Seven years ago I spoke to Andy Bensing for a story regarding legislation he hoped would pass in Pennsylvania.
At the time, Bensing, who is an officer with United Blood Trackers, was urging the state legislature to allow the use of dogs to track wounded game, such as deer and bear.
And he offered some pretty convincing arguments.
“One man with a dog that doesn’t bark, is leashed at all times and is on the exact trail of that deer is far less disturbance than eight guys grid searching in the middle of the woods on a Saturday afternoon,” Bensing said.
And it gets better.
“If the deer is dead, 90 percent of the time the dog will find it,” Bensing said. “Morally and ethically, there’s no downside to it.”
After that conversation years ago, I fully agreed with Bensing. Now, years later, the state legislature finally did as well.
After more than a decade of trying, state lawmakers finally passed legislation allowing for the use of leashed, blood tracking dogs to find big game in Pennsylvania.
It’s a win for Bensing, hunters, the dogs and, more importantly, the resource.
Lately, it seems we’ve been making it easier for hunters to have success. Seasons have been expanded, additional tags have been added (second spring gobbler tag, for example) and crossbows have been allowed for anyone to use.
With all the added opportunity, it’s obvious that more hunters are going to connect. Unfortunately, it also means the likelihood of wounded game also increases.
That’s why it’s imperative that we allow additional tools to help recover wounded deer, bear and elk. With a keen nose and a will to work, dogs are the best tool.
When I last spoke to Bensing about the issue, it was clear the blood tracking dogs aren’t just turned loose to wreak havoc in the woods during hunting season. Rather, they are highly-trained and controlled – on a leash – with the sole purpose of following a blood trail and recovering a wounded animal.
And I have no doubt a dog can perform the task better than us.
I used to have a beagle, Randy, that hunted rabbits with me for years. During that time I learned never to doubt a dog’s nose.
Now, thanks to the new legislation, a dog’s nose is something hunters can rely on during a time that can be stressful and disheartening. There is no worse feeling than not recovering a wounded animal. It’s something every ethical hunter strives to avoid, and there’s no doubt that a dog can help.
Blood tracking dogs are successful about 35 percent of the time and, contrary to the name, don’t need a distinguishable blood trail to follow a wounded animal. A variety of breeds are used to track game, including beagles, Labrador retrievers, dachshunds and bloodhounds.
While waiting for legislation to pass in Pennsylvania, Bensing stayed busy tracking animals for hunters in New York, Maryland, New Jersey and other states where the practice is legal.
Now the Reading resident will get to do it here. And with Pennsylvania’s lengthy archery season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bensing and others who have blood tracking dogs are busier than ever this year.
Still, there is a bit of bad news. The United Blood Trackers website (unitedbloodtrackers.org) has a list of trackers and contact information. None of them are in the northeastern part of the state, which means if they are willing to come here it would take some time.
And when it comes to wounded game, time is of the essence.
But I suspect now that the use of dogs to track wounded game is legal in Pennsylvania, more people will get involved and available trackers will start to appear throughout the state.
Hopefully, that interest will spread to Northeastern Pennsylvania. While all hunters hope to never be in a situation where a dog could help find, it would be nice knowing the option is always nearby.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky