ELKVIEW, W.Va. — If you are looking for Ron Miller of Elkview chances are pretty good, he’s behind his dogs somewhere in the great outdoors. Miller is one of those who is taking full advantage of the state’s freshly minted law which allows for the use of blood tracking dogs to help find downed deer.
“It’s unbelievable how a dog can find a deer, even a young dog. It surprised me how easy it is to train a dog,” Miller said in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors.
The use of dogs to find downed deer is fairly common in other states. Miller has been involved in the process for the last couple of years, training his dogs and letting them track down dead deer in neighboring Ohio where the practice has been legal for several years.
The idea just came to the forefront in West Virginia in recent years and took some time for those in charge to adjust and learn the value of such a practice. Nobody wants to run deer with dogs, the way houndsmen hunt bear or rabbits. Under the law approved by the West Virginia Legislature in the 2020 regular session, that won’t be possible. Every dog used to track a deer in West Virginia must be leashed at all times.
“We use a long leash, about 30 feet, that way it gives the dog some leeway to work, but you’re still in control. The law says you have to be in control of the dog,” Miller explained.
Typically bow hunters have to wait an extended period of time after shooting a deer to track it down. Sometimes the blood may be minimal and hard to spot with the naked eye. There may also be rainfall which will wash away any trace of the blood trail. Those instances are where blood tracking dogs become extremely valuable.
“The blood is still there. It’s still in the ground and it might be watered down and we can’t see anything,” he said.
Miller said in his experience, his dogs, even early on the training process, can get on a blood track and lead you straight to a deer in a matter of minutes. The same deer without a dog may have taken hours for a human to locate and in some cases may not have been found until it was too late when the meat had spoiled or the carcass was ravaged by scavengers.
“I don’t look for blood at all now. I don’t even see the blood. My dog can smell that blood in the air,” Miller explained.
Miller’s choice of breed for a blood tracking dog is a Blue Lacy. The breed he said is often used in Texas and in the swamps of Arkansas and Louisiana to track down deer in places where no leash is required. However, some of the most accomplished blood tracking dogs wouldn’t immediately strike you as hunters. Dachshunds are considered among the best breeds for the work.
“Some dogs are food driven and some a praise driven,” said Miller.
Miller used food to motivate his dogs. He offers up the liver of any deer they’ve helped recover on the spot as a reward. He also saves liver and blood from previous deer seasons to use as a training aid during the off season.
“You drag along a sliver of liver because liver carries a lot of blood and a lot of scent. You start at 10 feet and then stretch it out. Eventually I would add a few drops of blood until we were at several hundred yards and at the end there would be a reward and a lot of praise,” Miller said.
Miller and a handful of other blood tracking dog owners are working to create a group through social media to give hunters who might need a dog to help find a difficult deer a place to seek help. The state’s new law does not allow charging for the services unless the dog owner has an outfitter’s license issued by the state.