A statewide group is combining a canine’s keen sense of smell and the power of social media to connect dog handlers with hunters unable to recover lost deer.

The Louisiana Blood Trailing Network (LABTN) is a grassroots group of volunteer dog handlers who make themselves and their dogs available — free of charge — to try to locate lost deer across the state.

“We just reached out on Facebook and started with a few people earlier this summer,” said Josh Miller, with LABTN. “Right now, 1,200 people have joined and people are continuing to come to the site. 

“What we’re trying to do is get at least one dog in every parish. In some parishes, we have seven or eight dogs available now.”

Miller, who tracks with his 7-month-old bloodhound Lucy, stressed that all handlers in the network agree not to charge for their services.

“We’re a free site. We don’t charge anything,” he said. “But if we recover a deer, and you want to pay us some gas money, we can accept it. But that’s all voluntary.”

Of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, Miller estimated there are only about six or seven that aren’t currently covered by at least one handler-and-dog combo.

“It’s just North Louisiana where we’re struggling a little bit,” said Miller, who’s based out of Church Point. “Down south, anything from I-10 south, I think we have every parish covered from the Texas line to the Mississippi line.”

Many handlers cover multiple parishes, and Miller estimated about 30 dogs are currently part of the network.

“It gives us a chance to work our dogs, and the hunters the chance to recover their deer,” he said. “It’s better to be on a live trail than a mock trail any day. 

“It’s a win-win situation.”

Miller estimates dogs in the network have already recovered about 80 deer across the state this season. The sooner you request a dog after shooting a deer, the better, he said.

“Contact us on the Facebook list immediately if you know you hit the deer with a poor shot — before you even start to go look around,” he said. “Sometimes we might have an hour drive just to get to you.

“If you wait and then look for an hour or two and then call us, at that point, we might not get there until three hours after the deer got shot.”

A variety of dogs are used on the site, including lab mixes, curs and bloodhounds, he said. 

“We have lots of different breeds of dogs out there,” Miller said. “It’s not just one particular dog.”

The Louisiana Blood Trailing Network is a closed group on Facebook, but Miller urged hunters to go to the page and join. Once a site administrator accepts you, you’ll have full access to a complete list of dog handlers — with their contact information — by parish.

“And if you want to volunteer your dog, just join and comment on a page, ‘Hey, I have a dog and I’m willing to work such-and-such parish,’ and one of the administrators will see it," he said. “Once you put your contact information in, we’ll add you to the list.”

The bottom line for everyone in the network is to recover lost deer. Dogs and their handlers get to do the work they love, and hunters often get reunited with deer they would have never, ever found.

“I hate seeing a deer stay behind,” Miller said. “We try to recover everything, so coyotes don’t get anything to eat.”

If you're a hunter or a dog handler who wants to join the group's Facebook page, click here