You are certain the deer was hit solid, but the blood trail was lost in the dense foliage. After an hour of zig-zag searching, you can’t find it.
It’s a mild early-season day, and if the deer is not retrieved fairly soon it will spoil. Of if it rains, the trail will be lost forever. And after sundown, coyotes will get it.
You have an idea: call a friend who has some hunting dogs and borrow them to trail the wounded deer.
There’s just one problem: it’s illegal in Tennessee.
Since 1951 a state statute has banned the use of dogs for deer hunting. That includes using a dog to trail a wounded deer that otherwise might otherwise be lost and go to waste.
However, there might be case-by-case exceptions, according to a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency representative to whom I posed the hypothetical case cited above:
A hunter can contact his local game warden, explain the situation, and in certain situations MIGHT be permitted to use a dog to trail and retrieve a lost deer.
(The situation is similar to the state law that bans the killing of any snake, even a venomous species. It is illegal UNLESS the snake presents an obvious threat.)
The TWRA officer I talked to explained that the Agency is wary about granting an exception to the deer-dog rule because it would be easy to take advantage of. A hunter could use dogs to chase deer, and if confronted by a warden claim he was merely using the dogs to trail a wounded animal.
In some states, including neighboring Mississippi, it is legal to hunt deer with dogs. But even there their use is becoming increasingly controversial. Last year an effort was made to change the law.
In the past, most objections to chasing deer with dogs centered around the ethics of such hunting. But ethics are a gray area. If it is ethical to use dogs to chase rabbits and raccoons, why not deer?
More recently, as public hunting acreage continues to shrink, the concerns involve property rights and interfering with other hunters. When a dog is chasing a deer, it doesn’t abide by boundaries.
There also have been instances of hunters losing or abandoning the dogs, creating serious problems. That used to happen on and around the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area – unscrupulous hunters would randomly round up a pack of dogs, release them in the woods to chase whatever deer they came across, and leave them at the end of the hunt.
Abandoned hunting dogs are not as big a problem for wildlife as is family pets that are allowed to roam free and chase deer on their own. Roaming domestic dogs take a heavy toll on deer, especially during fawning season.
Likewise, free-roaming house cats and growing numbers of feral cats can devastate populations of songbirds and small wildlife.
Back to wounded deer: the best solution is, of course, to avoid wounding one. Take your time and make a good shot. But even the most accurate shot doesn’t always drop a deer in its tracks, and if it escapes into rough terrain, retrieving it can be a challenge.
Can you use a dog to help? Call your local warden for advice.