Later this month the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, at its corporate board meeting, will be considering asking the Minnesota DNR to allow the use of dogs to recover wounded big-game animals. The organization’s executive director, Mark Johnson, was recently quoted as saying, “deer hunters are not as good at tracking as they used to be.” At first glance, the comment seemed strangely odd. Almost a slam to any self-respecting person who calls themselves a Minnesota deer hunter. Yet, it’s an interesting comment, nonetheless, worthy of further examination.
To begin, I personally know Mark Johnson and he’s a good guy who means no ill will towards the hunting community. In fact, his statement was so blunt it couldn’t have been more effective to generate discussion on the topic. But are hunters as a group really losing their skills in the field? Seriously, is the average hunter of today lacking in the sort of woodsmanship abilities so as to recover a wounded deer that they must rely on a four legged companion?
First, let me get my bias out of the way and go on record as saying I am opposed to the use of dogs to recover wounded deer. I realize this tactic might be employed in other states with no negative ethics or legal violations…but in Minnesota the practice has long been taboo to incorporate dogs into the picture no matter what aspect of big-game hunting might be undertaken. If you hunt deer you don’t use dogs…end of story.
But has the typical hunter in today’s world become so lazy or lax in certain skill sets that we must change the long-standing rules of the hunt? In my opinion it’s sort of a dumbing down of the hunter to think that the use of dogs is sometimes THE ONLY option for the recovery of game. Honestly, Mark’s comment is sort of a sad commentary on our sport if indeed it happens to be true.
Back 25 years ago when I used to teach Advanced Hunter Education for the Minnesota DNR, we used to make mock blood trails simulating all sorts of different blood trailing scenarios. The students would break up into groups…and as a team they would compete against other groups to see who could find their “fallen trophy” first. We made it a game, but the exercise was highly educational to instill in hunters the proper technique for following a wounded animal.
Let’s face it…anyone who has hunted long enough will have a tracking story. The one that comes to my mind was back probably 18 years or so ago when a young, first-time hunter shot and wounded a deer in our group. My buddy Mitch and I assisted this young hunter for over 8 hours tracking the animal with several sightings. In hindsight, we probably should have let the animal bleed-out for awhile before continuing…but the sightings kept us hot in pursuit until late in the day.
We were beat having walked through some of the gnarliest vegetation known to man. Just as the sun was about to set, the deer came to a plowed field lacking any vegetation. Blood on dirt just doesn’t work to your advantage, let me tell you. We came to the conclusion that we had given it a full and proper effort. Several times earlier in the day we thought we had reached a dead end…but our persistence eventually paid dividends in finding new blood trailing evidence.
The point I make with this story is PRACTICE. That’s how you get good at recovering downed big game. Using dogs might seem logical like it’s a better way…but it’s not. In my book it is a lazy, reprehensible way to perfect the legitimate kill on a big game animal like a deer.
I hope like hell Mark made the statement about hunters not being that skilled anymore as sort of a tongue-in-cheek response to generate further discussion. My fear, however, is that whether we like to believe it or not, many hunters are always looking for ways to take a short-cut.
Look, hunting is hard work and it begins the moment you pull the trigger or release the arrow. The incentive should be to make a quick, clean kill relying on the hunter’s own senses to perfect the recovery of the fallen game. It seems to me that allowing the use of dogs will only encourage hunters to be more sloppy and careless in this all-important process. That’s not what we need happening in our beloved sport — now or in the future.
© 2009 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.