Tracking whitetails: New law opens doors for hunters, creates opportunity for local dog trainer

Four-year-old German Shepherd, Bear, lifts his nose to catch some air scent as he leads his handler, Cassie Mead of Osakis, on a track on Sept. 10. Mead trained Bear to track whitetails this past summer so hunters can call her if wanting help tracking a wounded deer this fall season. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Osakis’ Cassie Mead was closely following a piece of legislation this past winter in Minnesota that had the potential to affect hunters this fall.

Mead does not hunt herself, but her husband and other family members and friends spend plenty of time in the woods. Her passion is in working with dogs.

Mead also knows how popular of a pastime hunting is locally. All of that factored into why she was happy to see a bill pass that allows the use of dogs for tracking wounded deer or bears starting this season in Minnesota.

“My interest in this is the conservation portion, obviously. I hate to see animals go to waste,” Mead said. “But this is a very mentally stimulating game that dogs can play. Physically, it’s a good activity to get them out of the house. From a dog trainer’s perspective, this is a great activity for highly-motivated dogs. My interest in this is from a trainers perspective, but I also realize there is a need for it in the area.”

Mead, 35-years-old and a 2002 graduate of Osakis High School, has a history of working with dogs from all different backgrounds. Mead served in the military for four years and was a government contractor when she got out.


“Part of the side gig of what I did when I was a government contractor was fostering dogs,” she said. “I’d go down to the animal shelter and see if they needed help fostering dogs. I got involved in a German Shepherd rescue and I fostered dogs with them for about four years. In the process, I was helping rehabilitate them so they could find homes.”
Mead was working with one dog in particular that she could not help and needed some professional guidance with. She called a business called Off Leash K-9 Training. After seeing the impact their work had on that dog, Mead knew she wanted to join their team.

“That’s where I got my start. That was back in 2012,” she said. “I became a trainer with Off Leash K-9 training. I owned half of the location that was in Charlottesville, Va. After a couple of years, that was going really well so I decided to bring it up here with me.”

A new opportunity

Mead’s business, with the local location being just north of Osakis, offers a wide range of canine obedience training for clients. The passing of this new law that allows the use of dogs in tracking wounded bears and deer has opened up new doors for her.

The tracking law went into effect in July, but Mead started operating under the assumption that the legislation would pass once she first heard about it in January.

Part of getting the most out of her dogs while training would be understanding the science of how odor moves. For that, she reached out to a scent-detection trainer from Las Vegas who she had done some work with in the past.

“He’s a specialist in his field that has helped me learn a lot about odor and the training component,” Mead said. “I have a team of trainers that works with me down in the cities. One of them is a former instructor for tracking for the military. I’ve gotten a lot of information from him. I’ve been reading everything I can find on tracking and doing a ton of research.”

Mead knew it would be too late in the summer to bring in a lot of client dogs to have ready by the fall as people slowly found out about this new opportunity. She had trained four tracking dogs, including one for bears, from other dog owners through the first part of September.

Training to track

Mead also worked with her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Bear, to make sure he was ready so hunters can call her to help track deer if they wound an animal this season.


Mead started Bear’s training by performing hunt games with him to see if he was interested in hunting for food. That’s a first step in knowing if a dog can succeed at this.

“Any breed can do it,” Mead said. “They just need to be motivated and have enough energy to do this. There’s not a specific breed of dog that will work best for this because they all have amazing noses. They have to have that level of motivation.”

Cassie Mead, a dog trainer from Osakis, with her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Bear. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

For Bear, that motivation is food. Mead placed hotdogs in a small area of her yard that Bear was eager to hunt for. The odor of the food was eventually paired with the odor of a wounded deer from a small piece of hide and some artificial odor that was available until she can get the real thing from a recovered deer during this hunting season.

“So he’s following the scent of the food and picking up on the scent of the animal at the same time,” Mead said. “Then we gradually transition him to there’s a bunch of hotdogs and a bunch of deer odor, to there’s a couple hot dogs and a bunch of deer odor, to eventually we work him on gradually longer tracks where it’s just deer order and he gets a reward at the end.”

Mead plans on devoting all of next summer to training tracking dogs for clients. She charges $30 per session, and how many sessions are needed depends on the dog.

Bear was a farm dog with Mead’s parents near Osakis before he came to live with her. His training took two and a half months of working with him about once a week to get him ready for this fall season. Mead said most client dogs can work through the training much faster by working with them three or four times a week.


Ready to prove himself

Bear identified the start of a track quickly that Mead put down on Sept. 10. He went downwind of the trail a little ways at one point to use both air and ground scent to really determine his path. The trail led Bear through grass and then nearly knee-high vegetation before he found his prize of hotdogs waiting for him on the piece of deer hide he had been tracking.

That was four days before Minnesota’s bow hunting opener for whitetails. Mead has loved watching the satisfaction Bear gets out of learning how to track. She is eager to see him help hunters get that same satisfaction of finding a deer this fall that they may have otherwise lost.

“Based on the training we’ve done so far, I feel extremely confident,” Mead said. “I don’t have a fresh kill and a wounded deer moves differently than the track I put out, but he can follow a track like he’s out for a Sunday stroll. The ones who call me are going to be the ones that are really tough to find. If we’re even 50 percent successful, that’s 50 percent more of the time than those people would have had success on their own.”


New for this year’s hunting season is that dogs will be allowed to locate and retrieve a wounded deer or bear in Minnesota. Here are the details of the law:

  • The person attempting to locate the wounded deer or bear must have a valid hunting license in their possession. Dog handlers who do not have a license must be accompanied by the licensed hunter with the license in their possession.

  • The licensed hunter and dog handler must be on foot and wearing blaze orange or pink.

  • Any light used must be an artificial light carried in the hand or attached to the person.

  • The dog must be on a leash no longer than 30 feet and the hunter or dog handler must control the leash at all times.

  • The dog owner’s name and telephone number must be on the dog while it is used to locate a wounded deer or bear.


Hunters who wound a deer they have trouble finding this year have an opportunity locally to call Osakis’ Cassie Mead, a professional dog trainer through Off Leash K-9 Training.

Mead has trained her dog, Bear, to track whitetails. She is charging just the cost of mileage to get to the location for hunters in central Minnesota this first season.

Mead can be contacted at 320-491-3347.

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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