Published November 22, 2009, 07:11 AM

Deer down in Wisconsin??These dogs can track it

SOUTH OF SUPERIOR — Daphne and Mr. Pitts are in a fever. They smell blood, and they like it.

“Pick it up! Find the deer!” urges their owner and master, Steve Wittke of rural Douglas County. “Good boy, Pitts.”

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

SOUTH OF SUPERIOR — Daphne and Mr. Pitts are in a fever. They smell blood, and they like it.

“Pick it up! Find the deer!” urges their owner and master, Steve Wittke of rural Douglas County. “Good boy, Pitts.”

Mr. Pitts, the black cocker, strains at his long tether. Wittke is on the other end of the tether, straining to keep up.

Daphne, the black and white cocker, is up ahead and off-leash, snuffling up the blood trail.

The spaniels are trained to follow such trails to find dead or wounded deer, a practice that became legal in Wisconsin several years ago. Dogs cannot be used to track deer in Minnesota.

In this case, Mr. Pitts and Daphne are following a simulated deer trail. Earlier in the day, Wittke had used a bottle of deer blood he keeps on hand to drip an intermittent trail through a piece of public land. At the end of it, he has placed a fresh deer hide.

The dogs bound ahead, darting left and right, following the meandering trail. Even if you knew nothing of these deer-tracking dogs, you would have no doubt they were on the trail of something.

Daphne bounds around a white spruce and finds the deer hide. She pounces on it, chewing at its fatty underside, uttering a low growl. Mr. Pitts, on a clothesline-tight leash, arrives a couple of seconds later.

“There!” Wittke says. “Good boy, Pitts. Yeah, Daphne.”

Wittke has complete confidence that his spaniels will find what they’re looking for. In the past four years, he has put them on the trail of many deer that he or his friends have shot.

“If you have a good dog … if that deer is lying there dead, I’m sure he’d pick up the trail and go to it,” Wittke said.

On an actual deer, a tracking dog must be on a leash, according to the law. Currently, eight states allow hunters to pursue downed deer with dogs, but the hunters must be unarmed, Wittke said.

Lots of dog breeds will work. Daschshunds. Labs. Spaniels. Beagles. Not surprisingly, bloodhounds.

“A two-hour trailing job at night takes 10 minutes,” said Wittke, a bowhunter himself. “The time you save is amazing.”

Mr. Pitts tracked down a doe that archer Jim VanLandschoot of Superior, a friend of Wittke’s, shot Tuesday afternoon. VanLandschoot has watched Mr. Pitts’ work on other deer as well.

“It’s incredible. It’s an awesome tool,” VanLandschoot said. “We were out [Tuesday] night, and what would have taken us probably an hour took us five minutes. And it’s fun.”

Wittke said the challenging aspect of tracking with a leashed dog is moving fast through the woods at night, when the dog goes under and around obstacles that humans can’t easily negotiate.

Mr. Pitts has found at least a dozen deer and one bear, Wittke said.

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