COLUMN: Passage of the tracking dog bill is a big win for West Virginia deer hunters

A wonderful thing happened in Charleston this week. If you didn’t see on Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a bill amending the natural resources code making West Virginia the 40th state to allow hunters to track wounded big game with leashed dogs.

Sure, Justice isn’t a polished politician, and yes he’s terrible at giving speeches – Exhibit A being the last two weeks during his crisis control news conferences – but you’ve got to give the guy credit where credit’s due: He’s been a great leader in pushing forward the outdoors agenda. 

Really, in my mind, it just takes a few positive things to make me a happy camper – no pun intended – when it comes to the outdoorsman agenda. In turn, it only takes a few negative things for me to lambast a politician. But that’s neither here, nor there. I’m here to talk about tracking wounded game with dogs. 

As fate would have it, I was reading an article about using dogs to track wounded deer after I first saw this bill was on the table. In all honesty, I haven’t talked to someone in recent years about losing a deer in West Virginia, but I have read stories about it. Each time the story is essentially the same: Hunters sharing their humbling story of how horrible they felt that they lost an animal, hoping that it died quickly and hadn’t suffered. I haven’t experienced this, and if you haven’t welcome to the lucky-hunter club. If there’s something I hate more than anything, it’s meat going to waste and animals suffering, so our Congress can fix that then, by all means, I’m on board. 

Now that this bill has passed, I pulled up that article I read all those months ago and I thought it was worth sharing the statistics. Thankfully, the author of this article found information from a South Carolina study, and the numbers were eye-opening. It should be noted that this study was done with bowhunters, where the chance of mortally wounding a deer and not killing it immediately is more likely than using a high-powered rifle. 

According to the report, 22 archers shot 61 deer, 20 of which fell within sight of the hunter. If a hunter didn’t see the deer fall, tracking dogs were then utilized one hour after the shot to search for the animal. Out of the 41 deer that were tracked, 40 were found within 24 hours of being shot. The average time it took to find a wounded deer was 30 minutes, with 95% of them being found within four hours. Further, 95% of the deer were found dead. 

I credit this as a major win for deer hunters in our state. If we can save even one deer from dying a painful death, either consumed by predators after being wounded or by another means, this bill is a success. With the numbers behind this, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Del. Martin Atkinson deserves praise, as does the Division of Natural Resources, Gov. Justice, and the hunters who called in support of the bill. 

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