ELLSWORTH — Jada Butler of Blue Hill shot a moose while hunting in the far reaches of Penobscot County. Nightfall was coming on and she couldn’t find the animal to tag with her name, license number and other required info deep in Seboeis Plantation.
“I shot it at probably 4:30 or 5 o’clock,” Butler recently recalled. “It got dark quick.”
“The terrain was tough,” said Butler whose day job is working as a certified medical assistant at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital. “Lots of thick woods, downed trees, it wasn’t like you were out in the fields. I had Judson with me [Her youngest son, then 9 years old).
“I said, ‘we’re not going to be struggling here in terrain we don’t know in complete darkness.’”
So, Butler called on Lindsay Ware of Ellsworth. Ware, a licensed large game blood tracker, is trained to find wounded deer, moose and bear with a leashed dog.
A Unity College graduate, Ware met the Blue Hill woman the following morning in Howland. The blood tracker had with her black Labrador Gander and Aldo, a European wire-haired dachsund, to search for the moose.
“There was one drop of blood and that’s it,” Gander’s boss said. “We didn’t have much to track on.”
“I shot it right straight through the heart — that’s where you want to shoot it,” the Blue Hill hunter related. That way, the chest cavity fills with blood and doesn’t drop much on the ground.
A lot of the searches Ware and Gander go on, “the animal is just gone but the hunters don’t know it.” About 60 percent of the calls for help she gets end up being “non-fatal hits.”
Depending on where and how far Ware and Gander and Aldo hunt for the shot animal, she can determine with a fair amount of certainty whether it was badly hurt.
Ware reports to the hunters what evidence she and her dogs find and explains to them why she thinks the wounded creature — if not found— may be OK.
“It gives hunters peace of mind,” she said.
But, even with just one drop of blood, Ware, Aldo and Gander were able to find the deceased 850-lb. moose.
“We call it blood tracking, but it’s really animal tracking,” said Ware. “They don’t need blood to track.”
Frightened, startled animals emit a smell. Also, glands between the creatures’ paw pads produce a scent.
Ware, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Unity College and Western University respectively, says every deer excretes a different smell just like every human.
At her side, during the searches, is either Gander or Aldo. Labs are athletic dogs. In fact, it was the 9-year-old Lab mix’s restlessness that spurred Ware to become a blood tracker.
“I was a hunter,” said Ware. “Then I got this guy and wanted to do something with him.”
Gander proved too impatient for duck-hunting.
“He needed to be moving all the time,” the Lab’s mistress said. She learned about blood tracking and contacted licensed tracker Susanne Hamilton of Montville. The two women are now close friends.
Blood tracking “ended up being something Gander was so much better at,” Ware said. “For a big dog, nine is getting up there.”
To that end, Aldo became a tracker.
Dachsunds are intelligent and their small size has benefits.
“Little dogs are useful because they are easy to handle on a leash,” Ware said. That small size can be handy when the dog needs to crawl under brush or a log to follow big game tracks.
Aldo is named after the late American ecologist and author Aldo Leopold, who is considered the father of wildlife management. The 18-month-old dachsund’s kennel name is Zale Von Moosbach-Zuzelek.
The petite dog, which turns 2 in March, comes originally from Berne, N.Y. The early weeks of its life were spent learning to track with professional trainer Cheri Faust in Madison, Wis.
What can a pup learn in his first weeks? Plenty.
“At five weeks old, they’ll drag a piece of deer liver across the floor,” Ware said. The puppies are exposed to deer tail and legs to get excited about the scent.
“They are so smart and so tenacious,” she continued. “Their little bodies give out before their brains do.”
Most dachsunds weigh around 25 pounds. However, Aldo tops out at 15 pounds.
When Ware and her canine partners arrive at a scene, she asks questions about where the hunter was when the game was shot.
If she’s working with Gander she walks the lab to the reported location where the shot was fired.
If Aldo is on the job, Ware carries him over and puts him down on the spot.
The dog and his nose take over from there.
Josh Isabell, a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Freedom Outfitters of in Mariaville, has used Ware’s services eight times in the past two years.
“I have bear hunters come in each year,” he said. Four or five times a year, a hunter will lose a bear. Bears can be particularly challenging because they tend to have a lot of fat and a thick hide, which limits the amount of blood loss.
A dog’s nose is better than a human’s eyesight, Isabell said. “They can do a great job finding bears.”
“We’ll track everything and we just can’t find it,” he said. “The first time we used her [Ware] I was just really impressed.”
The Ellsworth tracker is getting busier as hunters learn more about blood tracking.
“When I first started I would get five calls a season,” she said. “Now that’s a Saturday.”
Ware tracks a lot of bear because of the animal’s abundance off and around Route 9. A lot of the moose hunts are up north.
Ware advises hunters to call for assistance as soon as possible when wounded big game can’t be found. She also cautions them to watch where they step and not to do a grid search with their buddies.
“Spreading scent around on your boots will confuse the dog,” Ware explained. A confused canine has to spend that much more time locating the tracks and the animal.
Ware, like many blood trackers, offers her services at no charge. She accepts donations. She added subsistence hunters should not refrain from calling because they cannot afford to pay.
The Connecticut native is so busy tracking for hunters in the fall between bear, deer and moose season that she scarcely has time to hunt herself.
However, she and her husband Ben Naumann, who works as a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, did just go on a moose hunt up north.
“The funny thing is I never hunted as a kid but I was raised around it,” she said. “I grew up eating venison. My father hunted a lot.”
At Unity College, a lot of her friends hunted and so she began.
When she is not tracking, Ware works as a dog trainer for Green Acres Kennel in Bangor. She is launching a business venture, Science Dogs of New England, to offer scent detection services for conservation purposes. Dogs can be trained to hunt for invasive plants or small creatures. For instance, bees can nest underground, but dogs can be trained to find them.
“Certain cryptic species that people want to study that are hard to find,” Ware said. “We can get a lot of DNA analysis from scat for research and population information.”
To contact Ware, call 812-1366. For hunters requiring a tracker, type in your zip code and find the closest tracker at www.unitedbloodtrackers.org.