Some background on Tracking Dog Legislation in North America and Europe
The use of tracking dogs to find wounded big game has taken many forms. In Europe these practices began to be formalized by state legislation in the 19th century, and today the availability and use of tracking dogs to find wounded game is mandated almost everywhere on the Continent. The use of tracking dogs is legal in the UK, but the practice is not as developed there.
In North America the use of Tracking Dogs has been legally recognized in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Quebec and in 22 states of the USA. Certain other southern states and Texas never totally banned the use of dogs in deer hunting, and in these the use of tracking dogs has always been legal, although certain restrictions have been imposed. More information about these state tracking regulations can be found at www.unitedbloodtrackers.org under “state legislation”.
The regulations concerning the use of tracking dogs vary greatly from state to state, and from province to province. It is difficult to generalize other than to say that all 22 states and the three provinces require that the dogs be kept on a tracking leash at all times. However, the general regulatory framework in British Columbia and the cluster of northeastern states, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine seems to be most appropriate for Ontario.
For reasons of clarity and simplicity I will review the New York State provisions, which are the oldest and most tested in the USA, and which formed the model for Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Here are the essential points: 1. Handlers must pass State Test for Leashed Tracking Dog License. 2. Dogs must be worked on tracking leash at all times (no release). 3. Conservation Officer must be notified before each call. 4. Wounded deer and black bear may be tracked day or night. 5. Artificial lights may be used. 6. Hunter may use legal bow or firearm during daylight to put down animal. 7. Handlers may use handgun or long gun to “humanely destroy” animal after dark. 8. No right of pursuit or trespass on private property. Notes: A. British Columbia differs in that it does not require a special test or license for tracking. This reduces administrative complications, but also means that the Ministry loses an easy means of checking the violation history of the candidate. B. The handgun provision of the New York system would not be acceptable in Ontario! C. The requirement to notify law enforcement before taking a tracking call would be impossible in northern Ontario where there is little cell phone service.
In New York State the leashed tracking dog program was begun under a “scientific collector’s license” issued by the NYSDEC in 1976. The results of this research led to passage by the state legislature of an enabling amendment to our Conservation Code in 1986 and to the issuing of an implementing regulation by the NYSDEC in 1989.
The change in law was necessitated by existing legislation that a. included searching for wounded game as part of hunting and b. outlawed the use of dogs in any way for deer hunting.
Tracking at night and the use of a firearm to put down mortally wounded deer that were still alive were two of the issues most discussed in the drafting of the regulations. Both activities had been included under the permit that governed the 13-year research permit period. During this period it had been found that roughly a third of the mortally wounded deer tracked would still be alive when approached. Reservations about night tracking were overcome when it was pointed out that trackers would be most available after work hours or hunting hours were over. Also it would be unethical to leave wounded animals to suffer over night due to a prohibition of night tracking. The same argument was used to justify the carrying and use of a firearm to put down wounded animals. Animal rights organizations, such as PETA and HSUS, never opposed the regulations that were issued.
Subsequent to the start in 1989 of a formal licensed program in New York State, other factors have emerged which demonstrate that night tracking and the authorization to use a firearm are even more important than originally realized. The influx of coyotes into New York State, over the last 20 years has created a serious risk of losing hunters’ venison to these predators if the deer are left to be found and dispatched if necessary the next morning. It was also learned that a wounded deer, temporarily empowered by adrenaline, was not necessarily the docile, fearful animal that one might expect. In 240 deer finds the author had two “incidents”. In the second the tracking dog was injured and the author received some wear and tear himself. There have been close calls in other states, such as Wisconsin, where firearms are prohibited while tracking. In these states it is just a matter of time before the handler or his dog is seriously injured.
Legislation and regulations in North America regarding the use of tracking dogs are still in the process of evolution. Hunters and state wildlife managers may need more experience to decide what procedures are practical and compatible with the traditions of their areas. Beliefs about hunting are deeply held, and do not change overnight. However, experiences and insights should be shared by hunters and wildlife professionals across North America.
The effective introduction of leashed tracking dog program requires more than new laws and regulations. Few hunters will accept what seems like a radical new idea, unless they understand what can be accomplished and how to go about doing it. This education can come from public agencies, like your MNR, or by private organizations like Deer Search Inc. and United Blood Trackers. If a leashed tracking dog program is begun in Ontario, we hope that those involved will reach across the border for help in promoting the pro-program and educating the public.
by John Jeanneney,
Vice-President, United Blood Trackers and
Founding Member, Deer Search Inc.