DAYTON, Oh. — The hunter was desperate. He knew he’d not put the best shot on his magnificent trophy buck and the blood trail didn’t go far. There was a pit in his stomach at the thought of the deer dying and never being found. The track was almost 24 hours old and he feared the chances of finding the monster whitetail were dwindling. He called for help. Help in the form of Dave Bell of Dayton, Ohio who has a dog trained just for such an occasion, to find a cold track and locate a downed deer.
When Dave showed up, the hunter almost wondered if he was being punked.
“A lot of people expect a big bloodhound,” Dave explained on Northside Automotive West Virginia Outdoors. “I pull up in a Honda CRV with an 18 pound wiener dog. But I tell them, ‘If you’re laughing, you wont’ be laughing once I’ve found your deer.'”
The unassuming Quella von Moosbach Zuzelek, her registered kennel name , or “Quella” is often misjudged when folks get their first look at her. However, her prowess for locating a lost deer has earned her the nickname, “The Beast.”
“A dog is the best at recovering deer. They can out-track an army of people,” Bell explained.
Bell has trained five such dogs and is in the process of training another. He got interested when his brother went through a nearly identical scenario described above. A trophy buck was potentially lost, but a dog was brought in and located the downed deer in a short period of time. He was hooked and started doing his research, which led him to the unlikely scenario of walking a wiener dog on a leash through the thick brush on a cold trail.
“A lot of hounds nowadays have the hunt bred out of them. They’re competition hounds bred top get to the tree fastest,” said Bell. “The main thing is they’ve got to have a brain. The wiener dog is a really smart dog. It’s not so much the nose that gets the job done, it’s the brain.”
The mountain cur is another breed popular for training for deer recovery. Bell has trained a few beagles, but finds they have a tendency to hunt for themselves and steer away from a cold trail onto another one looking for a live animal. Over several years, Quella has become proficient at picking up the cold trail of a single deer and sticking to the line until the job is complete.
“Normally when I get calls we’re starting on a track that’s 24 hours old,” he said. “You need a dog that will stick to the right line because many deer have crossed the same path. That’s the most important thing.”
The advantage of the cur is longer legs and the ability to cover more ground in a shorter period of time. Little Quella stays on a leash and tracks quietly for most of the hunt. Despite her stature, she also has stamina. Her longest successful track was about two miles on a straight line or “as the crow flies” but the actual track covered nearly five miles before it was over with all of the twists and turns.
Using a dog to recover a deer in West Virginia is illegal. Laws forbid the use of any kind of hound in deer hunting, even during recovery. Some sportsmen offered up a suggestion to the Natural Resources Commission during their most recent meeting to consider changing the law to allow for recovery with dogs on a leash.
Bell, an aircraft machinist by trade, is passionate about training the dogs and recovering lost deer. He tries to start the dog using as close to the real thing as he can. He’ll start a young pup using liver, feet, and deer hide. He wants the dog searching for any part of that deer which might come in contact with the ground. Getting them accustomed to those scents early helps hone their nose to look for the same scent all the time.
“You want to use liver or intestinal blood because they have a strong scent,” Bell explained. “I lay down a mock trail which is realistic. I think a wounded deer gives off a different pheromone, because the dog knows. She’ll come up with a group or 10 to 15 deer and she’ll stay on the right line. She knows which track is which.”
During the 2016 hunting season, The Beast had a record of recovering 32 out of 40 deer, and several of those unsuccessful tracks turned out the buck was still alive, later seen on camera or actually killed by the hunter.
Currently there are no measures in the works to change West Virginia’s law to allow for the blood tracking dogs for downed deer, but there are sportsmen who would be interested in pursing the change. Many believe it would be a huge advantage toward recovery of their game.
You can learn more about blood tracking dogs on their Facebook page.