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October 07, 2012 10:04 PM

A Deer-Tracking Dog?

Sioux Falls, SD

If you're a deer hunter, you've probably had a bad shot here or there, whether it's misjudging the distance or encountering a bigger crosswind. It's unknown how many deer get shot every year and are never found. But one Sioux Falls man is hoping to change that.

Around ten years ago, archery hunter Jon Eckrich made not one, but two normally fatal shots on a deer with his bow and arrow. After tracking for 1,300 yards and nine and half hours, the deer was never found.

“I did not ever want to see that happen again, not to me. I can do better than that and if it ever happens again, I want to better than that,” Eckrich said.

Under South Dakota state law, it is currently illegal to use a dog to track a wounded deer. It’s something Eckrich is working to change.

“I’ve done a lot of research. I've presented a lot of information to the Game Fish & Parks, and I'm training my puppy to do it,” Eckrich said.

Hanzo is a six-month-old Shiba Inu. Eckrich says it's a Japanese breed that hasn't changed much.

“They were originally bred to flush wild game like deer and boar and bear and things like that, so they have the nose,” Eckrich said.

He can't use a real deer to train Hanzo because of state law. So, using a puree of venison along with chicken stock or water, he makes a mock blood trail to track.

“We come back some time after and we follow the trail and I put some little goodies at the end of the trail, at the end of the blood line, and the dog learns, if you follow this particular this particular scent, any scent, but this scent, smells like this animal, at the end there's a reward,” Eckrich said.

While this is a new concept in South Dakota, dogs are being used to track wounded deer in more than 20 states. New York was the first to pass legislation. A man by the name of John Jeanneney started it all in 1976.

“Right now I’ve found 279 deer; I think there are five bear in that number. So, you know, it definitely finds deer,” Jeanneney said.

The concept was introduced to him when he was doing research in Europe and brought back a wirehaired dachshund to use for tracking in the United States.

“Overall, I think people get, trackers get about one-third.  And in most of the others they have pretty good evidence that the deer is going to survive and that’s true both for bow hunting and firearm hunting,” Jeanneney said.

He says many people believe that deer and dogs don’t mix because deer were nearly wiped out in the early 20th century in New York from the use of dogs for deer hunting.

“I think the people that are looking at promoting the idea of leashed tracking dogs in the Dakotas should make it very clear that the dog is kept on a leash at all times,”  Jeanneney said.

If a bill were brought to Pierre, Senate Ag Committee Chairwomen, Shantel Krebs, says it’s also one of the concerns she would have.

“You know, we probably want to make sure the dog is leashed. The other option is that we want to make sure is it evening, nights, you know, are they going to be armed or unarmed, what type of hunting activity are they doing while they’re tracking these, the injured deer,” Krebs said.

Eckrich is training his dog on a leash. In fact, to him, that's one of the most important factors in tracking wounded deer.

“The key, and this is a big one, it's subtle, it's simple, but it’s important, and that is the dog must be on a leash. You can not effectively hunt or harass deer as long as that dog is on a leash and you also can’t very well track him and find him if your dog is running free. My dog would run away and I’d never see him again,” Eckrich said.

Krebs says it’s a conversation that hasn’t happened at the capitol. But it is one she would welcome.

“Anything to reduce crippling, and specifically in the archery area, that’s when it typically happens, and we always have to balance in Pierre, wildlife conservation also the farmers needs, crop production needs, and numbers. So we have to look at all options and I think it’s a conversation that we would, I would welcome as ag chairwomen to hear in my committee,” Krebs said.

But Eckrich says it’s more complicated than simply changing the law to make tracking a deer with a leashed dog legal.

“There are no fewer than 14 statutes and regulations that will all be affected by this. Things like, you can’t hunt at night, you can’t hunt going across rights of way, you can’t hunt if you don’t have a license. ell, you might have a handler with a dog but then the hunter who actually wounded the deer, 14 of these things so it's complicated,” Eckrich said.

And while there are still challenges ahead, Eckrich hopes the training he’s doing now will pay off in the future.

“I have, we all as hunters, have a responsibility to be good stewards of our resources, good conservationists,” Eckrich said.

Eckrich is in contact with the Game, Fish & Parks and says his presentation was well received.

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