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The Deer Saver

By: Mitch Martin

f you have been hunting long enough, this may have already happened to you and if not, it may happen sooner or later!  I’m talking about making a solid shot on a BIG deer then finding a blood trail that fizzles out with no deer at the end of the trail.  Never fear, the next time that happens to you, Super Dog is here!  At least if you live within a couple hundred miles of the St. Louis area.

I recently had the pleasure of getting acquainted with a fine young man by the name of Brandon Stubbs. Brandon offers a unique service of deer tracking.  Brandon is a US Army veteran, a combat engineer with a tour of Afghanistan under his belt, where he served as his platoon’s long range marksman.  His day job is that of a farrier (professional horseshoer). Brandon perfected his craft as a farrier while in the service.  His last assignment was with the Big Red 1 at Ft. Riley, KS, where he served as the senior rider and farrier for the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard.

Brandon also happens to be an avid and successful deer hunter. After losing a big deer of his own in Kansas a few years ago, he decided to do something about preventing this from happening again. He pulled the trigger, if you will and bought a Blue Tick Coonhound puppy.  He then trained said puppy to find deer.  He named the dog ‘Trigger’ and began his new business/hobby that provides a much needed fun and profitable service enterprise. Trigger is only three years old and already has nearly 50 tracks under his belt.

Trailing/running deer with dogs has long been a tradition in southern states.  In fact, I grew up hunting deer with dogs in Arkansas where it is still legal in some counties.  My uncle had beagle hounds that were well renowned in Newton and Searcy Counties in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Hunting deer by pursuing them with dogs is illegal in lot of states including Missouri and Illinois where Brandon does most of his work. Never fear, he is no scofflaw! There are rules that must be met in order to find a wounded deer using a dog in both of these states.

Here are some basic rules:

  1. In Missouri and some other states, you must notify the local game warden.
  2. The dog must be under control and on a leash at all times.
  3. No one pursuing the deer for recovery may be armed with a hunting rifle, shotgun or bow.
  4. Pursuing a wounded deer does not authorize trespass.
  5. If the deer is found to still be alive and able to flee, the pursuit must be called off.
  6. The hunter can at that time return to his vehicle or home and get his gun or bow and continue to pursue the animal in a legal fashion: (i.e.: during normal hunting hours and using legal methods).

Deer are often more resilient than we realize.  Sometimes they are not wounded mortally in spite of lots of blood.  Brandon has had at least three known instances where the deer were not found, but killed later in the season with identifiable healing or healed wounds.  One of the most notable of these instances was a deer that was shot through the neck with a shotgun slug. The slug passed through the deer’s neck and left a tremendous blood trail that ended with nothing recovered.  The deer was killed later in the year with a well healed wound and no worse the wear from the first shot.

Trigger has a nose that can pick up a trail under an inch and a half of snow and up to 48 hours old.  He has even found one that was 72 hours old.  Some weather conditions are not conducive to tracking: rain, heavy fog or mist can make it difficult if not impossible to track. Trigger has followed deer through and across streams. He has been trained to follow the track without baying.  That is surprising since coonhounds have a long history of baying while running coons to tree.  However, it is important, according to Brandon, not to push a wounded animal.  Another factor is being in excellent physical shape.  Trigger loves his work and once put on a track will often go at full speed dragging Brandon along doing his best to stay on his feet. Most of the tracking is done at night.  Hunters will often continue to look on their own until it is too dark to continue and then call Brandon in as a last resort. That means he is out in the dark dodging tree limbs, being pulled through all kinds of thorn bushes, wait-a-minute vines and thickets of every kind.  Brandon is built to handle these rigors and his military training has prepared him well for this kind of hunting.

Trigger has a nose that can pick up a trail under an inch and a half of snow and up to 48 hours old.  He has even found one that was 72 hours old.

If you are so inclined to train your own dog, Brandon has a few tips.  First, get a pup that is bred for hunting.  Along with Blueticks, Bavarian Mountain Hounds and Deutsch Drahthaar’s are good choices.  In a smaller dog, the Wire Haired Dachshund could be a good possibility. Any dog with a good nose might be trainable if you start them when they are young.  Brandon says to start your 8-week old puppy on a fresh piece of deer hide to chew on.  Save some blood from your next kill including blood from several internal organs: liver, lungs, stomach and good fresh arterial blood. Also, save the front legs. He doesn’t recommend using the back legs as the scent from the tarsal glands might make them only trail buck deer.

I have seen this firsthand.  When I was a teenager, my Uncle Charley had a beagle, Old Mike, that only ran bucks.  I passed on a deer once that Old Mike was running because I couldn’t see any antlers.  The deer went on around the ridge another ½ mile and was killed by another hunter.  It had 4 inch spikes that I had not seen.  My uncle was not very happy with me as in those days the meat was an important part of our diet and we lost out on that one.  For a few minutes I was ready to tell my uncle that Old Mike would run does.  That was a short lived though as he was quickly vindicated!

Start playing with your pup by dragging the bloody leg for longer and longer distances and rewarding the pup with a treat when he successfully finds the leg.  The next deer you kill let it lie where it fell, then go get the pup and let him find it even if it only goes 15 or 20 yards.

Brandon and Trigger have successfully tracked deer more than two miles.  A few had to be called off after they traveled on to posted land or made it back to a game reserve where hunting was not allowed.

Before you try this make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the laws governing the state in which you hunt.  It might be easier to just call Brandon and pay him a very reasonable fee to recover your trophy of a lifetime.

If you are not inclined to train your own dog, Brandon has some useful tips about tracking your wounded deer.

Tip #1: First and foremost, don’t rush it. Give the deer plenty of time to bleed out.  If you start too soon, you might push the wounded animal further than it would have gone otherwise and risk losing it or driving it to other hunters. This past season, he had the misfortune of Trigger following a trail right to a gut pile. The deer was lost to another hunter.

Tip #2:  Don’t walk in the blood trail.  Stay well to one side of the trail making sure not to get blood on your shoes.  If a dog is called in later, the blood trail left by your feet will confuse him.  Doing a grid search might be effective but not if you end up confusing the trail.

Mature bucks have a tendency to try to get back to their bedding area. If you track them more than 400 yards start watching for them to circle or change direction. Deer always try to get to thick cover if they are able to do so. Gut shot deer seem to change direction the most.  Brandon says the longest tracks seem to be when bucks are out of their normal bedding area seeking does or tending a doe. They may be a long way from their safe zone and try to get back there.

A deer that is hit to high might well survive and the blood trail may totally disappear as the wound seals.

In this writers’ opinion, making sure that you make a good shot is the best way to prevent losing a deer. Practice is imperative with both the gun and the bow.  Only sighting in your weapon the day before the season does not work well.  Everyone that hunts should have the confidence in their ability that only practice and an intimate knowledge of your weapon can provide.

Should your horse need shoes or you need to find that trophy buck, Brandon can be reached on Facebook or give him a call at (217)320-9775 if you live in the St. Louis area.  He collects a deposit for his time before he gets Trigger out of the truck.  However, to recover a lifetime trophy or any lost deer for that matter, it is money well spent.