him to follow the trail, nose to the ground, all the way to the deer.
But Angus is no dummy. As soon as the wind shifted and brought the smell of our actual deer from the far side of the hay meadow, he abandoned the trail and took the shortest route to his quarry.
I’m a “show all of your work” kind of guy. I don’t like shortcuts. But it’s awfully hard to persuade an invisible dog that doing something smarter isn’t always better.