The year was 2004. I was still hunting along the side of a hardwood ridge toward my brother and heard the unmistakable crash of a deer heading for parts unknown. As a last resort, I decided to use the estrus bleat hanging around my neck hoping the deer might change its mind. They rarely do, I thought, but I had little to lose. To my surprise, the deer did come back. Problem was the huge buck was directly behind me & closing fast. High light-colored tines stood out prominently through the undergrowth and 20 inches of sunlight glared between the deers main beams. This buck was definitely a trophy. Before I could react, the buck came to the realization that the sound it heard came not from a doe looking for love, but instead me peering awkwardly over my left shoulder. He skidded to a stop at 80 yards. Spin, shoulder, safety, acquire, squeeze and he was gone in less time than it took to read this sentence. He did afford me a decent quartering shot and I did manage to hit the buck, but the afternoon was quickly disappearing and our tracking efforts were frustrated by a steady rain. Efforts the next day would prove futile as well. Every hunters worst nightmare wounding a trophy deer & losing it was about to become my reality. No one likes to wound & not retrieve a deer or any game animal for that matter. I still see that massive buck in my sleep. Unfortunately, however, no matter how ethical you try to be with shot selection, it can happen to anyone. Thats when a unique organization of sportsmen and dog lovers from central New York can help. The group, known as Deer Search Inc. (DSI) is a crew of volunteers who use trained trailing dogs to recover wounded deer. Our mission is to help hunters locate deer that would have otherwise never been found, said DSI founder John Jeanneney. Its a great feeling when we succeed. Unfortunately, DSI has yet to establish a network in the Adirondack Region. Nearly all DSI handlers are located in central and southern New York, where calls are handled by three dispatch centers. I think there are a number of reasons for that, Jeanneney said. First, deer densities are generally less in the Adirondacks; plus there seems to be more of a desire of hunters to track on their own. The lack of licensed handlers in the vast Adirondacks also makes it more difficult to respond to a call in a timely manner, he said. But we are always on the lookout for more, he said. How it all began
Jeanneney got the idea to begin DSI in 1971 while studying forestry in Germany. Europeans have used dogs to find lost game for generations. He brought the concept back to the states and with the help of friends was able to sell the idea to the DEC. The state implemented a new regulation known as the Leashed Tracking Dog bill 20 years ago. Today, DSI is 150 members strong, with about 50 active handlers helping hunters find wounded deer and bear. Jeanneney said his organization locates about 130 deer and bear a year. He was quick to point out, however, that the effort could be substantially aided with more licensed handlers, especially here in the Adirondacks. The dogs of Deer Search Inc.
Dog breeds used for tracking range from labrador retrievers to blood and basset hounds. But Jeanneney prefers the wire-haired dachshund a breed particularly suited to tracking that he was introduced to in Germany. Its sometimes humorous when I show up with my little hot-dog-looking dog, Jeanneney said with a laugh. But they are perfectly suited for tracking. It doesnt take long on the track for a hunter to understand the advantages of this breed. The wire-haired dachshund can easily slide under the thickest undergrowth, it is non-threatening to most all landowners, a definite plus when permission is necessary; and it has a tendency to stay on the trail. Its coat also naturally protects it in cold, wet weather and it repels brambles and thorns, Jeanneney said. The dogs track not only by blood scent, but other scent left behind like tracks and hair. Crucial is the ability to ignore the fresher scent of healthy deer which may have recently passed. Tracking dogs regularly hit trails that are 24 hours old and have even had luck on trails 48 hours old or more. How to become a handler
Becoming a licensed handler means passing a test given by the state and licensing your tracking dogs with the State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Becoming a certified handler with Deer Search requires taking six wounded deer calls with an experienced master handler. It is a commitment, no doubt, Jeanneney said. But it is very rewarding. Licensed dog handlers are authorized to track wounded deer and bear during the day or at night with an artificial light. Dogs must be leashed at all times. Animals judged unlikely to survive can be humanely dispatched with a firearm. Before each attempt to track a wounded deer or bear the handler must notify the local Conservation Officer. It is strongly recommended that other local law enforcement agencies be notified as well. DSI members track wounded deer and bear free of charge, although donations are appreciated. For more information on DSI, go to www.deersearch.org .