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The Dachshunds of Deer Search

A select New York brigade of Wirehaired Dachshunds helps search for wounded deer

by Mary Allen
DogWorld, November 1995

The November air is tight with chill as two Wirehaired Dachshunds on 30 foot leads move through the woods of upstate New York, tracking a trail of deer blood. Noses to the ground, tails high and merry, the dogs zigzag among trees and then scamper down the sides of a heavily wooded gully. They slide easily beneath underbrush that their orange-clad handlers struggle to penetrate.

Blood here!” At the bottom of the gully, one of the handlers points to a dead leaf spotted rust-red at a tree base where the Dachshunds have stopped to sniff excitedly before moving on with new intensity. These are the Dachshunds of Deer Search.

Heidi and Annie are two of 22 Wirehaired Dachshunds in New York state certified to aid the hunter who is unable to find an animal wounded with an arrow or gun. Following a tradition that began centuries ago in the forests of Europe, they use the skills of the hunting dog to locate an injured animal that might otherwise lie in the cold, suffering for days.

On this tracking event, Annie and Heidi track a doe shot that morning. Although seriously wounded, it disappeared into the trees. When the hunter could not find it after searching two hours, he called the Deer Search hotline, which operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day during hunting season. Upon arrival, the Deer Search handlers ask the hunter to take them to the place where the deer was shot. Within minutes Annie and Heidi are on its trail.
The Dachshunds are tireless trackers. Bred for generations to go to ground after badger and fox, they combine the remarkable nose of the trailing dog with the courage and fire of the underground fighter. “‘Quit’” is not in their vocabulary,” says one of the handlers.

Deer Search members answer calls without knowing what adventures await. Cliffs, steep mountainsides, lakes or streams 6-feet deep are encountered. Handler Roger Humeston once found himself mud-covered in the middle of a swamp while his Dachshund swam from bog to bog, tracking the deer’s scent over water for half an hour before finding it on an island in the middle of the swamp.

Another time his dog disappeared into a “blowdown,” which is an area thick with fallen trees. Soon his dog’s 30-foot lead went slack. Crawling in behind the dog on hands and knees, Humeston found her deep inside with the deer, which had gone there to die. A wounded deer, looking for the security of cover, often hides in dense brush. This is no problem for the lowset Dachshund, but it can be tough for the handler, especially at night.

There are frightening moments. The deer can suddenly appear in the night, looming before the tracker. “A wounded 10-point buck staring at you-that gets your adrenaline pumping,” reports one handler. “It can attack the dog. It can attack you.” One Wirehair named Ingrid was pinned to the ground by antlers twice.

Licensed Deer Searcher handlers in New York are permitted to carry handguns for quick response to such emergencies. They also use lights for night tracking. The hunter is always a member of the tracking party, and local conservation authorities and police agencies are notified before Deer Search goes out on a call.

The whole Deer Search concept traces back to the ’60s when John Jeanneney of Clinton Corners, N.Y., now a professor of history at Hofstra University, was a Fulbright Scholar at the French National Forestry School. There he first learned of dogs tracking wounded deer through the forests of Europe. Impressed with the tradition, he brought Carla vom Rode, a German bred Wirehair, with him when he returned to New York.

But the United States has a different hunting tradition. In Germany, where hunting was the privilege of the nobility, guides, beaters and dog handlers participate in the hunt and call for a tracking dog if the deer does not fall almost immediately. The American hunter has a frontier tradition that dictates one provides for himself or herself. Encouraged to be a rugged individual, the American hunter does not want help from others, human or canine. In fact, in many parts of the United States, a dog chasing deer, wounded or not, through the woods receives “frontier justice.” Because of these differences and because New York conservation law prohibited dogs trailing deer, Jeanneney put the idea of using Schweisshunds, in the German fashion, aside at first.

An unfortunate experience while hunting in Pawling, N.Y., in 1972, however, caused him to reconsider. When he wounded a doe, he could not find her after searching all day. One week later, she was found dead in a swale only 400 yards away, and he realized that tracking dogs would have made a difference.

“It would have been a snap for one of our good dogs today to have found her,” he says. Jeanneney then returned to France, where a wildlife manager showed him how to work a Wirehair on a training bloodline and demonstrated French and German blood-tracking procedures. Finally in 1977, under a permit granted by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Jeanneney-joined by Don Hickman and Hans Klein, a German dog handler put Clary von Moosbach, Carla’s daughter, to work at an arboretum in Millbrook, N.Y., where she began finding wounded deer.

As word of Clary’s success was heard, calls from hunters began to come in. By 1984 Wirehaired Dachshunds were recovering wounded deer in many parts of southeastern New York. Meanwhile in Albany, the state capital, legislation was being drafted to protect and formalize the rapidly growing activity.

In 1986, New York’s Gov. Mario Cuomo signed a bill authorizing the Leashed Tracking Dog Program. Three years later the New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued the first tracking dog license. Today 85 trackers are licensed. A second Deer Search chapter is operating in Buffalo and groundwork for the program is being laid in Vermont and Wisconsin.
The Mighty Wirehair

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