Monday, October 26, 2015

Sparta gets a Win

Artemis: Sometimes a homo sapien just needs to whisper a prayer somewhere.
What does it take to get two men in their forties, who've met just an hour before, to embrace in full scale man-hug?  A hunter finding a deer that he had feared was lost.  A tracker gets to see his dog work.

We are homo sapien.  200,000 years of evolution made us this way.  We are hunters.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Saturday night a neighbor, the father of my oldest son's friend, gave me the number of a gentleman in need of a tracking dog.  A few text messages later and I had arranged to meet the hunter the next morning.  A shot to the lower chest: lots of blood that ended in a clover field, fat found along the trail.

Arriving Sunday morning, I got pretty excited.  I had Sparta start the trail near the beginning because even though the trail started heavy, we were going through some tall grass and a small wetland area.  I prejudged the situation thinking it was a strong possibility that the buck had back tracked from the hunter's point of loss.

I wanted to check and mark any place Sparta wanted to go off the obvious trail to look for smaller bits of sign.

It was a clear trail and Sparta followed it well for close to a mile.  I marked a couple of spots to investigate later but as we exited the cover into a harvested/plowed corn field, I began to doubt by thesis.  The deer continued to bleed as heavily as before.  Unless he stepped in his own footsteps on the way back, it would be difficult to see how he could backtrack without leaving evidence.

About forty yards into the clover field, the blood quickly reduced to nothing.

Sparta led me another 100 yards parallel to the corn field toward some wooded cover, but I never found another bit of evidence to point to.  The hunter had to leave for a confirmation and party.  I spent another hour or two circling the clover field looking for sign.

I began to doubt myself.  If there is any problem with a dog, it is with the owner/trainer.  I was entertaining the idea of pulling her from active service to put more time into training.  The situation did not make sense to me at the moment.

Synthesis: the deer stopped running and had lost a fair amount of blood.  Both worked together to lower its blood pressure.  I am told that a brisket wound can bleed profusely, like when a person gets a cut to the head, but unless the arrow gets to the heart/lungs/artery are often non-fatal.

Another call came in.  The hunter said he honestly could not make out the point of impact.  He described a mile long trail through swamp and field.  I confess I like him, even over the phone.  So I explained it sounded like a bit of a long-shot but I was willing to give it a try and we made arrangements to meet.

The hunter and his tracking party were Amish.  I was impressed at the meager blood trail they had been following.  

They were, hands down, the most patient, most efficient, and most accurate sight trackers I have ever met.  I tip my hat to them and the effort they put forth.

I was able to take them another two hundred yards: though each time is was they who pointed out the visible blood.  The deer went into a tall grassy area and I could only guess about which way he went out.  The area had been so think with deer since the night before that I could almost smell them.

I huddled up the team.  They knew the score.  They practically completed my sentences at every turn.

Daniel: Was the blood that color the entire length of the track?
Hunter: Yes it was.  Yes it was.  I must have hit it in muscle.
D: Did you ever found a wound bed?
H: No, he was able to keep going the entire time.
"Work 'em hard; treat 'em like heroes."
D: It has been a pretty straight track, hasn't it?
H: It has.  We're only, I'd say, 100 yards off of due east from where I shot it.  He is going back to his core area.  He is probably going to live.
D: I think you're right.  You did show me that area where he ran around in circles as if chasing his tail and you haven't found the arrow.  If I had to guess I'd say a shoulder or high neck shot.

I really liked those guys.  Humility kept the hunter from talking about it but I am thinking that must have been some buck to get them to work that hard and then call me in.

Synthesis: I should have done more to dissuade the gentlemen from having me come out.  They had buck fever, I had enough information that, had I thought rationally about it, would have assumed that the deer had been muscle shot and would survive.  Still, I am the better for having met them.

While I'd been out, two more calls had come in.  They arrived at about the same time.  With three hours of daylight left to us, I called the one closest to my current location.

Artemis, I whispered, let it be a gut shot.  We could really use a good, smelly, gut shot.

Gut shot.

I'd never run Sparta on three tracks in one day.  It had been eight hours since we left home, but Sparta needed a win.  Let me be honest, I was projecting.  I needed a win.

We arrive, introduced Sparta to the hunter and his girlfriend (I learned that with the Amish group, Sparta gets distracted if she smells/sees someone she hasn't met) and got to work.  Sparta ran a track about 30 yards out to the hunter's last blood and then forward.

Even as we moved forward I noticed, the hunter and his girlfriend were being more careful at trying to stay out of the scent line than even I would be: props.

My emotions were a mixture of hope and doubt.  We were surrounded by wooded housing development.  You could only see one set of neighbors but the sounds were everywhere: four-wheelers, joggers, kids enjoying the last evening of a weekend, it was distracting to me.  Sparta must have been overwhelmed.  Then she was spooked by a neighbor's 3-D deer target.  This environment was way outside our training rubric and it showed.

Then, for the first time that day I got to yell it, "Blood!" ~80 yards past the hunter's loss of track, with the hunter and his girlfriend still 40 yards behind me.  A small pool of blood, but a lot more than we'd seen so far.  Sparta led me on, more blood, more blood, and then nothing.

I restarted her again.  I knew she was growing irritated.  She hates being re-started.  She was tired of this game.  She began to grab at the tracking leash, growling and tugging.  I pulled her aside for some play.  I put her on her walking leash.  Five minutes and nothing was working.  I was afraid she was going to go "the union rules state" on me with half of the most probable track we'd had all day only half-finished.

Out of desperation I pulled out the best idea I had left.  I picked her up and cradled her on her back like a baby.  I scratched.  I baby-talked.  I nuzzled.  I did everything I could to communicate love, trust, and authority without a care in the world what any observer might think.

She started to lick my face.  I put her down and we got back to work.

Giving me strong indication that she was on the trail we went forward and then it happened: blood, blood, blood: a  blood trail as obvious as the one earlier in the morning into pine saplings about eight foot tall.  The hunter and I were agreed that he should get his bow, noc an arrow, and track forward alone for a short-time.

The deer ought to be dead, but it is possible the buck hadn't read that book.

He got to a point where the cover was too thick to shoot so he motioned us forward.  With Sparta in the lead, we crept forward.  "Deer!" I shouted.  Hugs ensued.  Pictures were taken.  Sparta got some bit of liver, heart, and a bony piece of leg for the drive home.

The hunter got his deer.

I got to put away some of that nagging doubt.  Sparta and I are bringing value to hunters.  We can continue to train and hone our craft in the knowledge that while we might not yet be the A-team, we are a team, and this is what we do.

Synthesis: I do love me a good smelly gut shot and a hunter with enough foresight to back out and let us do our thing.  The deer was angling away.  He nicked the liver and one lung.  Deer bled to death internally, from the combination of internal wounds.

Happy Hunter, Happy Dog, Happy Tracker

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