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Man’s Best Friend Tracks Deer, Too
Meet Tracker. He’s a beagle-walker mix and one of a dozen dogs on AON’s Dial-a-Tracking Dog list.
 
By Greg McCain
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of AON
 
Father-and-son Kevin and Cody Greenhill work Tracker, a 6-year-old deer-tracking dog on AON’s Dial-a-Tracking-Dog list.
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The problem plagues deer hunters everywhere. What happens when the deer goes down but can’t be found? Ethical hunters make every effort to locate animals, yet most are limited in their abilities to track deer for any length of space and time.

“It’s an issue that everyone faces from time to time,” said hunter Kevin Greenhill, who has pursued whitetail deer across northwest Alabama and other locales for years. “Not everyone is going to make the perfect shot. Deer don’t always go down immediately. It’s up to the hunter to do everything possible to find them.”

Kevin does just that and more with a little help from a friend, a four-legged friend named Tracker. For years, Kevin had toyed with the idea of acquiring and training a deer-tracking dog. Through his experiences as a hunter, he knew just how valuable a little help in the field could be.

The result of his efforts: Tracker, a beagle/walker mix now in its sixth year of finding downed deer. The dog, predominantly white with a few brownish lemon spots, inherited the characteristics of both breeds, the keen nose and stout body structure of the smaller beagle and the height and length of the walker. Combine the physical attributes with intelligence, determination and a friendly disposition, and the dog expedites the process of finding downed deer for Kevin and even for his friends.

“They’ll call and say, ‘I’ve got a deer down.’ I might tell them that I am at work, just go get the dog,” said Kevin. “He will work for just about anyone. He loves to track. Now when you put that harness on him, he knows what he’s supposed to do.”

Kevin and Tracker are just one pair of a dozen in the state who advertise their services in AON. While Kevin doesn’t guarantee success, he does stand by the ability of his dog. In fact, his business cards suggest this motto: “If it’s down, it’s found.”

“They are not machines,” Kevin said. “But if a hunter has truly hit a deer — and I emphasize that because many people think they hit a deer and don’t — and there hasn’t been too much time involved and other variables that interfere with the tracking process, then there’s a good chance Tracker will find the deer.”

On the day that I visited with Kevin and his son Cody, the dog was visibly excited in the pen. Kevin had prepared the dog for a workout in advance of my arrival, outfitting it in a tracking harness normally used for field work. Tracker was ready for a training run and scoured the green fields and pine thickets near Kevin’s home, located just outside Russellville in Franklin County.

“He smells deer,” Kevin told Cody as they watched Tracker nose the ground. Deer tracks abounded in the green fields, and Tracker responded with enthusiasm even though the sign was probably days old.

Kevin acquired Tracker in 2006 when the dog appeared to be about a year old. He began training the maturing hound immediately, first creating trails with scent drags interspersed with spots of deer blood that Kevin obtained from a local processor. He also placed bits of deer liver at the end of the trail as a reward.

“The scent drags, the liver and lots of praise,” Kevin said in explaining part of the training process. “As he progressed, you would complicate the trail, running a straight line and then taking a right angle. That causes the dog to have to ‘run checks’ or sort out the trail. They will overrun where the deer turned and have to run a check to the left or to the right to figure out the trail.”

Kevin said the training progressed well in those early days because Tracker had great natural instincts and an innate ability to stay focused on the trail at hand. The training paid immediate dividends. Kevin auditioned the dog on several deer that he downed as well as a few others shot by friends. Tracker located about six deer before Kevin ever received a call from the public.

“Even as a young dog, he showed signs he would become a good tracking dog,” Kevin said. “I put him on several I shot, even if I knew where the deer fell and the trail was short. I would take him with me hunting and leave him in the truck. He doesn’t bark and scare the deer.

“If I shot something, I would leave my weapon in the truck, get the dog, and put him on the track. I wanted him to get the feel and the confidence of what he’s supposed to do.”

Not all always went according to plan, Kevin said. A variety of factors interfere with a dog’s ability to track a deer.

“Working at night, lights, people talking, different people in the hunting area, all of these things contribute to confusion for the dog at times,” Kevin said. “A dog can get distracted, but Tracker is pretty determined and tends to ignore most of those things.”

Everything looks simple to the hunter, according to Kevin. The process seems as easy as dropping the dog off near where a deer was hit and waiting for the dog to work out the trail.

“A lot of times when somebody shoots a deer, they will look for it themselves and then call their buddies, and a group of people will work through an area,” Kevin said. “They are all walking down the blood trail, following the blood and getting that scent on their boots. They get to that last spot of blood and start walking off to the left or to the right and walking in circles. We don’t think we’re messing anything up. But for a dog, we’re compounding the problem of creating multiple scent trails.”

Kevin compares the process to a person stepping in red paint and then walking repeatedly over an area, leaving tangible proof of his path.

“Ideally, you would get that dog to the last true blood and it could get beyond that to the next point (of blood),” Kevin said. “That’s the true value of a good deer tracking dog, to get to the next spot of blood that the hunter can’t find.

“We can’t smell in the same way that a dog can smell. To avoid confusing a dog, a good tip would be to avoid walking directly on the blood trail; walk left or right of it, keeping the track and the blood in sight.”

Tracker emerged out of the early years of training and repeated calls into the field as a seasoned, experienced tracker. Through the years, the dog has tracked literally dozens of deer. Exercise is all that Tracker requires now to get ready for a hunting season.

“He loves to get out and run,” Kevin said. “That’s about all I do now. He doesn’t require any more training, but I do work him just before hunting season. Just like an athlete, he doesn’t lose his abilities, but he does have to get back into shape.”

Kevin said that while he can’t directly pinpoint his favorite hunt, he did relate several stories that suggest how attuned Tracker has become to the tracking process. One involved finding a deer one night in a pen near Red Bay.

“We got there, went through the gate, and there is this massive 10-pointer standing in the road looking at us,” Kevin said. “I had to get Tracker out of the box, carry him around the truck to avoid the 10-pointer and place him on the blood trail.

“All of this time, the 10-pointer is right beside us making a scrape. When I said “Dead,” Tracker put his nose to the trail, went right past the big deer making the scrape, ignored it, and a short time later had located the shot deer probably about 200 yards away.

“Now remember. This is in a closed area with an abundance of deer sign and scent and a big deer just standing there. His ability to focus in on a single deer scent is pretty amazing.”

Perhaps Tracker’s finest moment occurred on a call several years ago. A hunter had shot a big deer three times the previous afternoon. Kevin finally put Tracker on the scent about 20 hours after the deer had been shot.

“I put him on the trail about 1:30 in the afternoon, and it took him about an hour to work out the trail,” Kevin recalled. “He trailed that deer from about 2:30 to about 5:30. Tracker would lose the trail, run his checks and get back on track.”

The hunter finally called off the search, only to contact Kevin again later that night to see if he would return with Tracker the following day. Back on the trail the next day, Tracker again trailed the deer several hours before the search was called off.

“I flagged the spot where we stopped,” Kevin said. “I knew that deer had to be close. I told the hunter to go back in there and walk over that area. He found the deer where it had bedded down a few days later.”

The deer was a 5 1/2-year-old trophy. Kevin said finding such a deer illustrates just how valuable a good tracker can be.

“The will to live of those types of animals is amazing,” Kevin said. “They seemingly can go on forever. This deer has been shot three times, yet kept on going even though it was noticeably hurt. Even though Tracker didn’t actually find the deer, he gave the hunter the opportunity to find it.”

Tracker’s reputation grew locally, and Kevin began getting up to about 50 calls a year for Tracker’s services.

“Day or night, I started getting a lot of calls,” Kevin said. “I even started getting calls from up around Collinwood and Lutts, Tenn. I had put out some (business) cards, and one of them ended up on a board up that way.”

The calls have actually declined in recent years, a factor that Kevin attributes to the state of the economy.

“The last two or three years I haven’t received as many calls,” he said. “Now it seems it’s got to be a really big, trophy deer for someone to want to pay to have it tracked. I think it’s the economy in general.”

Even so, Kevin still gets regular opportunities to take Tracker down a deer trail.

“I tracked a deer Thanksgiving day,” he said. “Someone called and said they needed some help. I had found a deer for this hunter once before, so Cody, Tracker and I took off.”

Tracker eventually located the deer in deep grass in a cutover area.

“That’s another place where the dog is extremely valuable,” Kevin said. “In the woods, in open areas, you can see the blood and follow the trail at times. When the blood starts falling in deep grass, you need a dog.”

Kevin said one thing is of utmost importance to consider when requesting the services of a deer-tracking dog: understanding the hunting rules and regulations in a certain area.

“Deer hunting with dogs in Franklin County and most other counties locally is illegal,” Kevin said. “You can’t go into the woods with a weapon, not even a pistol or you are considered to be hunting over dogs. The hunter can’t have a weapon and neither can I.

“In Colbert County, hunting with dogs is still legal but not out my back door (in Franklin County).”

Kevin welcomes calls from the public, enjoying the service that Tracker provides for local hunters. He does not charge a specific fee for calls locally, instead asking for a donation for his services. Reach Kevin at (256) 412-8393 or at (256) 332-0683.

“Tracker’s just like an athlete who’s been in the league for a while,” Kevin said. “You just have to put him on a track and say ‘Dead.’ He’s always ready to go.”

Editor’s Note: To be added to AON’s Dial-a-Tracking-Dog list, call (800) 438-4663. AON does not endorse services provided by those on the list.


Dial-a-Tracking Dog

Can’t find your deer? Make a call, and help is on the way!

• A.J. Niette: Lee, Russell, Chambers and Macon counties. (706)
573-2345.

• Brian Sheppard: Barbour, Bullock, Macon and Russell counties.
(C) (706) 718-1690 or (H) (706) 663-8076.

• Rick Hoke: Greene, Hale, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson
counties. (205) 283-6033.

• Bob Dumford: Statewide. (770) 286-4539.

• Brandon Sanford: Fayette and surrounding areas.
(C) (205) 270-3271; (H) (205) 904-9019; <sanfordb@centurytel.net>.

• Norman Parks: Montgomery County. (334) 462-9346 or e-mail <nparks@petrey.com>.

• Kevin Greenhill: Franklin County and surrounding area.
(H) (256) 332-0683; (C) (256) 412-8393.

• Tom Munoz: Madison, Morgan, Limestone, Cullman, Marshall and Jackson counties. (C) (256) 426-3199 or (C) (256) 975-3304.

• Mike and Carson Yates: Montgomery, Elmore, Autauga, Bullock, Lowndes and Lee counties. (H) (334) 272-1581 or Mike (334) 669-2513 or Carson (334) 462-4562.

• Alan Wade: Sumter and surrounding counties. (C) (985) 516-3888.

• Ron Smith: Wilcox, Lowndes and Dallas counties. (205) 527-4410.

• Leon Johnson: Russell County. (C) (321) 890-4848.
 
 
 
 
 
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