It doesn't take Angus long to discover a blood trail, and it's all Angel Martinez can do to hang on to the determined canine's lead as it pursues the scent. Angel has shot a doe on his Starr County lease, and the animal has disappeared into the tall grass, but with the help of Angus and Charlie Martinez's dog Molly the doe is soon located.
Angus and Molly are Drahthaars. The first syllable is pronounced as "drot" (as in trot). The haar portion is pronounced like "car", but with an "h" instead of a "c". These extremely versatile dogs originated in Germany more than a century ago, and in addition to being expert trackers, they are also fine pointers and retrievers.
They are medium to large dogs with a female on the small size weighing just over 50 pounds while a large male might go 85. They have a double coat consisting of dense under fur and a harsh outer coat. Most Drahthaars also have a distinctive beard of varying length.
Upon reaching the fallen doe, the dogs excitedly sniff around the animal while being praised and petted by their proud owners. Very few animals are lost with these expert trackers on the case.
Molly is a taut fifty plus pounds, and her wiry chocolate brown coat has a generous sprinkling of grayish flecks. She is an energetic 17 months old, but she tracked her first deer when she was a mere pup. "She actually tracked a deer when she was only 17 weeks old," Charlie says, as he administers a pat on her noggin. "She tracked it for a little over a mile."
"A friend of mine shot it last year and couldn't track it," Charlie explains. "He shot it in the evening and called me that evening to se if we could retrieve it. We couldn't go that night so we tracked it the next morning. The track was over 12 hours old, but we found some blood and got her going on it. I stopped her several times, because I didn't trust her at first, but she was right on it. It's just in their bloodline. The deer was still alive, and we were able to shoot it and recover it."
After loading today's doe into the back of Angel's pickup, the two dogs obediently leap into their portable kennels in their respective truck beds. Angel fondly scratches Angus's head and shuts the door on the kennel. "They make a great family dog," Angel says. "I've got a four year old daughter and he's as gentle as any lab I've ever had, but when he is out here in the he field you can tell he is all business." Back at camp the doe is readied for refrigeration, and the men and dogs prepare for a little quail hunting.
Before heading out into the field in search of tasty "coronices", Jesus Valdez arrives with his Drahthaar, Tess. "Let me show you something else we use these dogs for," Valdez says with a smile. Walking a short ways from camp with two and a half year old Tess at his side, Valdez stops and instructs his dog, "Find the buck." She immediately scampers away and begins quartering in front of her master, trying to pick up the scent of her quarry. After a couple of minutes of careful searching, she suddenly darts into a grassy clump and returns with a shed antler clenched in her jaws. With head held high she trots proudly to Valdez's side. Sitting tight against his left leg she offers up her prize, gently releasing it into his waiting hand.
There are only a handful of Drahthaars in the Rio Grande Valley, and Valdez was one of the first to own one. He is also well versed with their intriguing history. "In the late 1800's and early 1900's as the middle class emerged across Europe, especially Germany, they couldn't handle the old 100 dog kennels that royalty had. They began to develop a dog that would be a jack of all trades. They are a cross between a German shorthair pointer, a griffon, the stichelharr and the pudelpointer."
They have already proved they are fine trackers, now it is time to test their quail hunting skills. Departing camp in three trucks, the hunters travel several miles before reaching a large open pasture dotted with prickly pear cactus and thorny mesquite mottes. It is perfect quail country. Since this will be a walking hunt, Charlie and Angel park one truck a mile or so off in the distance and then return in the other vehicle to begin trekking cross country toward the distant vehicle. It's always nice to have your pickup waiting at the end of a long walk.
The dogs are quivering with excitement, and when the hunters are ready the Drahthaar's bound away enthusiastically. Their hunting instincts are impeccable, and despite tremendous energy they hunt tight, allowing their masters to keep up with them. The dogs thoroughly cover the ground out front crossing back and forth, never ranging too far. Suddenly, Angus goes on point near a cactus clump. The trick now is to get to the covey quickly before they scatter. Angel arrives first, and when the covey flushes he smoothly swings his shotgun and drops one. In a flash Angus is on the fallen bird, quickly returning to Angel's side with a plump quail.
Another point, another shot and Molly then Tess make smooth retrieves. Taking a proffered bird from his dog, Valdez scratches her ear and says, "The dogs make the whole hunting experience enjoyable. These dogs can do tracking in the morning, they can be pointing and retrieving at noon on birds and at night we can be hunting hogs with them. We have even heard stories of people that hunt bear with them."
"As a first time Drahthaar owner I have been very pleased with the breed and with the organization," Angel says as the hunters finally reach their truck with several tasty quail to show for their efforts. "They hold us as dog owners to the highest standard. There is a strict breeding program that only the dogs that are able to pass performance tests are able to go and breed." One of those qualifying dogs is Angus, who has achieved all the necessary requirements to pass on his superb genetics.
As the thirsty dogs finish lapping up a well deserved drink of water, they gaze expectantly at their masters for what they obviously hope will be yet another test of their remarkable skills. These are dogs that live to work, and they are eager to take on the next task. After tracking a deer, retrieving shed antlers and quail hunting they just seem to be getting warmed up.
Valdez gazes fondly at the canines and says with a grin, "It is a dog that is truly amazing. You have to see it to believe it."
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore