IF YOU HAVE HUNTED DEER for very long, then you know that a miss, or a not-so-perfect shot, is bound to happen, especially with a bow. It takes a whole different skill set to successfully recover a deer that may travel hundreds of yards after the shot. Many hunters get excited and want to pursue the trail shortly after the shot, not knowing it may have been poorly placed. This will push the deer farther away, often at a sprint, leaving even less of a blood trail. These deer also can cross property lines, making tracking even more difficult as the hunter tries to get permission to track the deer on a neighbor’s property.
Deer tracking dogs have gained popularity over the last several years, and they love the attention. I caught up with Natalie Spalding from Cox’s Creek in Nelson County to learn a little more about her deer tracking dog, Timber, a 5-year-old yellow Labrador retriever. Timber truly loves to track deer—but he got his start hunting for shed antlers.
Natalie initially began training Timber to find sheds where she and her husband hunt deer. Hunting sheds is a great way to determine which bucks made it through the hunting season. Timber became a great tracker, has performed well in tracking contests and has earned United Blood Trackers Level 2 certification.
Having grown up as a bird hunter, I can attest to the love of watching a dog work. I hear that excitement in Natalie’s voice when she talks about Timber on the trail of a deer and tells how, as a pup, he jumped headlong into a bush where she had hidden a scent-covered rubber training antler. Natalie told me that as much as she loves bowhunting, she now prefers tracking deer for other hunters and watching Timber work.
“Timber knows when we’re going to track a deer, just like a bird dog knows when they are going bird hunting,” Natalie says. “He will begin to howl, much like a hound dog, until we reach the scent. Then Timber goes into tracking mode and never makes a sound while we are on the trail.”
She also says she needed the training more than Timber. “Labs are instinctive hunters, and I was not trusting Timber like I should have in the beginning,” she says. “I learned, after maybe 40 public tracks, to always trust Timber when he’s on the trail, and that I’m just along for the ride.”
If you need a tracker to recover your deer in Kentucky, go to Unitedbloodtrackers.org, then click on Find a Tracker, then choose Kentucky, where you’ll find a list of 21 trackers, including Natalie, and their contact information.
KEN MCBROOM, an outdoors writer/photographer, created RamblingAngler.com. McBroom grew up in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and now lives in western Kentucky.