Searching for “deer dogs” and volunteers

by Will Elliott
New York Outdoor Times, June 1999

Deer Search is looking for a few good dogs and men. Deer Search Inc., celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, needs volunteers to continue and expand its service to deer hunters and wildlife in general. The statewide organization has a strong chapter in western New York, which includes six large, deer-populated counties in the state.

For a deer hunter, nothing is more disheartening than the feeling that comes on quickly when a deer bounds off after what seemed like a clean-kill shot. Archers, in particular, have to deal with hits that invariably end in kills after the deer has fled from sight. A California study indicated heart-shot deer travel an average of 35 yards when killed with a gun. Arrow-hit deer travel an average distance of 93 yards, rarely within the hunter’s sight in most whitetail cover.

Hard as it is to admit, not all shots are heart-lung hits with the deer dying less than 100 yards from the point of impact. Deer movements, cover obstruction and simple hunter error account for injured deer that often elude even the most skilled trackers.

John Jeanneney, Albany-area hunter and dog fancier, hit upon the idea of using dogs to track and find injured game animals. “Actually, I got the idea while studying forestry in Germany in 1971”,- he told members gathered for the WNY Chapter banquet held in March at The Old log Cabin in Elma. “I knew Europeans for centuries had used dogs to find lost game, but it was there that I was first introduced to the wire-haired dachshund.”

After returning home from Germany, Jeanneney met with Bill Wadsworth and Don Hickman, the two men who initially contacted Department of Environmental Conservation officials and convinced them to consider a deer search program. That was accomplished in 1975. It took until 1979 to establish the first working chapter. Part of the difficulty was working out procedures for allowing the dog handler to carry a sidearm for dispatching downed but living animals. Currently, Deer Search is working out these same details with the Pennsylvania Game Commission in order to begin regional chapters there.

Volunteerism is not what is used to be,” Jeanneney said. “When we first started chapters in the early 1980s it was much easier for people to find the time to help others find deer or do any other public-service duties. Today, our lives are filled with more work hours and other commitments,” he reflected. Nonetheless, the corps of Deer Search members each year produce a remarkable recovery rate in the Western New York area. Gary Huber reported at the Deer Search banquet that the 1998 season ended with 161 archery calls resulting in 32 finds and 55 gun calls resulting in 13 finds. That is, the 226 attempts resulted in 45 deer that would have otherwise been lost to the elements.

Huber notes that most calls come in at or after dark when tracking can be difficult. Chris Gerling, credited with finding a magnificent 12-point buck among other finds, said, ‘We will wait until daylight to start tracking, if it looks like the scent will hold.”

Ed Avis of Boston typifies the spirit of volunteerism and raw personal endurance. Avis was presented the Big Silver award at the recent banquet for logging the greatest number of calls statewide during the 1998 hunting season. He answered 69 calls and recovered 16 deer, accounting for about 40 percent of the recoveries made by the WNY chapter. What makes these figures even more impressive is that Avis was recovering from back surgery done just prior to the season opener. He said, with supreme modesty, “Since I couldn’t hunt and was near the phone most of the time, I had the chance to take more calls than other members.” To date, his tracking trips number well over 400. His most memorable find showed both the efficiency and determination of wire-haired dachshunds as search dogs. He went out on a call for a client who had hit a 10-point buck. The dog found the deer, which appeared to be dead. While Avis was checking its head for vital signs, the dog bit into the deer’s ham on its back leg, shocking the deer into consciousness and off on a ‘dead’ run. Avis could clearly find a blood trail, despite the darkness, and began tracking. He found the deer more than 100 yards away. This time it fell dead. The dog still had its teeth clamped tight onto the ham it first bit into on the first fall. “It’s amazing how a dog weighing about 20 to 25 pounds is fearless with a 200-pound deer,” he noted.

Most dog breeds have a tendency to track wounded deer, but the German wire-haired dachshund seems to hold on the scent and stay with the hunt longer, said Huber and many other handlers. “But tracking is a handler’s first lesson before going on to dog handling,” Jeanneney said. “The better handlers, the ones who stay with the program longest, are the handlers who are basically good trackers in the first place,” said chapter president Mike Coppola.

Coppola welcomes any deer hunters who might be interested in becoming a certified Deer Search officer. “We’re particularly in need of hunters along the Southern tier where we get the most calls,” he said.

The search goes on.

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