It's turkey season here. I'm sure you are thinking, "This relates to tracking how?" Well, while the farm we track on is private and posted property, the owner gives permission to a very small number of people to hunt it. Spring turkey season allows hunting from daylight until noon. This time frame is when I usually track to avoid the heat of the day. While I don't worry about any of these hunters shooting us, I have respect for their efforts and don't want to scare away their quarry, thus we don't lay tracks until after twelve noon now which messes up my motivation and I often forget to go lay the track! Today was a VERY hot day for May, with temperatures above 90 degrees F and a blazing sun. I actually remembered that I wanted to lay a track using the suggestions given to us by a tracking judge at the test (same judge who certified us originally). However, I was trying to time the lay so that the actual track running was not too hot as neither Bea nor I do well in the heat. I decided that if I laid my track around 4-5 pm that the evening temps should be lower. I almost never run a track in the evening so this would be something very different. I laid the track at 5 pm and it was still a cloudless sky and 91 degrees F. The sun was low though so I knew it would be cooler soon. There was a moderately brisk wind and holy cow was it hot! I was sweating by the time I finished laying the 539 yard track with NINE corners (all the legs were 100 steps or less in length. 13 of my steps = 10 yards. The track goal was to work on our corner indication and handling). All of this was on fields that had been mowed last fall, but now the grass is between just above ankle high to mid calf high and changes often in both height and density many times through the track. The height of the grass also means that this is our last practice until the field gets mowed because the property owner's stipulation was no using the hay fields after the grass is mid calf high to avoid flattening or breaking the grass (flat and broken grass does not mow well).
Bea and I arrived at the field at 7:15. The sky was cloudy and the sun very low and starting to set, the wind had died and it was dead calm. The temperature was now down to 73 degrees F.
I wondered if the sun, wind and heat would have dissipated the scent too much in the 2 hours and 15 min the track had aged. The answer was both yes and no. It seemed to depend- not at all surprisingly- on the height and type of grass and where in the field it was. Although even this interpretation may be incorrect, because I sprayed Bea with an herbal tick spray right as we got out of the car and it made her sneeze like mad and "may have" made scenting a little more difficult. Note to self, never do that at a test!
The start flag was a short distance to one side of a dirt farm road and ran along it. Bea checked out all around the start flag before committing. She started and stopped several times but actually tracked well. At the corner she overshot it maybe by 10' and promptly looped back and searched first to the right and then to the left. She acted like she could faintly smell it but not locate it and kept casting back and forth until she found the leg. She tracked right down this and found her article, a knitted mitten. How happy was she!
This leg #2 was on a flat area with a hill rising a short distance to the right. She overshot the next corner also by about 10' but promptly looped back and searched briefly to the right but then concentrated on back and forth to the left again acting like she could faintly smell but not locate the leg. Then she found it and tracked right on top of leg #3.
This leg went through an area with hummocks of a different kind of grass (still mostly dead stuff) sticking up from shorter other grass, which was green. Bea tracked quite slowly and nosed each hummock as she passed them making me think the hummocks held the scent better than the shorter grass. As she got about ½ way down the leg she spied a blue piece of tarp a good distance away at the culvert that runs under the paved road. She acted like she was focusing on that while still checking the track. I think she thought it was an article! I wondered what she would do when we got to the corner (a right), if she would continue on to the culvert or find the corner. She overshot the corner maybe 4-5' and acted quite surprised that the track did not go to the blue thing! She checked out a piece of white paper trash for a split second, checked quickly left and the searched thoroughly to the right. Bea found the corner and the track went up to a muddy, watery, rutted area (with frogs singing) and she checked up and down the edge before committing to the track that followed a high point of a rut onto leg #4.
She had no problem getting across that or through the taller thicker grass on the other side. When the grass got shorter she cast back and forth a bit and re-found the track and then found her second article, her favorite, a piece of bright blue leather in some taller grass. The track then went by the base of a small hill and she cast back and forth a bit but stayed over the track. The next corner was at the base of yet another hill and turned to go between the two hills. Bea started casting a bit just before the right turn, like she could smell the next leg and then found the corner with minimal overshoot and committed to leg #5.
This leg ran between two hills and Bea periodically cast back and forth with the drift. Then the hill to our right then turned into a flat area and the track continued a bit. Bea cast a bit here too but stayed pretty true to the track. Then she overshot the next corner by about 15'. She looked only briefly to the right and then started casting to the left in a crescent. The turn was indeed a left onto leg #6 and went up the hill and she was searching the drifted scent and finally worked back to the track and followed it in starts and stops to the crest to the hill.
At the top of the hill the turn was in fact an open turn to the left. However Bea started to go past that and down the other side of the hill. She only got maybe 10' and realized there was no track. She cast back and forth briefly and then worked back up to me and did a circle around me. Checked to my right and then to my left and found the corner. This leg #7 went down the hill on a diagonal and the scent was pretty drifted it seemed. She kept drifting downhill and coming back to the track. At the base of the hill the tracked crossed a shallow wet ditch at the base of yet another hill and Bea checked the scent pool up and down the ditch for a bit before finally committing again and shortly after the ditch she found her 3rd article, a yellow bandanna. The track then continued diagonally up this next hill and again she kept sliding down the hill with the drift but recovered fine. As we approached the next corner you could see the paved road and Bea looked at it and you could see that she thought the track went that way. However a short distance later the track makes an open right turn on the side of the hill. Bea shoots past the corner about 15' and then circles back and finds the corner right away.
This leg #8 finishes going up this hill and then part way down the other side. Bea has no trouble with this leg at all but then overshoots the corner by about 20-25'. She looks confused, searches right quite a bit, straight again, then left. No track. Searches all that again and then circles me to my right. Comes around and searches to my left. Nothing. Circles back behind me again and gets a whiff of the track and searches an increasingly smaller and smaller area until she hits the leg and follows it perfectly.
Leg #9 goes up to the paved road and crosses a small mound of sand just before the road. Bea checks up and down the road for a bit and then crosses. She then checks up and down both ways as well as the grass which is the tallest we've had today. She then re checks the road side before following the track. She follows it a short ways and then checks the muddy puddle (with more singing frogs) to the right twice. Comes back to the track and passes her 4th article, a cell phone in a leather case. Bea NEVER passes this article so I believe she had her head up too high at that moment. Shortly after that she finds the next corner, a left, does not overshoot it at all and makes it as if on rails. I call her back and back up and tell her to "find it". Again she passes the phone. Interesting! I back up again and again tell her "find it" and she tracks with her nose in the track this time (instead of just above the grass) and she finds it right away. Quite happy I might add. This grass was broader, scratchier and taller and I wonder if she was tracking with her head just above it for a reason???
THEN Bea does a very interesting thing. Instead of following the track to the corner again and making the left again onto leg #10, she goes directly from me after giving me the phone and goes straight to where she was on the track when I called her back! I mean straight to the exact spot! She sticks her nose to the ground and takes off just like I had never interrupted her. The grass then gets short, short and then tall again and there is the glove! What a happy doggie!! The sun was heading down and it was getting quite dim. It was so quiet except for the frogs. Very peaceful and I think that helped us a lot.
While not a perfect performance as far as corners go, I was quite pleased because we did not have the jerkiness that we sometimes have. We were much smoother in all parts and we handled the corner issues CALMLY. The ONLY time I backed up was at the missed cell phone and of course I would not be able to call her back to a missed article in a test. This was just for practice.
I was pleased overall and of course Bea was very happy. We shared an ice cream sandwich in celebration of our progress