Can't Find Your Deer? Call in the Dogs

Jeff Bonner and his two tracking dogs, Annie and Tebow, have saved a hunt for me more than once. Most recently, Tebow, the a 1 ½-year-old Bluetick shown here, helped recover an old Texas mule deer buck I hit too far back. We found the buck deceased the following morning. He went 500 yards with only a couple of drops of blood hitting the sandy earth along the way. If a shot is less-than-perfect or you just can't find the sign, backing out and calling an experienced tracking dog is wise advice.

First, make sure your state allows the use of tracking dog. Some states require the dog to be on a lead, or that no more than two dogs are used. Some states do not allow it at all. Check the internet to see if your state has a dog tracking organization with a list of dogs for hire. Ask around at the local gun or archery shop.

If you've hit a deer and know for sure the shot was too far back, the best thing to do is back out and call the dogs. If you follow what you thought was a good hit and travel 200 yards without finding the buck, back out and get help. All the stomping around you and your buddies do looking for the deer will just complicate the recovery later for the dog. Your boots are picking up molecules from the animal and scattering them all over. The more stomping around you've done over the trail, the longer it will take for the dog to sort it out and get a line on the deer.

High humidity is an advantage because the dog can smell the trail better. Dusty, dry conditions with low humidity are the worst conditions for trailing. For that reason, Jeff often waits to trail in the dark, when temperatures drop and humidity levels go up.

Whenever I call Jeff, the first thing he does is ask lots of questions about the shot and the animal's reaction. Next, he checks the weather forecast. If it is hot and dry, but cooler temps and higher humidity are expected later, he waits before taking up the trail.

Fees vary for hiring a tracking dog. Jeff charges $150 to look and another $100 if he finds the animal. That's a small price to pay when you've spent all season hunting one specific old buck and the prospects look grim at finding him.

This time of year, I keep Jeff's phone number close. Because no matter how much I practice or how hard I discipline myself to take only high-percentage shots, stuff happens. When stuff happens to me, I call in the dogs.