As a youth, I chased the dogs that chased raccoons throughout woodlands all over the country, from steamy Southland swamps to the Great Northwest’s cool, damp forests.
Coon hunting is a nighttime activity, since coons are mostly nocturnal animals. This experience benefited me greatly later in life, such as when I studied land navigation at Camp Mackall. I had to learn how to read and use topographical maps, the compass, and whatnot. However, navigating the woods, especially at night, was like going home.
We were fond of treeing walker dogs, which are still my favorite coon dogs. Nonetheless, redbones, blueticks, and other breeds are great dogs too. We acquired a bloodhound once, saved him from the pound; but he didn’t work out well. He struck a coon trail two days old and ran clean out of the country. We never saw that dog again, and it dawned on us why we might find a bloodhound in the pound in the first place.
For a long time, we hunted a pair of treeing walkers that worked as a team. Streaky and Pearly were sisters. Streaky was misnamed, for she was lazy and slow. Pearly, on the other hand, was fast, dedicated to hunting, and energized. She inspired Streaky, and she filled the role as leader of this dynamic duo.
On trail, they performed different roles. Streaky would get on trail. Pearly would run a wide serpentine route, constantly crossing over the scent trail. When Streaky lost the trail, Pearly would reacquire. Pearly depended upon Streaky to maintain trail as a consistent reference. Streaky depended upon Pearly to expand the scent search. Apart, they were okay. Together, they were unbeatable.
When they treed a coon, Streaky would take the classic stance, paws on tree trunk, head lifted, and baying up into the branches. Pearly, however, would run in ever-increasing circles around the tree, searching in case the coon simply hit the tree and ran (A smart coon will climb the tree, run out on a branch, and then leap down and run. This trick often leaves coon dogs baying madly up into tree branches at nothing). If and when Pearly hit the new scent trail, she’s bay, and off they’d go again.
It is difficult to throw a good coon dog off a scent. Just like anyone who practices a skill, coon dogs eat, sleep, and dream coon hunting. It’s their job, and, as they say, practice makes perfect.
Streaky and Pearly were top performers, but they didn’t tree every coon they chased. As good as they were, by nature and by practice, scenting a coon’s trail presents certain difficulties.
Human tracking dogs are just as good as my coon dogs, and it is difficult to throw them off a scent trail. Nonetheless, it can be done on purpose and not simply by accident or by luck. The trick is to know what the dog is doing and why.
The world equates tracking dogs to bloodhounds. Although bloodhounds are very good tracking dogs, they have limitations and require a good handler to guide the dog’s performance. They are often able to follow much older scent trails than that of other dogs like treeing walkers. Their noses are about the most sensitive in the world.
When we humans smell a stew, we smell the stew as one scent. Dogs, however, smell the individual parts of the stew, the meat, the potatoes, the carrots, the pepper, so on and so forth.
And this is the most important thing to know about a dog’s ability to smell. A runner cannot mask his scent from a dog, because the dog smells both the mask and the runner’s scent at the same time.
A bloodhound can smell both the mask and the runner’s scent for many days. A treeing walker will smell it for about a couple of days. My German shepherd smells it for hours or about a day, occasionally longer. But they all smell both the mask and your scent at the same time, and the stronger and longer lasting the mask, the longer the dog can scent it.
On another website, someone suggested applying pepper spray to one’s feet to mask the human scent. However, a dog will smell both the human scent and the pepper spray, and the pepper spray is not enough to repel the dog. Moreover, since the pepper spray is so much stronger a scent, and is now part of the runner, the dog will soon begin to follow the pepper spray; since it is so much easier to track. Therefore, spraying pepper spray on one’s feet turns a faint scent trail into a super highway of scent, making the dog’s job that much easier. He will be able to follow a pepper spray scent trail at a dead run.
If you put some black pepper in the palm of your hand and sniff it, you will discover it does not go up your nose. A dog will not suck cayenne or black pepper sprinkled on the trail up its nose. Cayenne or black pepper will not stop a dog. He can smell the pepper feet away, and he will never shove his snout into the stuff deep enough to suck any into his nostrils.
If you set an ambush trap, wherewith it blasts cayenne pepper, black pepper, or pepper spray into the dog’s face, that will slow him down for a while. It might even cause the dog pause so he doesn’t want to chase you anymore. It definitely freaks out the handler, and a handler's love for his dog may cause him to back off the chase. But simply sprinkling pepper on the ground does nothing.
Bleach and vinegar might destroy the scent, but how much bleach or vinegar can you carry? And if you sprinkled bleach or vinegar on your entire trail, the dog will simply follow the scent of bleach or vinegar to your location.
Even if you could kill your scent in a small location, the dogs will simply hunt around until they picked up your scent trail again. You simply cannot mask or kill your scent. It’s impossible.
It might seem plausible to hop off one’s scent trail. But dogs are mobile creatures, and they know to look around when encountering a break in the scent trail. Like Streaky and Pearly, they will circle until they pick up the scent, and then off they go again.
So, climbing trees and swinging from branch to branch and tree to tree seems reasonable, if one is in shape for that sort of monkey business. However, unless you plan to travel miles and miles in the treetops, you will never outdistance the dog’s training and experience. It will soon reacquire your new scent trail.
Years ago, the rebel Kelly and his group kidnapped a group of people in Papua, New Guinea. The Indonesian Red Berets, their version of the Green Berets, tracked the kidnappers and their hostages with dogs.
The hostages could hear the dogs, and they could tell the dogs and their handlers were having difficulties negotiating the jungle to reach them. One of the hostages was having her period, so she got the group to tear strips of cloth, which she used to absorb her discharge. Every-once-in-a-while, she’d change the cloths and toss the used one alongside the trail. The dogs quickly identified this as the scent trail and made a beeline to the kidnappers and hostages.
She had created a scent super highway for the dogs. Dogs following a scent super highway can do so at a run. They don’t even need to put their noses to the ground. This essay will cover the scent super highway more in a moment.
Most people can’t track other human beings. Some people are trained for it, or they learn by experience, tracking animals and whatnot. Nonetheless, anyone can track a person through deep snow or mud or very soft ground.
If a runner’s pursuers are using dogs and human trackers, the runner has double trouble and must work extra hard to fool both. For this essay, I’m restricting the information to escaping a tracking dog. Disguising traces is for another essay.
The dog follows the scent. The handler manages the dog and determines where the runner is ultimately heading. The handler knows he’s on the runner’s trail only through the actions of the dog. That is, the human cannot smell the scent trail but must rely on the dog’s nose.
Although it is difficult to throw a dog off one’s scent trail and or fool the hanlder, it’s not impossible. Done right, its easier than it sounds, but it does take some work, patience, guile, and clear thinking.
As a photographer, if I want to attract a fox, bear, wolf, or coyote into a photo-trap, I will drag a fish through an area, especially an area known for bears, foxes, wolves, etc. I then set up my camera and wait, and sure enough, eventually something will come along, following the fish scent trail.
The animal can smell the fish and my scent, but the fish’s scent is strong enough and tempting enough to lure it into follows the trail despite the human scent. There is something about fish that drives 'em crazy.
The term “red herring” comes from dog trainers using fish, usually smelly herrings, to train hunting dogs. The MythBusters attempted to test the red herring myth, that these stinky fish can cause a dog to lose the trail. They gave a runner a five-minute head start and then tracked him with a bloodhound. The runner dropped some herrings on the trail. The dog stopped, ate the herrings, and then reacquired the trail and found the man. The MythBusters’ crew decided they had busted the myth of the red herring. However, all they managed to do was show how not to use fish to throw a dog off one’s trail.
But consider the proper method of using a fish as such: The runner drops a BB every couple of feet. The BB is the same color as the ground so it is hard for the tracker to see. At the same time, the runner is carrying a bucket of red glow-in-the-dark paint and drops a splotch of paint every other foot as well.
Which is easier to follow, the BBs or the splotches of red paint? A tracker might first follow the BBs, because he knows the BBs belong to the runner. However, he will soon begin following the splotches of red paint, because they are so much easier to see. Soon, the man is fixated upon the red paint only. So, even if the BBs were to suddenly run out, the man wouldn’t notice.
If I were to drag a fish on a string behind me, and a dog were tracking my scent, it would soon began to identify the fish as relevant and ignore my scent for two reasons: the fish scent is so much easier to follow, and it is much more interesting to the dog than the human scent.
(Don’t touch that fish. If you touch the fish with your hand or let it touch your clothing, even a little, then the dog can sniff you out later in your hide.)
In essence, by dragging the fish behind me, I’m creating a scent super highway for the dog, one it can follow even without sniffing the ground. This is good, because keeping its head up off the ground makes it more difficult to smell my my scent and breaks the dog’s mental connection to me. Even if it does keep his snout to the ground and smells my scent, my scent becomes less interesting and less important to the dog than that of the fish.
I will travel toward a place, a city or international boarder for instance, which makes sense to the handler. If I were close to Canadian or the Mexican, I would head for the boarder in a dedicated manner, the proverbial beeline if you will. This tends to cause the handler to begin assuming my destination.
If I know the area, then I can use that knowledge to my benefit. But the runner does not necessarily have to know an area well for the scent trap to work as long as he keeps his eyes open and remembers the things he sees, like good hiding places.
If I have a short head start, then I must move quickly and carefully. If I have a longer head start, I will still move as quickly as my physical condition allows. This is not the time to dillydally. I will take my time after I’ve lost my pursuers. For the moment, all things but the scent trap are of secondary consideration, eating, sleeping, etc. (Defecate and urinate before reaching the scent trap. Try not to defecate and or urinate while creating the scent trap, unless absolutely necessary. If you can’t hold it, defecate and or urinate near the scent trap, even on the scent trap, and then extend your scent trap farther than you previously determined.) In addition, do not spit while on the run. If you must spit, dig a hole, spit into the hole, and then cover the spit. Dogs can smell human spit all the way from Albuquerque.
I will drag the fish along behind me through thick forest, on a logging road, trail, across open country—it does not matter, just as long as I make sure the fish is making contact with the ground (keep checking your fish to make sure it hasn’t fallen off the string).
When I’ve dragged the fish far enough for the situation (anywhere from hundreds of yards to a few miles), I will stop on firm ground and toss the fish up into a tree, hopefully out of sight. Thereafter, trying not to leave telltale backtracking footprints, I will backtrack over my original super highway scent trail.
Dogs can tell which way a human or raccoon travels. Streaky and Pearly always knew which way to chase a coon without ever seeing it. On the scent super highway, the fish is going one way, and by the time the dog has traveled the scent trap a while, it accepts that scent trail's direction of travel over all other scent trails. My backtrack scent trail will not bother the dog, because the dog is no longer keying upon my scent.
At a place I’ve picked out earlier while dragging the fish, I will peel off the scent super highway, downwind, in a gently arching path (see figs below). Think of the shape a freeway exit makes as it gently arches away from a freeway.
When I’m a hundred yards or more from the scent super highway, I will dig in and hide. I want to find a natural place to hide, not an obvious hiding place but one that promotes both man and dog to walk around rather than push through.
I will, if there is time, dig a hole and bury my body under a layer of dirt, leaving just a breathing port—if I have the time. The payoff is worth the effort. However, I might not have the time; so I will cover my position as well as possible, totally disgusting my hiding place and me.
If the wind is gentle, then I will move farther away from the scent super highway. The stronger the breeze or wind, the better it blows my scent away from the scent super highway. The dog may be keying on the fish scent, but if the dog or one of the dogs in the group catch a whiff of my body’s odor, they’ll all come a-runnin’.
I will not move or make noise in my hiding place. I will wait patiently for the dogs and handlers to pass as they track the fish on the scent super highway. I will relax and breathe gently and easily. I will go to my happy place but still observe my pursuers to see what they are thinking by reading their body language.
The design of my gently sloping exit scent trail will funnel the dog back to the scent super highway, if it should even notice my exit scent trail. This short time the dog has to scent my gently sloping exit will not necessarily tell him my direction of travel, because its thinking is determined by the direction of the scent super highway. By design, my exit will gently guide the dog back to where I want it to be, on the scent super highway.
When they have passed, and I’m sure they are not backtracking, hanging around on a break, or being followed by stragglers, I will leave my hiding place and walk along my exit scent trail back to the scent super highway. Then I will turn and resume my backtrack along the scent super highway back to my predetermined final exit point. The farther I can travel down the scent super highway after my pursuers pass me the better; but there are dangers.
Someone might be following the first group from well behind. Helicopters or drones might be surveying the area, and they see everything. Someone might be hiding on the scent super highway to see if I backtrack. A bear might be tracking my scent super highway, which is very dangerous, since a surprise encounter with a bear causes the fight or flight instinct in both the bear and me. I will keep my eyes open for anything and anybody. Be always ready to run off the scent super highway and hide.
If I run into a group of stragglers, and they are too close for me to run and hide, I will run at them screaming and shooting. My sudden and aggressive appearance will freak them out, and they will dive into the ditches or run off into the woods, both dogs and humans. I will not stop but continue to run fast a short distance as they recover. Then I will split off the scent super highway. My trap is busted at that point, and I must gain as much distance as possible. I will try to leave the scent super highway downwind so the dogs cannot catch my scent on the breeze.
If I run into a bear, and I’m too close to get out of its way, I will run at it screaming (I won’t shoot, because I don’t want to gain my pursuer’s attention. Even a grizzly will run if it thinks something is brave or vicious enough to surprise attack it. If the bear does not run, I will shoot to kill with multiple rapid-fire rounds in a highly aggressive manner. I will not, however, run away. Running away only encourages the bear to chase me down. And I will not lie down and play dead. The bear might maul me, reducing my chances of getting away from my pursuers. This is not the time to play it safe. I will attack the bear with all the fierceness I can muster and scare that bad boy into fleeing for its life.
If I see the bear early enough, it would be great to slip the trail, hide, and allow the bear to pass. The bear will soon meet up with the dogs and handlers. You never know what then might happen. The encounter could degenerate into one great big noisy fight. It could simply scare the dogs and handlers enough to end the pursuit. Whatever happens, it’s going be good for me.
Wolves and coyotes are more fearful than you might imagine. Rush at them screaming like a banshee, and they will run away like the wind. Neither is truly interested in following a human.
It won’t take long for the dog to identify the fish scent as the target track, and it will have no trouble following the scent super highway. The faster the dog and handler move along the trail, the fewer telltale signs the handler will see, such as my incidental footprints heading the opposite direction, if I should inadvertently leave any.
The handler does not know the dog is following a fish scent. The handler cannot smell the fish; only the dog can smell it. He will simply be happy the dog is able to follow the scent trail so easily. Even if he becomes suspicious, he is unable to determine the scent super highway is scented with a fish and not human scent.
They should reach the end of my scent super highway without diversion. When they reach the end of the scent super highway, the fish in the tree will scatter a general fish scent all over the place. This will help confuse the dog, which will search everywhere in a vain attempt to reacquire my scent trail.
My pursuers will first assume I have somehow hidden myself at the end of the scent super highway and spend time searching for me there. This should attract many if not all additional pursuers, depending upon how confident they are I am hiding there. This will empty the woods of people specifically looking for me, although I must keep an eye out for people everywhere at all times. Everybody carries cell phones, and everyone knows how to use them.
When they can’t find me, they will either carry on toward my assumed destination, thinking they might pick up my scent along the way, or they will backtrack the scent super highway. The dogs will have no trouble backtracking the trail, and if they should discover my first gentle peel away exit pathway, they will discover it ends some hundred yards into the woods. Again, they might assume I am hiding somewhere close and spend additional hours searching for me.
Thereafter, if they continue backtracking, they will very likely miss the second peel away, since it is designed to gently guide the dog back to the scent super highway. It is unlikely the dog will pay any attention to my human scent by this time, because the fish scent will absolutely dominate his mind.
If I set my trap well, I could keep my pursuers busy for hours or even days searching the area around the scent super highway. Meanwhile, I’m beating feet to gain as much distance as possible from their area. The longer they search where I am not, the more time will pass, which diminishes my escape route scent trail. If it should rain or snow during this time, then the elements will further diminish my escape route scent trail. (Don't seek shelter in a rain, wind, sand, or snow storm. Run, run, run.)
People tend to stay with what they know. The dogs will indicated a strong interest in the scent super highway, so the handlers, not knowing the scent the dogs are following is actually a fish, will want to continue to search the area for me. It’s the only thing they know for certain, even thought they are wrong.
If I sell my pursuers I am headed for some specific distant destination, then I almost guarantee my ability to totally escape them forever. The scent super highway is evidence they cannot ignore, and since I’ve eluded the dogs for the moment, they, playing Mr. Monk or Sherlock Holmes, will deduce they can catch me if they search that distant city or location carefully. Of course, I’m headed the opposite direction and gaining distance all the time.
After springing my scent trap, I will not stop moving away from my scent super highway until I’ve gained adequate distance so they cannot accidentally discover me. I can then sleep, eat, tend injuries, and or take care of personal toiletries.
If pursuers have my area surrounded, and they are moving in line through the area with dogs, I will drag my fish across their pathway and lead them in mass to a singular area. Then I will set up my scent trap. I am both collecting all the dogs and getting them all excited about the fish scent. The handlers will all be happy their dogs are all hitting the scent and will want to follow the trail.
With my scent super highway attracting every dog, in mass and with great enthusiasm, the dogs and their handlers will tend to stay on the scent super highway, making it possible for me to hide downwind and wait for the mob to pass. Then, I will make a beeline out of the area. I will not take time to set up a second peel away trail. There are simply too many people around, and I won’t have the time.
It is likely my pursuers will soon reacquire my trail due to the high concentration of dogs and handlers. So, moving fast gives me the distance and time I need to set up a second scent trap. Thereafter, leading them into a stew of confusion as they work the second trap, I move as fast and as long as possible to gain as much distance as possible before stopping for rest and food.
In Special Forces, one technique used to infiltrate enemy lines is to dig in and wait for the front lines to move. Then the team emerges from their hiding place, now behind enemy lines. This is often coordinated with friendly forces, which will give into enemy forces, allowing the line to move back and engulf the team’s position.
Escaping a mass of pursuers works the same way. Give them something to chase, a scent super highway for instance, and then dig in. When they move past your position, emerge and run, run, run.
From even before I realize I’m being pursued, I’m looking for a fish. I can catch one, but that takes a little time. If I'm camped out, I will keep a fish on a string in the water, alive, so I can pull him out and run. I can buy one, if I have some money and am near a store.
I will keep an eye out for dead fish along the banks of whenever body of water I pass. I will not, however, ask for one or buy one from some guy fishing in the area. It is too easy for him to tell my pursuers about the fish, which may give away my intentions. I will steal one from him, though, if I can do so without his seeing me or knowing I’ve stolen his catch.
If, though, I am truly unable to find or catch a fish, I will use something else that produces a strong scent trail. A small dead woodland creature, especially a rotting dead woodland creature, leaves a wonderful scent trail. Deer droppings in a canvas bag will work, but I’d rather use cow droppings, as wet and fresh as possible. I will not use my own defecation, because I don't want the dog to maintain a mental connection to my scent.
A piece of cloth sprayed with bug spray will work, as long as I haven’t used any of the bug spray on myself. Bug spray or some other chemical, such as pepper spray, will create a scent super highway, but it will not interest the dog as much as a fish or rotting carcass. The dog’s willingness to track the strong chemical smell over the lighter human scent will eventually cause the dog to disregard the human scent and follow the easier scent trail due to natural laziness.
A can of tuna fish, sardines, or salmon from my haversack is a perfect substitute for a whole fish, so always make sure to carry a can of sardines, tuna, or salmon. Due to the juices in the can, it is sometimes a better choice.
I will put the contents of the can of fish into a canvas bag, including the juices. However, I must hide the can, bury it deep. I don’t want to carry an open sardine can on my person, and I don’t want my pursuers to find the can. Although they might figure I had eaten the contents, they might realize I’m using the fish to scent my trail.
I will drag the bag behind me as I would the fish, being very careful to not touch the fishy bag or contents to avoid picking up that scent on my person. When I reach the end of the scent super highway, I will scatter the contents wide, still being careful not to touch the fish or juice. I will then toss the bag high into a tree (put a rock in the bag, and use the string like an ancient slingshot). I want to hide the bag from my pursuers, and if it is high in a tree, it’s unlikely they will climb up to look at it. There willingness to climb a tree depends upon the pursuers dedication and skills. Nonetheless, if they find a bag filled with sardines, they might realize what I’ve done. If they find an empty bad, they might think I simply ate the sardines. I will not eat the sardines, however, because I do not want to smell like the scent super highway.
If I can’t secure a canvas bag, then I’ll used whatever cloth I can find, balled around the fish. Leather will work, as long as the juices can soak through the leather or seep out the seams. Cloth or canvas is better. It leaves a stronger scent trail. Always check cloth or canvas for holes that might develop as you drag it over rough terrain.
Back to the MythBusters experiment: If I had been the runner, I would have dragged the herring or herrings behind me on a piece of string through an urban environment. A dog can identify one human scent out of all the other human scents. However, the dog does not know me by sight, and I can use the mass of humanity to hide as my pursuers follow the scent super highway past me.
I would have picked up a newspaper along the way and then dragged the fish past a park of some kind with benches and grass and whatnot. Then, at the next trashcan, about a block or two away from the park, I would have tossed the fish into the can, covered it with trash, and then backtracked to the park, peeling away from the scent super highway as described earlier in this essay.
I would then have sat on one of the benches and read the paper, relaxed, leg crossed, as if I hadn’t a care in the world. I would have sat so I can watch my pursuers bumble past, hiding my face and much of my body behind the paper. Then, I would have backtracked my exit scent trail, and then backtracked the scent super highway to the starting point, with my paper. There I would have awaited the mob's return after their fruitless search. They will have spent some time making ever-growing circles around the trashcan, searching for me. Upon their return, they would find me relaxed and a little bored. They would be tried and frustrated.
In a city, I can always find some kid who wants to make twenty bucks. I’d give him the fish, telling him it’s a game or even a television show, and then send him running or biking through the streets, dragging my fish. My pursuers will have a long haul ahead of them, searching everywhere for me, depending upon the kid’s enthusiasm, sense of humor, and duty to earning the twenty dollars.
In a city, as long as I am cool and collected and casually blend into the surrounding scenery, I should lose my pursuers easily and then disappear into the urban jungle. The city is much more comfortable than the woods, but if there is a risk of discovery, I have the time to leave undetected and hang out in the wilderness.
If I want to stay in the city unmolested, I could cause my pursuers to think I’m headed out of town by ending my scent trap at an airport or bus station. They will spend a lot of time searching buses or airplanes, and not finding me, assume I had boarded and left undetected.
I could end my scent trap at a highway as if someone had picked me up hitchhiking. I could end it at a set of train tracks as if I’d jumped a train. I could end the trap at a watercourse as if I simply floated away.
If I want to cause trouble and confusion, I could end my trap at a brothel or a lawyers’ office. Imagine what they might think about that?
Ending the trap at some such place can cause my pursuers to think I’d enlisted help. Of course, the people I’ve set up will be inconvenienced, but I won’t worry about causing them a little trouble if it helps me get away.
Like most things in life, if you give your pursuers what they want or think they want, they’ll buy it. They are only human and must work with the information at hand. If you give the dogs something interesting to sniff and the time to grow accustomed to it, they will soon forget about the human scent and follow the more interesting smell—they are dogs, not brain surgeons.
Hiding and allowing pursuers to pass takes courage and fortitude. Fear may make the runner panic and want to flee. Don’t give into fear but allow the plan to work. It helps to have practiced these things beforehand with the help of a dog handler. Seeing it work in practice builds confidence it will work in the field.
Keeping one’s head and being cool will allow the world to pass the runner without being detected. Nonetheless, there are times to be cool, and there are times to run like a madman. Be flexible and use whatever is at hand to reach your goals. Be willing to cross any terrain to escape. Be willing to endure any unpleasantness, lack of sleep, and hunger. Be willing to face cold and heat, rain and snow. Do what you’ve got to do.
Snares: If I need to slow my pursuers down and I have some wire or string, I will find a chokepoint, a place forcing the dog to follow one specific narrow route, usually leading the handler, and set up a choke snare. This is a loop of wire or string set up over the trail; wherein the dog’s head slips through and his shoulders snag the loop. The loop closes on the dog’s neck and traps the dog. Although the dog can choke to death in this loop, its handler is too close to let that happen. Nonetheless, it freaks the handler out, because he loves his dogs. Snag one dog one time, and all your pursuers will slow way down and continue with great caution.
Foxes are the world’s greatest runners. The day Schotze chased a mamma fox, she ran with grace and ease, while the German shepherd ran with high energy and enthusiastic determination. He couldn’t catch her, because she was good. She kept her head, and she knew what she was doing.