Deer hunting with dogs is a tradition steeped in American history and
remains a passion -- and very effective technique -- for many deer hunters in
the South. So much of the earliest hunting for deer was with hounds that it
necessitated coining the term "still-hunting" in the 1800s to
differentiate quiet stalking from the chase to the baying of hounds.
Times they have a-changed, and today modern attitudes and techniques have
whittled away at this heritage. Legislation has eliminated running deer with
dogs and even blood trailing animals in many areas. Modern life leaves little
time and space for a typical hunter to keep and train deer dogs. Some of the
primary breeds of deer hounds have even been virtually ruined by being adopted
by non-hunters and bred for their "cuter" characteristics.
But there remains in some of us the passion for the thrill of the musical
chase. Here's how you or your hunt club can get started with deer hunting dogs
of your own.
Keeping and training hounds takes time and money, which makes the sport best
suited to the collective resources of hunt clubs. It starts with figuring out
your plan and acquiring dogs.
Since the earliest days in America, dogs used for deer were commonly not the
classic large dogs used for running down big game in Europe, but smaller
hounds, like the ones George Washington kenneled. He liked English and French
foxhounds, which evolved into the American foxhound and became a favorite for
deer coursing, especially the Walker strain.
Hounds popular for coonhunting, such as redbone, black & tan, and
bluetick, run next in popularity for deer hunting. Surprising, maybe, is that
many houndsmen like beagles for deer. It depends on the terrain and your hunting
"We mix Walkers and beagles," said Darrell Langston of Richloam
Foxhound Kennels in Webster, Fla. "The long-legged Walkers are better in
wet swamps. But beagles can be best because they hunt slower and you can cut
off the deer easier with fewer hunters. Here you can't shoot does over dogs so
you have to pull them off when they get on a doe. It's a lot easier to catch up
with the beagles."
Langston had some advice for getting started.
"You can get a decent trained trail dog for $100, and that's enough to
get started if you have friends running dogs, too. A trained cold-nose dog (one
with an especially good nose used to strike scent trails and lead the pack) can
go $300-$500 or more. Go to a good breeder, watch dogs run, and make sure
The main criteria in a dog is a desire to hunt. Avoid those "sorry
curs" that wander out a short ways and then gravitate back toward the
truck, he said.
Blood Trailing Dogs
While dogs used for running and baying deer are almost always hounds, those
used for blood trailing, or tracking, big game are usually not.
The best tracking dog I ever saw was a pointer/pitbull mix. Why was it the
best? Because it performed perfectly in its job: fixing the mess I had created.
I was bowhunting in Africa and muffed a shot on a beautiful gemsbok antelope.
It thundered off with the herd leaving just a few specks of blood. We
immediately called in Missy, who not only trailed the animal a mile, but also
kept the full-of-fight gemsbok at bay until we arrived. She used her shorthair
sniffing talent for the first half of the job, her pitbull skills for the
Tracking dogs need a good nose first of all. Scent hounds are thus a logical
choice, but many hunters desire a multi-function dog and so choose bird dogs
for the task. Probably the best place to start looking is among the
"versatile" breeds developed in Europe to hunt a variety of
feathered, furred game, and blood-trail big game. They include the German
shorthair and wirehair, the Hungarian visla, and others. Other dogs, in fact
just about any with a decent nose and some training, can be useful for blood
trailing. I've seen terriers used for the purpose.
Dr. Joe Parell of Panama City, Fla., has had shorthairs all his life, but
just recently discovered how easy and useful it is to train them to recover his
bow-shot deer. He used a squirt bottle to lay a blood trail, then brought the
dog on a lead, indicated he should follow, and taught him a couple commands
along the way.
"It takes less than 10 minutes twice a day for a few weeks to train
your dog to blood trail," he said. "My dog was doing well enough
after 10 days to try him in the woods. This season he found a doe and a hog for
"When trailing, read your dog's body language. If he starts to wander
off in various directions and stops sniffing the ground and wagging his tail,
he has lost the scent. Take him back to where you last saw blood and start him
out again. If he stops, growls and raises his hackles, it is a sign your animal
is very close, and may still be alive."
Parell said it's fun and adds another dimension to hunting.
"The downside is that when your friends find out you have a good
trailing dog, they will be calling you in the middle of the night seeking
For a fine selection of Hunting gear, click here.