Keeping you on ‘track’ while hunting deer

Most seasoned hunters are confident in their ability to find a deer should it be wounded by a shot and need to be tracked.

We know to wait awhile before beginning the tracking, giving the deer the time to lie down and stiffen up before we push it for gruesome miles. There are many other practical “rules” for successfully tracking deer even when they don’t leave a great blood trail to follow.

Unfortunately, every hunter out there in any deer season, from archery to after-Christmas hunts is not a seasoned hunter, knowing all the suggestions for tracking a deer successfully. I’ve hunted with people who have hunted for years but when they wound a deer the first thing they do is to run to where the deer was last seen and tramp around and destroy blood trails and other sign as they go, in a panic and not having the first idea of how to slowly and methodically go about finding their deer.

Often a deer is missed by hunters with guns not sighted in properly for the range at which they shot. The shot went high or low, wounding instead of instantly dispatching the animal. Often, these are new hunters, who have never “shot in” their rifle or the bullet deflected off an unseen branch or missed because of what is called “buck fever.” That condition can afflict any hunter. It simply means that when the hunter finally spots a legal buck, he instantly goes into a highly excitable mode, breathing hard, heart pounding, hands perhaps shaking and he takes a shot before he is physically prepared to do so.

When a deer is missed, you will hear the greatest variety of excuses imaginable for why it happened. The test of a seasoned hunter is that he or she knows how to go about recovering the animal.

Like a crime scene, the police do not let onlookers tramp around the environs and destroy clues, so the knowing hunter does not allow his buddies to aimlessly wander around the scene looking for the first drop of blood. What happens next is to be carefully implemented and I’ll not go into that right now.

Hunters have been asking for decades that they be allowed to use a dog to track down a wounded deer. This privilege has been denied to hunters for all these decades for various reasons.

But now, the passage of Senate Bill 135 has made it legal to use a leashed dog to track down a wounded deer and recover it.

But remember tracking a deer already wounded is not the same as hunting with dogs, which is still not allowed. A tracking dog must be leashed at all times when tracking a wounded animal. Any loose-running dog in the woods may be shot according to law.

A tracking dog tracks by scent which a hunter cannot do, of course. A hunter must track by following a blood trail. Many frustrated hunters know that often a wound will stop bleeding for one reason or another and the animal will die some distance away. When that happens few hunters can actually track a deer to its destination if there is not snow on the ground. This is one of the main reasons why hunters love to have a good soft, tracking snow in deer season: To follow deer tracks through the woods and hope to sneak up on a deer and to track one should they wound one and have to follow it.

Only those who have done it know how difficult following a wounded deer in the autumn leaves can be. There are red spots on every other leaf lying on the ground and some folks, like my own son, are red color-blind. Some folks, especially new hunters, simply don’t know how to go about the chore and run around, almost in a panic, and wipe out a droplet of blood or tracks that might set them on the right path.

Remember, a dog used to track must be on a leash and in the control of a hunter while the tracking chore is being accomplished. You may not set out in the woods for a deer hunt with a dog running freely with you. Such dogs may well be distracted by the scent of deer not wounded and go off and running. Then you will spend hours trying to get your dog back, and be fined if you are discovered by the Game Commission or the dog could be shot by another hunter, angry at a loose dog running around.

n With countless places to roam and enjoy the great outdoors, Americans are taking advantage of these opportunities, and as they go, spending significant dollars. New economic reports by Southwick Associates reveals more than 53 million Americans consider themselves sportsmen and women, spending more than $93.5 billion in 2016 on gear, licenses, travel, clothing, gas and more.

“If hunting, fishing and target shooting were a corporation, it would rank No. 25 on the Fortune 500, ahead of Microsoft,” says Rob Southwick, President of Southwick Associates. “While time spent outside may come across as something to do after the real work day is done, in reality hunting, fishing and target shooting is a critical industry, generating jobs and income for thousands of communities across the country.”

Key highlights of the reports include:

n Each year, 35.8 million people 16 years and older take to America’s waters to fish.

n More than 28 million people over 16 years old took to our nation’s public and private lands and waters and gun ranges to hunt and target shoot in 2016.

n The number of people who participate in sportfishing, hunting and target shooting represents 16.5 percent of the total U.S. population.

n When factoring in multiplier effects, spending by sportsmen created economic activity in excess of $220 billion.

n Hunting, fishing and shooting adds $119 billion of overall value to our nation’s gross domestic product and generates $17.6 billion in federal taxes and $12.2 billion in state and local taxes.