Got your deer yet? Normally, the answer is “yes” or “no.” When the answer is “maybe,” Lindsay Ware gets the call.
Ware is a blood tracker. More accurately, Aldo is a blood tracker. Aldo is Ware’s wire-haired dachshund — a diminutive species that was intentionally bred to track wounded animals. Based in Ellsworth, Ware and Aldo are one of the teams currently licensed in Maine to search for and recover game animals.
Responsible hunters take pride in making well-placed shots, harvesting game as humanely as possible. But not every shot hits its mark. A mortally wounded deer can travel a long way before it succumbs, through woods that are thick and wet. Recovering the animal can be the most difficult part of hunting. Failure means the game is wasted.
The number of blood-tracking teams in Maine continues to increase, as more hunters have recognized how helpful they can be. Ware and Aldo are apt to get calls at all hours. They get little sleep this time of year.
Although Aldo is now the star of the show, Ware first established her tracking reputation with Gander, a Labrador mixed-breed with unlimited enthusiasm. Larger breeds make good blood trackers, too. A hunter meeting Aldo for the first time may be forgiven for snickering at such a small dachshund taking on such a big job, especially when Aldo arrives at the scene carried under Ware’s arm. It only takes a moment to realize that Aldo is a tracking wizard. He sniffs his way through challenges that would defeat a lesser dog.
Hunters themselves create some of those challenges inadvertently. One of the most important things that hunters sometimes neglect to do is to flag both the hit site and the spot where they lost track of the deer. These are the locations where tracking usually starts, and restarts if the trail is lost.
In their urgency to track, hunters sometimes “bump” the deer. That is, they don’t wait long enough before starting the search. A badly-wounded deer will tend to lie down as soon as it feels safe, where it will likely expire. But if startled, it may run much farther before dropping. Except for a leg hit, it’s often best to wait a few hours before searching.
Another way hunters make Aldo’s job more difficult is to gather friends for a grid search. Not only does this trample the area, there is a strong likelihood that a searcher will step on a drop of blood and spread the scent around. Occasionally, hunters will try using their own dog to locate the deer. Using an untrained dog is not only useless, it spreads even more scent around.
Besides, it’s illegal. Blood trackers are specially trained and state-licensed. They can do things that others can’t.
As soon as it becomes apparent that a game animal is going to be difficult to recover, the smartest thing to do is to call the nearest blood tracker promptly. Most are volunteers. Many have full-time jobs, and they also may have several other searches to conduct. Ware and Aldo do much of their work at night.
The most important part of the whole process is the phone interview. Successful hunters get one chance per year to search for their deer, or perhaps a few chances if helping friends. Trackers go out on 50 searches or more in an average year, gaining vastly more experience in a short time. Before the search ever begins, Ware will ask a ton of questions, intended to reveal the best strategy for recovery. Caliber? Tree stand? Blood color? Posted land? Most importantly, how did the deer react? Whether a deer jumps up or drops down reveals a lot. Trackers will tell you: never trust an instant drop. Many hunters are convinced that they’ve made a lethal shot if they see the deer drop instantly to the ground. In reality, the shock of a high-back hit may have merely stunned the deer. It can recover quickly, and disappear just as quickly, leaving the hunter wondering where his prize went.
Successful blood tracking is all about making Aldo’s job easier. And Ware’s.
Tracking dogs remain on a leash. Wherever they go, the trainer goes — through brush, brambles and swamp. There is nothing in the world that a tracking dog wants more than to find the deer, and it will keep trying to the point of exhaustion.
A tiny wire-haired dachshund lives for this moment — a true woodland champion.
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s November 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.