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Deer In Our Beagle Woods

by Dave Fisher

Would you believe that in 1906 the Pennsylvania Game Commission trapped and transported deer from Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and other states to try to rebuild the deer herd. In 1900 the state looked like one giant clearcut and deer sightings were rare at best. Logging and unregulated hunting had taken a great toll. It is reported that one hunter shot 11 deer in one day, 175 in a single season, and once killed 3 with one shot … the year 1868. N. B. Killian, who died in 1902 was said to have killed 900 deer including a monster buck weighing 306 pounds already dressed.

Of course, with indiscriminate killing the whitetail deer in Pennsylvania was headed the way of the buffalo. A few wise sportsmen, several clubs and some members of the Pennsylvania legislature (Remember, almost everyone hunted then.) eventually brought the Pennsylvania Game Commission into being to save the deer herd. The “bucks only” law was passed in 1907 providing does with complete protection, and only 300 bucks were taken statewide that year. But the plan was working and its success can be seen in every backyard, woodlot, and Beagle thicket in the Keystone. Now, does are no longer protected and in some counties unlimited deer tags are available.

Last evening was a beautiful August night. The oppressive heat wave that brought 13 straight days of sizzling air in the 90s had finally lost some of its grip and the air had that fall-like feel … crisp and damp. We decided to hit the ground hog field where another friend and I had killed 9 ‘hogs the past week. The field was huge so we took up a position in another section and situated the truck on the highest little knoll. As I cleaned another rifle, and set up our gear, those little excavators that cause tractors to roll over started to pop up here and there. I must admit Bob missed the first one, and then I sent a volley of four shells at one chuck scurrying for the woods at nearly 500 yards. Ohhh, we get lucky sometimes, but that’s a long way for a 55 grain plastic coated bullet! Later, however, Bob kills three; I shoot one at about 200 yards with the .22-250 … then shoot another very large ‘hog with a .22 at about 80 yards while leaning over the top of a large round bale.

It was an exceptionally crisp and clean evening and even as we poked a shot here and there, deer began strolling into the field. A doe here, another with twin fawns there, and a few small bucks fed straight out in front of us at about 400 yards. All looked awfully tempting in our 20 power groundhog scopes!

I can’t say how many deer entered and left the field … 20 or more for sure … at one time we could see six bucks and eventually cataloged nine different bucks before we lost the light. One was a tremendous 10 point with massive antlers and tines at least a foot high. He was an old, grey animal that had survived more than a few deer seasons. He gave us a good look at him and I “scoped him over” to actually count the points, but he wasn’t going to stick around in that field very long and within just a few minutes he melted back into the dark hardwoods. The prospects for the upcoming deer season looked bright, a far cry I’m sure from 1900.

Although we are all Beaglers, most of us are also deer hunters, and it may interest readers to know that buck hunters in the Keystone State killed 203,221 antlered deer in the 2,000 fall season, and new record harvests have been set for several years running. Pennsylvania hunters also kill about 301,379 other or antlerless deer during the fall season!

Out of these figures archers alone killed 78,522. That's an annual Pennsylvania deer kill of 504,600 animals!

As you can see it’s a much different story from the early 1900s and every single time I drop a pack of Beagles into a thicket I’m going to encounter some deer … it’s a certainty. And as I have said on more than one occasion it’s the call I get the most. Ya know … “Hey, my dog’s running deer what do I do about it?”

I have no magic answers. The deer herd is growing by the giant leaps and bounds those big critters can take and we are going to have to deal with it. The theory that you can simply hunt your dogs in places where there aren’t any deer isn’t going to work anymore. It’s just not going to happen.

As I said, I have no magic answers to keep our Beagles from chasing those things. I can only give you some idea of things that have helped me. Yep, it does help to have good genes. If the parents don’t run deer, you have a much better chance that the young one will be a ‘clean’ dog. There is no guarantee, however, and just the time someone tells you, “My dog never runs deer”, is just about the time you’re going to have a deer chase. ANY dog can and will run a deer if the situation is right.

Sure I have had a couple dogs that never ran a single deer in their entire lives, but I’ve also had a couple that I trusted implicitly … “go along for the ride” when a deer chase started. Deer runners will "pull" other dogs along with them even though the other dogs may never run deer on their own. With all these deer, and the fact that our Beagles now see them in very close quarters, it is a tremendous temptation for the dog that may have the "deer running" gene buried deep in his background. This is certainly an enormous temptation to a new pup that's not quite sure what he's supposed to be running yet.

There is no question in my mind that downright bad behavior in a dog, like deer chasing for example, is certainly a curable condition. The problem is, many dog owners refuse to diagnose the problem quickly enough and then to deal with it in some type of sensible manner. Caught quickly, I believe that deer running and many other problems can be nipped early on with some stern, sometimes hard-hearted action on the owner/trainer's part. Dogs are like children that never grow up. They know exactly what they are supposed to do and what they are not, but they will do exactly as much as they can get away with!

You do not have to be Einstein to know that the dog is running something other than a rabbit. Face the fact quickly and take actions to stop it ... and stop it now. Once the dog gets away with this activity a few times, he is on his way to becoming a full blown deer runner and there will be a time when he reaches the point of no return. In this case, his value as a rabbit dog is no longer open for discussion.

In the very beginning, if you can get in front of the dog and catch him, a very stern scolding, pulling of the ears, and/or a mild beating with a leash or small switch is certainly in order. It sounds cruel, and it is, but you can make it as tough as it needs to be. Keep your temper under control and constantly tell the dog what it's being punished for. The point is; do something. To let the dog get away with this behavior is only asking for trouble later on. I would not hesitate to say that 85% of the time the mild beatings and/or a good scolding will break a dog a year or less in age from running deer. It may take a while and several months of patience trying incidents, but the dog can be broken or taught he's not to chase this overgrown rabbit.

Another technique that has had some success is; exposing the dog to deer and deer scent early on under controlled conditions. This is done in a pen or fenced area. The dog can be punished in several ways, or shocked, if he begins to chase or harass the deer. Deer scent sold for archery hunting can be applied to the dog's pen, collar, etc. in such a way as to make the dog sick or so familiar with the scent that he has little interest in it. Both of these techniques work for some dogs and are always worth a try.

Although I will not fool around with, or keep a deer runner for very long, I have been able to break some real deer criminals with an electronic collar and I now have a lot of experience with them. As I have said many times over the years every dog is different and has his own personality. Some are poor candidates for a shock collar and when correction is applied they will simply run into the next county. I have also found, however, that most of these dogs are poor candidates for any type of correction and learning. I have found the electronic training collars so valuable that I am seldom on a hunt where two or three of my dogs aren’t wearing one. They give you that peace of mind that you have the dog under control and if some type of emergency comes up you can get the dogs back on the truck quickly or even save a dog’s life. In the right hands, an electronic training collar can be one of the most effective tools for training a dog; and especially for breaking deer running.

Everyone has their own method for breaking deer running dogs. Some work, others are, well a little far out. I remember some years ago a RABBIT HUNTER reader once suggested placing the dog in a 55 gallon drum with a deer skin and tumbling it for a few miles behind a four-wheeler! I thought this was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard! I figure the dog certainly would never run a deer again, but probably wouldn’t run anything else either … if you could ever touch it or get near it again!

Probably the best method for developing a clean dog; or one that is not inclined to run those big whitetails is to simply expose it to a lot or rabbits when it is ready to begin running. For most Beagles this is somewhere between four and six months old, some a little older. Exposing them to a lot of rabbits at an early age seems to get them “tuned in” to that specific scent, and is easier to get them off deer scent or to ignore it altogether. There is no question that the more time a Beagle, especially a young one, is allowed to develop his natural born talent and the more he is exposed to rabbits the better he will be and the more apt he is to leave other things alone.

A few years ago, I was running the dogs in the early Pennsylvania rabbit season. It was warm as it is many times in the early fall. I was hunting a small farm, only 14 acres, but it had a lot of good habitat around it. I let the dogs go into a small woodlot where I always take a few bunnies, and the dogs began barking immediately. I heard deer hooves hitting the hard ground and I sprinted over a small rise to get to a low spot in the woven block wire where the deer always cross. I was not too concerned about the pack running the deer, but it never hurts to be safe; and besides I always like to check out the deer anyway. Well, the deer came to the fence as usual, and the first few hopped the fence like it wasn’t even there. Three, four, seven … then 10, 12, 18, 23 … and as I stood there with my mouth agape 36 deer came over the fence!! You think there aren’t deer in our Beagle woods!

It’s going to continue to be a problem. There are more of them all the time. I believe that in a few years the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be forced into allowing almost unlimited deer tags in most of the counties in the state. I am sure it is pretty much the same where you live. With more and more posted ground, and houses creeping into all our hunting areas, deer have many more sanctuaries. They are in our Beagle woods; we better learn to deal with them.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).