In April of 2014 I got myself a dog – a 7 month old pitbull mix that was rescued from a shelter that had shut down. I didn’t intend for him to be a hunting dog, but I was heading out and I thought I should bring him along.
It was the afternoon on a private block, and Eli the dog caught some exciting scents from the hut. We headed out along the ridge, spotting some fallow grazing on a clearing a over 500m away. My friend’s son was bowhunting in that area and we wondered if he had seen the deer. My mate ducked over the ridge to take a look, leaving Eli and myself to examine the trees on the other side. After only a few minutes, a dark shape moved beneath a whiteywood. I hadn’t yet shot a deer, but this one was about to be my first. I had time before the animal moved so that I could take a good shot, so I tied Eli to my leg. Taking a rest on a very convenient horizontal branch, I aimed as the spiker moved into view, and took a shot between the shoulder blades. As I rechecked the view through the scope, I saw a leg flash past as the animal rolled down the hill and into the cover of trees. Looking next to me, I saw that the rope attached to the dog was slack and lying at my side. I thought I lost him with the shot until I realised he had switched sides and was keenly sniffing the wind.
My mate soon showed up and I said that I thought I had just shot my first deer. A moment of doubt – but I had seen it tumble. We let Eli lead the way. There was a valley to cross, through bush with a steep-sided creek at the bottom. It was quite a challenge to navigate. Eli lead us to a point where we could see the deer, and then we let him go to it. That was the point when we discovered that he has a horrible high-pitched yodel when he gets excited…..
He was a real nuisance on the carry, yodelling and shrieking with excitement, as well as chomping his jaws, but we got there unscathed.
Two weeks later we went into the Ruahines and he proved very useful. The weirdest thing was that he was able to point! Another peculiar trait he exhibited was putting his hackles up when the unmistakable smell of a rutting stag wafted past us, followed by a low rumble. He tracked well, and leading us to areas with fresh sign and negotiating obstacles well. We came across a mob of deer in an open part of the bush, and a young hind was taken. This was my first red deer and much more of an achievement than taking the fallow.
The one problem we have encountered is that once he knew what we were there for, he decided to try to get a deer for himself. A young animal was spotted on the bush edge just on dark, and he took off after it. He was never going to catch it, just follow the scent around and around in the bush, but it was the one time he would not come back. After that I had to take him on a string in the bush which was a complete pain in the arse.
Recently I got a remote controlled shock collar to curb this habit, and it seems we have made progress. I’ve only had to shock him once when he took off after a hare, thank goodness it wasn’t a deer.
Training a hunting dog is not something I actually know how to do. The point of this story is to say that you don’t have to get yourself a Visla or a pointer, because sometimes a rescued mutt with poor conformation will be perfect for the job. He has been on many hunts now and has tamed down the yodelling. I wouldn’t say that he does all the work, but he is helpful, as well as being a great little buddy.