Deer tracking dog trainers join hunts in Mecosta County

MECOSTA COUNTY – Have you ever gone hunting to find out where your deer fell? It’s often a frustrating moment, but two Mecosta County hunters have worked hard to train their hunting dogs to make it easier for residents to find a clean or difficult kill spot.

With decades of hunting experience between them, Caleb Evans and Ron Richter were looking for a way to improve their skills and help the community, and they found the perfect activity to train their dogs to track deer.

Evans, a 30-year-old resident of Mecosta County, became interested in dog tracking training after he felt the first deer he shot had lost its location.

A neighbor introduced him to the mountain dog breed, and he quickly bought and trained a tracking dog of his own.

“I started researching this the next year and thought it was something I wanted to be involved in,” Evans said. “I got a dog and I understood how it works by looking at my dog’s work and training. It’s really cool.”

The Evans’ dog, Ruger, a one-year-old black Labrador retriever, was the perfect fit for their family with two young children. It is also an ideal breed choice for deer tracking training.

The breed’s sensitive nose is a particularly useful trait for tracking deer blood.

“They’re very family-oriented dogs and I have young children at home, so I wanted a good house dog that wasn’t more temperamental than normal,” Evans said. “Labs also have really good noses and combine that with being easily trainable and well behaved, why I chose to go with a lab.”

According to the American Kennel Club, other breeds that are well-suited for deer tracking are the cur, slovensky kopov, bloodhound, lacie, drahthaar, and German wire-haired dachshund.

Evans said dogs can be especially useful in tracking hunters when they encounter heavy rain or moisture, as dogs’ ability to detect blood increases during rain or in a wetter environment.

In Michigan, handlers are required to complete tracking training through an approved organization. Both Evans and Richter became certified through the United Blood Trackers (UBT) organization and registered as novice trackers with the Michigan Deer Tracking and Recovery Network.

The network includes over 60 licensed and certified trackers throughout the state, as well as contacts for novice trackers in the states.

Training often requires weekly sessions by trainer and animal throughout the year, and both dogs the men work with have earned UBT-1 certification.

The three levels of assessment—Proficiency Assessment, UBT-I, and UBT-II—serve as a standardized guide to evaluating a dog’s progress.

Evans uses glandular-scented nails taped to shoes and leftover frozen blood from fake track sessions for Ruger to track.

There’s a frozen deer leg at the end of every tracking session and lots of fun and love for Ruger to celebrate a successful find.

The Ruger can now track deer out to 400 yards, but Evans is aiming to get it to level three certification, which extends to 1,000 yards.

“I love watching,” Evans said. “Just giving a hunter who thought they had no chance of recovering their deer an opportunity to find one, that’s really rewarding.”

Ruger has a Facebook page listed as Ruger’s Whitetail Tracks where his tracking training progress can be tracked and hunters can inquire about tracking services.

“I never realized the need”

Richter’s dog, Bandit, a Bavarian mountain dog who is just over three years old, began tracking training in October 2020 when he was just one and a half years old.

Richter has spent the past few years familiarizing Bandit with various challenges, such as tracking over water, dealing with distractions like birds and other animals, and extending the distance to a tracked target.

Bandit’s first experience with a successful track came last winter when he and Richter helped a man and his son track down an injured deer they had lost while hunting in difficult conditions.

“I never realized there was a need for a tracking dog (in Mecosta County) until I started putting my name out there,” Richter said. “While hunting, I met a horse who was teaching his son how to do things properly, and they lost track of one of the deer they shot. It had gone about 600 yards and it was the first deer we didn’t know for sure was dead, so it was a nice moment for Bandit and me.

Bandit didn’t embark on the easiest training journey due to a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, scientifically known as hypoadrenocorticism.

Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce the hormones they are responsible for in the body.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, naturally occurring Addison’s disease is rare, with an estimated prevalence of 0.06% to 0.28% in the canine population.

As a result, Bandit requires monthly injections to keep his hormones balanced and his body healthy enough to train.

“It’s a very, very rare disease in dogs,” Evans said. “It can get very sick and it’s expensive to keep it going. But I can always tell how happy tracking training makes him, and I hope to help as many hunters as I can while he’s around.”

The couple also has a Facebook page, Richter’s Deer Tracking, where Bandit’s training runs and tracking sessions are uploaded, and hunters can inquire about tracking services.

Richter said being part of the Michigan Deer Tracking and Recovery Network is beneficial because service requests can be shared among all hunters in the state, not just hunters in a specific area.

Moving forward, both Richter and Evans said they aim to obtain additional certifications and work with hunters during the season to help locate more deer quickly.

In July, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ hunting and fishing app became available for download on Apple and Android devices, providing a convenient way to find information about hunting regulations and seasons.

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