LAST UPDATED: March 18th, 2021
Blood tracking deer with dogs has recently become more popular throughout the mainstream of hunting. The more deer that are shot and not found, the more hunters are realizing that it’s very important to have a tracking dog at the ready.
With the lack of information out there, and all the questions that surround this topic. We decided to sit down with one of the top deer trackers in the country, John Engelken, to cover all the basics of blood tracking deer with dogs…
How Did He Get Started?
The very first question we asked Tracker John, was, of course, ‘How did you first get into tracking deer with dogs?’ John said that he used to do a lot of bear hunting in Ontario, and the guys he went with had bear hunting dogs. Now they wouldn’t actually use the dogs while hunting, but if they wounded a bear, they would use the dogs to help track it.
He noticed that the dogs couldn’t track an individual bear, because if they came across a newer or fresher bear trail, the dogs would follow the hot sign. But they were successful enough that it clicked in John’s brain, and he thought with some fine-tuning, he could train dogs to trail the scent of blood. That was about 30-40 years ago, but for the last 15-20 years, he’s been a full-time deer tracker!
What Breed of Dog is Best For Tracking?
When John was growing up, his family always had German Shepherd’s, so that’s what he was using when he first got into tracking. He said that they were very proficient, and they always did a good job. But once he started really getting into it, and was going on less than ideal tracks, he wondered if using a dog with a better nose would result in easier track jobs.
That’s when he made the switch to using bloodhounds. But he did say that if the dogs sense of smell was good enough, he has no issues with using a German Shepherd for tracking. But the way John trains his dogs to follow the blood trail, he finds that bloodhounds typically do the best work.
When Is The Right Time To Call A Tracker?
John’s advice was pretty simple on this question. He said, “The time to call, is the moment you suspect you’ve got an issue.” If you feel like you’ve made a good shot on a deer, but lack the sufficient evidence in blood trail, or how the deer reacted after the shot, you should call a tracker right away.
If you think you made a good shot, but end up trailing it longer than expected, you may be potentially diminishing the possibility of recovering that animal. The best thing to do after shooting a deer, is to go step-by-step and determine what should come next.
If it’s a good shot but you don’t see it go down, give it some time. When you do pick up on the blood trail, really inspect the blood to try and determine what kind of shot it was. If the blood is scarce, and the signs don’t look too good, you’re best chance at recovery is to back out and call a tracker as soon as you can.
When Todd decided to call Tracker John, he was already on the trail of a different hunter’s buck. But when they ended up jumping the buck out of a bed, John determined that there was enough time to back off that trail and head over to Todd. Once they found Todd’s buck, it was back buck #1 for John. Luckily, once they got on the trail again, it wasn’t much longer before they found that one as well.
While calling in a tracker might not always be needed, it’s better to be safe than sorry. And giving them a call as soon as you see trouble, is always the best decision to make.
How Late Is "Too Late" When Deciding To Call A Tracker?
When asked this question, John’s reply was, “There really is no ‘rule of thumb’ because there are so many variables.” On a non-lethal or marginal hit, the next day could be “too late” to take up the trail because of the lack of blood scent that is left by the deer. But on a lethal hit that took longer to kill the deer, John has taken up trails and recovered the deer “many days later” due to the amount of scent that was initially given off by the deer.
Since just about every tracker is different, just because one has success after a few days, does not mean that another tracker will also be successful. If you’re confident that the deer is dead, but just can not seem to find him, or don’t want to affect the trail. Then a few days after the shot may not be “too late” to call a tracker to help find it.
Can A Dog Still Trail A Deer After It Rains?
One of the biggest factors when deciding how long to wait before tracking a deer, is weather. Is it cold enough to leave the deer until the morning? Is there rain coming in soon? Will the blood and scent be washed away? When asked whether or not a dog can still track a deer after it rains, John answer was a resounding, “Absolutely!”
Again, it all depends on the many variables that occur. If the hit was higher or in a marginal area, and doesn’t leave much blood or scent, it would be next to impossible to find that deer. But then again, that deer would likely be difficult to find even before rain comes through. In a situation where John calls it a “dead deer walking” meaning that there’s a high probability that the deer will die, no matter how long it might take. His dogs could still trail that deer after a few inches of rain.
What Is The Average Cost When Calling In A Tracker?
Tracker John generally keeps his tracks around the same price, but depending on how far he is required to travel can bump the price up a bit. There is no real “market” for trackers, but like anything in life, you get what you pay for. Bringing in a tracker with little experience and at a smaller cost, might not be worth it on your trophy buck.
What we’ve seen throughout the blood tracking “industry” was anywhere from as little as $200 to at most $2,000. With most trackers usually around the $300-$600 range. Those prices are generally determined by the tracker based on demand, experience, and time invested.
What Percentage Of Deer Do You Find?
Back in the old days, John used to keep records on his tracks to learn as much as he could. But with all the experience he’s gained over the last 40 years, he doesn’t come across anything “new” very often. And keeping track of statistics just to brag, isn’t what John is about.
“I don’t want to get in that trap…” said John, “I want to be willing to accept those calls that are gonna trash those kind of statistics.” He does this so he can keep taking on those track jobs where the hunter is 99% sure that the deer is still alive, but they want to call in John just to make sure.
With the amount of questions he goes through with the hunter during his “screening” process, he said that having a 50% success rate is very good. But John said that he misses almost no deer that are dead while they’re trailing it. Occasionally, if he “misses one” it’s most likely that the deer died days, or even several weeks after they called it quits on the trail.
Like most hunters, John wants to do everything in his power to find that deer. If he determines that it isn’t dead yet and that it wasn’t a lethal hit, that’s when he’ll call off his dog. But he won’t do that until he has multiple pieces of evidence suggesting that the deer isn’t dead.
“One piece of evidence can be very misleading.” Whether there’s blood or no blood on the ground, what the arrow looks like, and how the deer reacted, can all mislead a hunter individually. But when John puts all the pieces together, including how his dog is working the trail, that’s when he’s able to estimate whether the deer is dead or not.
The difference between finding your deer and not finding your deer can come down to many different variables. In order to give yourself the best chance, you should do your homework now, before hunting season begins.
Because before you know it, you might be questioning a shot you make, or wondering if your deer is actually dead. And if you aren’t prepared when that time comes, it can be very costly.