Minnesota Considers Allowing Dogs To Recover Shot Big-game

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.

Chase The Winter Doldrums By Completing Common Maintenance Tasks

I absolutely hate this time of the year.   Usually by now I’ve had enough of winter and I’m looking forward to some nicer weather ushered in by the spring season.   With all the nasty cold weather we’ve experienced this winter up in Minnesota, this feeling is particularly ringing true for me.   With the exception of predator hunting and some ice fishing, there just isn’t a lot going on that thrills me these days.

Nevertheless, this can be a very busy time of the year for the sportsman.   During the upcoming few weekends I’ve set some time aside for doing those pesky maintenance chores we often neglect or conveniently overlook.   Besides, these are the sort of chores you don’t want to tackle during nice weather…so this just happens to be the perfect time of the year.   Here’s a brief look at what I will be doing during the next several weeks to come:

  • Organizing my gun safe and cleaning those firearms that require attention.   This includes inventorying what magazines (clips) I have so I know what additional ones I need to purchase.   Buying new batteries if I have laser sights or scopes that require them.   In essence, checking everything over to make sure that when next fall rolls around I have all the equipment I need in good working order and easily accessible.
  • Sharpening my knives and placing them where they belong.   Gather up all your knives (and don’t forget about those inside your tacklebox) and put a fresh edge on them along with some light oil.   If the sheath needs some attention, correct this, as well.   I happen to use this sharpener kit and like it, but if speed and ease is more an issue for you, opt for this one.
  • Organizing the tacklebox.   I typically do this late winter when I have open water fishing heavy on my mind, but it can actually be done at any time.   Recycle any old fishing line and take an inventory of what needs replacing.   More importantly, perhaps you are ready to down-size the box like I am this year.   Remove any old lures or equipment that has not been used within the past three seasons.   Chances are good if you’re not using it that “equipment” is simply causing unnecessary clutter.
  • Check and charge all batteries.   I devised a personal maintenance chart to help remind me when the trolling motor battery needs charging, when the batteries for the flasher and the fish camera need a little boost.   How about those two-way radios?   A well maintained battery will save the pocketbook in replacement costs…so it’s worth the effort.
  • Reload those empty cartridges and shells.   Personally, I don’t do a lot of reloading but with the cost of ammunition these days it often pays to reload those spent rounds.
  • Check those waders and hip boots for leaks.   Remember during trapping season last November how your socks always seemed a bit moist?   Remember last summer when you tore your waders trout fishing in the stream and you never got around to fixing them?   Now is the time to do it while things are fresh in your memory.
  • Sort those pictures from your outdoor escapades during the previous year.   Regardless whether you are in the digital age or still take film photos, organize those pictures so you know where to find them.   If they are digital, buy an external drive and back them up so if your computer crashes you don’t lose the memories.   If you take film, get those pictures into a photo album so they are organized.   Finally, do you have a fantastic photo of your buddy with his trophy deer?   Get some copies made and give them to him.
  • Start planning next year’s hunt.   The deadlines are fast approaching for many hunting opportunities, particularly if you need to apply for a hunt out West.   Get the necessary applications ordered and have a meeting with your buddies so plans can begin being made.
  • Maintain the decoys.   If you’re a duck hunter…does your decoys need new line or weights?   If you’re a turkey hunter, do your decoys have all the parts for proper assembly?
  • Does your firearm or bow need professional maintenance?   What better time than now to get that unit into the shop.
  • Take steps toward securing permission for next year.   Now is the absolute perfect time to begin a relationship with a new or different landowner.   If that landowner is a farmer, chances are good they are not busy this time of the year.   By seeking permission now for next fall it proves to the landowner you take your sport serious AND it gives you an opportunity to offer your services in exchange for that privilege.
  • Go to an outdoors show or sportsman’s show (or attend a fundraising banquet).   I had to throw in at least one fun task.   Plan your schedule so you can attend local outdoor shows to not only build anticipation, but also to check out new products that are on the shelf.
  • Rent some hunting, fishing or outdoor videos.   Yea, I know, the cable channels are full of outdoor programming these days…but some of the best “how to” educational information is still found in video form.   Polish up those dog handling skills or fine-tune your duck calling by renting some instructional DVDs.
  • Write a letter to your elected officials.   Seriously, when is the last time you expressed to your elected officials your opinion?   If they don’t hear from you…you can be sure they will hear from someone else who has views opposing yours.   Gather up their names, addresses and express your opinion.   Now is the perfect time to do so.
  • Send out a few deserving Thank You notes.   Maybe it was the local gas station attendant who helped you fix that flat tire in record time so you could still hook up with your hunting buds.   Or how about the bait shop owner who shared his “secret fishing spot” with you and the advice paid off?   Spend a moment and think about the people in your life who deserve some appreciation for their efforts.   And while you’re doing it…don’t forget the family who sacrificed you being gone so much.   They deserve your thanks as much as anybody.

Gosh, come to think of it…looks like I have more to accomplish during the upcoming weeks than I first imagined.   I better get going on the list.   Hey, leave a comment if you think I missed anything important to be doing during this “slower” time of the year. 

© 2009 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.