Tony Lowry recounts spending the first day of the roe buck season with tracking teams in Denmark.
After 13 hours of driving and a seven hour ferry crossing, we reached our destination, northern Denmark. We had been invited to spend the opening three days of the roe buck season following some of the best tracking teams in Europe. Our host Kim had arranged for my colleague Richard and I to join him and two other tracking teams. These teams have all passed tracking tests that allows them to enter the Danish tracking system. Two of our teams had also passed tests in neighbouring Germany, so we knew their experience and knowledge was going to be of great value to us, comparatively novice handlers from England.
I can only liken the opening of the Danish roe buck season to the opening of our old course fishing season: everybody who stalks is out on that first morning waiting for 4.55am, as no shots are to be fired before then. As we drove to meet some of Kim’s syndicate members at about 4am, you could see many vehicles parked in gateways and alongside woodlands. Their drivers were stalkers, already sat in a high seat or in some favourite spot waiting in anticipation for the minute hand to drag itself round to five-to-five and the season to begin.
Kim and I took up position overlooking a sea of yellow, a sight we are all familiar with here in the UK, oil seed rape. Our roe buck stalking outing did not last long, as after about 20 minutes the phone rang with our first customer of the day. Kim took all the required information for our first track. It was decided that we would drive there at once. The journey took about 45 minutes, during which more calls came in and were logged in order.
We arrived at the scene of our first track and met the hunter. He explained again what had happened. He took us to the place from where he had taken the shot and then we moved to the shot site to see if we could work out what had happened and to plan our course of action. It was decided that we would track this one now, as we suspected it was a dead deer that needed finding. I was going to be allowed to take the lead with my dog Brit; Kim and his dog Hemi would be following our every move. It felt a bit like I was being tested so I was a bit nervous, however, I just went through the same procedure I would on any track at home. I put on the harness, sat the dog up and went again to look at the shot site, then I returned and attached the tracking line, and off we went. The trail took us through a small wood and out into a field on the other side. Brit turned right and followed the wood edge for about fifty meters and then back into the wood to where the buck was laying. The buck was quickly dispatched by Kim, and I had found my first Danish roe buck.
After pictures had been taken, we said our goodbyes and moved on to the next call-out of the morning. This time the stalker reported that he had missed the deer, but just wanted a tracking team to check and make sure he had indeed missed and not wounded the buck. This kind of practice seems to be very common in Europe and stalkers have no shame in admitting they may have missed their target. Again the stalker took us to the point where the shot had been taken from and then to where the deer had been stood. Kim worked Hemi around the shot site and it was clear by the dog’s reactions that indeed it was a clean miss.
The morning rolled into the afternoon and the call-outs kept coming in. They were a combination of recoveries and clean misses for our dogs to work on. As our first day drew to a close and entered the evening period, we met up with Richard and his mentor Ola. Ola was another tracking man with a vast experience, not only from tracking in his own country but also neighbouring Germany. His dog had passed the very difficult tracking test to enter the Danish system and had also passed the KGBS test in Germany. This was the last call-out of the day and as the dusk passed into the black of night Ola started to try and work out what had happened some 12 hours earlier when a shot had been taken at this roe buck. It was obvious to Ola that there had been a big search for this buck before the decision had been made to call in a tracking team. And, as it turned out, another dog team had already been over the trail and probably moved the buck on. Indeed, he may have been shot by another hunter. Undeterred Ola put on his head torch and spent the next 40 minutes trying to recover the deer. Only a phone call from the police asking him to track a deer that had been involved in a road traffic accident made him give up this track for the night. Plans were made for Kim and Hemi to return in the morning just to be 100% sure.
Richard and Ola departed and went to look for the deer that had been reportedly hit by a car. Motorist are required by law to report any collision with deer or other animals in Denmark so that a tracking team can be called out to locate the animal and end the suffering. This one was very straightforward and was found only about 50 meters from where it had been hit.
It was somewhere between 1.30 and 2am by the time we all got to bed on our first 24 hours of tracking. Even though my head was buzzing with all the events of the previous day it was not long before I was asleep.