Tracking Wounded Deer
I met with my dad and two other hunting buddies at our hunting camp early on a Saturday morning in November 1994. We loaded up in my dad's truck and headed out to our desired hunting location for the morning hunt. We drove about 30 miles to a piece of Game Management Area in Edgefield County, South Carolina. Upon arrival we bailed out of the truck and went to the back to get out our climbing treestands. What! My treestand was not there! I thought that my dad loaded it, and he thought that I did. Well, the truth of the matter was that it was laying in the driveway at our hunting camp 30 miles away. Time for plan B. I rummaged around in the back of the truck and found a folding chair. I grabbed the folding chair and off we went, down an old gated logging road. I found a straight where I could see about 150-200 yards and set up my chair on the edge of the road. I then went to the edge of the old road and cut a forked stick for a shooting rest. I was shooting a Ruger M77 in 300WinMag this morning. I had been sitting there about 45 minutes after first light when out ran a big ole doe, at about 125 yards. Before I thought I had pulled the trigger on her, at the report of the rifle she went down, only to get up and run off. I was kicking my own butt, because I knew that I should not have shot. It was a rushed shot, what my buddies and I call a "combat shot". A couple of hours later when my dad came along and asked what I shot, I told him a "world record doe". We then walked down to where I had shot her and she was not there? There was a little blood but not much. We then began to track her. After a couple of hundred yards she went into an old over grown clear cut. There were black-berry briers ten feet tall, and the under growth was so thick that I was down to crawling. We looked for that deer for hours, with no luck! I was sick..Sick to my stomach at not being able to find that deer, but it was so thick that you could have crawled within ten feet of the deer and never have seen it On the way back to camp, I swore that by the next year I would have a dog to use for tracking wounded deer.
In South Carolina it is legal to use a dog to track wound deer as long as the dog is kept on a leash. I then began my search for a beagle puppy. I was unable to locate a puppy and I did not want a grown dog. That year at Christmas my parents showed up at my house with my Christmas present. It was a 10 week old puppy, a 1/2 Australian Blue Heeler and 1/2 beagle. What a pretty little dog, white with blue marle and big blue eyes. My dad said that he had been calling him "Sackett" from the Louis L'Amour books about the famous Sackett family. I liked that and thus he was named Sackett.
I began working with him that every first day. I taught him to sit, to stay, and most importantly to track wounded deer. All that winter and summer when I would cook any venison I would save the blood from the packs. I would pour the blood into ice cube trays, then I could just get a cube of blood, thaw out one cube of blood, mix it with bottled deer scent then pour this over a drag cloth. I started out by using this drag to play with Sackett. I would pull it around him, letting him get it in his mouth and tug against me. I'd hold it in the air having him jump for it. Run around the yard with him chasing me. Then I began tying him up letting him watch me pull the drag through the yard. I'd then go get Sackett and let him track the scent trail until he found the drag. This progressed until I was tying Sackett up out of sight from me pulling the drag, then going and getting Sackett and letting him find the drag. He never missed.
Fast forward to the following summer. I was a police sergeant back then. One night one of my guys responded to a deer vs vehicle collision. After the vehicle was towed and everyone was gone I loaded the deer into the trunk of my patrol vehicle and took it to my house. The next morning I tied that deer behind my riding lawn mower and drug it around my yard, through the neighbors yard and then hid the deer under some leaves. I then went and got Sackett, when I got his bell down he got excited knowing that we were going to play his favorite game. I took him around to the start of the trail. He hit it and off he went. Well, I sure was proud of him when he trailed the deer to it's hiding spot. When he found the deer, well, I guess it kinda buffaloed him. He jumped back and began to growl. I could hardly wait for deer season to see what Sackett could do in the real world.
I continued to work with Sackett all summer long and when deer season rolled around I was ready and so was Sackett, I thought. On August 15, opening day of rifle season in the Low Country of South Carolina I was there at my Uncle's hunting camp, with Sackett. Opening evening I shot a buck, it ran about 75 yards before dieing. I could hardly wait to go get Sackett. Even though it was a short trail, I was excited to put him on it. Sackett worked like a champ, he took me straight to the buck. I continued all year to put him on as any deer as possible that was killed, no matter how short the trail was. I figured that the extra time spent would pay off one day, when he really had to work at a track of a wounded deer.
His chance came in December of that year. My dad shot a spike buck one evening and he saw the deer go down when he shot. It then jumped up and ran off. We got Sackett and went back after dark. Sackett hit the trail and off he went. Dad insisted that Sackett was going in the wrong direction. I started over again. Sackett again went in what dad said was the wrong way. On the third try, dad said, just let him go in that direction a while and let him see that he is wrong. Then maybe he'll go the right way. It sounded good to me, so off Sackett and I went again, in the wrong direction. Well, we went about 200 hundred yards, and there layed dad's spike!
I continued to work with Sackett that entire hunting season. Sackett found every deer that he was put on. I'll glad admit that the majority of those deer that first year would have been found without Sackett. But I looked at it as training for Sackett. I learned one of the most important lessons of tracking wounded deer that year, and that is to trust your dog! That's right, if you are using a trust worthy dog then trust him, a dog knows so much more than we can ever comprehend.
The day after Christmas that first year I was hunting in the Low Country of South Carolina and had my .357Mag with me. Shorty, after daylight a doe came out at about 30 yards. I decided to shoot her with my pistol. I took aim and shot. The doe ran off. I checked and there was a good blood trail. I later went and got Sackett to track the doe. My Uncle and I tracked the doe until we came to a big soy bean field. I was following Sackett on the leash and my Uncle followed the actual blood trail. Sackett was parallel to the trail by approximately 25 yards. Then when we entered the woods again, Sackett moved back to the actual blood trail. From this and many other times of following Sackett I learned that the scent will "drift" due to weather conditions.
Another lesson learned and Sackett was the best at "straightening" out this trail of any dog I have used since. Often times Sackett would "lose" the trail. I'd leave someone standing at the last blood found, and I'd begin circling around with Sackett. I would look for blood. Most times with no luck. Then I'd remember rule #1, Trust the dog. I'd go back to the last blood and let Sackett work his magic. What I learned was that often, in fact just about every trail that I followed for 1/2 mile or more a deer would do this. I'd come to a place where a deer stood for a period of time, usually evidenced by a large quantity of blood on the ground. Then the trail "just quit". From that spot forward unable to locate any blood. What happens here more times than not the deer has stood in place for a time, then turned around and walked back in the same trail it walked in on. After a short distance 75 to 100 yards the deer turns off in at 90 degree angle. This can be hard to work out, but if you ever find this scenario try walking back on the trail that you followed in paying close attention for where the deer left the trail.
After that first year I advertised Sackett for tracking would deer, I called it "Blood Trail Trackers...Shot a trophy? Can't Find It? Sackett Can!" For $30.00 I'd come out and look for your deer with an additional $20.00 when the deer was found. Sackett found over 300 deer in his life. Sadly in January of 2006 Sackett was poisoned by people on nearby property while they were trying to radiate coyotes!! I used Sackett for 10 seasons and learned more about tracking wounded deer than I ever imagined possible. Rest In Peace Ole Sackett Buddy I know that your chasing those deer in the Happy Hunting Grounds.