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    If you have been a deer hunter long, you have probably lost a deer or two because of a bad shot. Unfortunately, it is part of hunting. Sometimes we make a bad hit because a buck jumps a string. Sometimes buck fever sets in or an arrow hits a twig. Whatever the reason, sooner or later it happens and when it does, you are forced to make a decision.

    Should you back out or should you go look for the buck? Answering this question can be extremely difficult. Instead of quickly answering the question, more hunters are calling in a blood tracking dog to find the deer.

    John Engelken from knows more than most about blood tracking. Engelken is considered by most the best blood tracker in the country. The Drury’s, Lee & Tiffany Lakoski, Chris Brackett and many other famous and not-so-famous people have called on Engelken when they cannot find a buck they shot.

    According to Engelken, there is no cut and dry answer to the above question, but he has some tips. “When a hunter realized his hit wasn’t a good one, they should back out and analyze the situation. One mistake many hunters make when they shoot a buck and don’t find it right away is calling all of their buddies and hiking around, looking for blood and any sign of the buck. All this pressure could jump the buck if he is still alive and the more people there are in the woods, the harder it will be to track the buck with a dog later on,” Engelken explained.

    Calling on a Highly Trained Dog

    Group of blood tracking dogs

    Tracker John's tracker shack at Illinois Connection

    According to Engelken, the first call every hunter should make after shooting a deer and not finding it is to a qualified bloodtracker who has a highly trained dog. “Blood tracking dogs are becoming extremely popular so more hunters know someone with a tracking dog. The problem is like with any hunting that involves a dog, not all dogs are trained well enough to track hard to find deer.

    When I say the first call should be to a tracker, the call needs to be to someone with a highly trained dog. The call should be made before several guys have wandered all over the woods looking for the deer. When many hunters go looking for deer, they often spread the scent from the wounded animal all over the woods, which makes the recovery more difficult for the handler and the dog,” Engelken added.

    The Waiting Game

    Blood tracking dog

     A bloodhound is considered one of the best blood tracking breeds in the world.

    When Engelken receives a call, the first thing he determines is how long he should wait before going to look for the animal.

    “The biggest mistake many hunters make is rushing in to look for a deer. In most cases, I like to wait at least twelve hours before going in to look for a deer. Weather is always a factor. Sometimes I make the decision to put my dogs on a trail earlier, but for the most part, waiting at least twelve hours is best whether it is a gun shot, a one-lung hit or a shoulder hit. Rarely does a person lose a deer because they waited too long. Many people lose a deer when they jump it from a bed and it takes off, never to be seen again. If a big storm is coming, if the weather is very warm or some other factor that makes me think we better look early I will, but I use bloodhounds. They have a great nose so I don’t mind waiting a little longer before starting a trail.”

    Patience… Patience… Patience

    Doug Benefield from Illinois Connection

    Doug Benefield from Illinois Connection is all smiles after Jesse the bloodhound saves the day.

    Engelken often waits twelve or more hours before going to look for a deer because he wants the deer to die as close to where it was shot as possible. If a buck leaves the property it was shot on, there can be problems. I work in areas where the ground is intensely managed for monster bucks. If a buck leaves the property it was shot on, it could go onto another piece of property that I won’t be able to get permission to track on so it is always best to play the waiting game. Most land owners don’t want other hunters or a tracking dog on the property,” Engelken stated.

    If you find yourself wondering if you have waited long enough after making a questionable hit on a deer this fall and you are not sure if you should stay where you are or go in after the deer, you should probably wait longer. “A good tracking dog can find a buck even if the trail is cold. Even if there is no visible blood, a hunter is best to wait and let the dog do its job,” Engelken advised.

    In case you are wondering how cold of a trail a dog can work, I found out about John Engelken and his amazing bloodhounds when a friend of mine used him to find a buck that was shot over a week before Engelken was called. The hunter hired several dog trackers and they couldn’t find the buck, even though the hunter knew the deer was dead.

    Engelken’s dog found the deer in less than 30 minutes. There is no question Engelken and his dogs know how to find deer. “I have been using John’s tracking services for years. He has found countless deer for my clients over the years and even though he sometimes waits a long time before he starts looking for a buck, more often than not if the deer is dead and on property we can track on, he finds the deer,” Doug Benefield from Illinois Connection in Pike County, Illinois said.

    This fall if you find yourself in a bad situation, call a blood tracker and wait at least twelve hours. If the deer is dead and you are patient, the odds are you will be calling a taxidermist and punching your tag.

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