For the Hockadays, bloodline tracking is a family affair
By Chapin Jewell
John Hockaday and his 16-year old son Jesse have been hard at work, but having the time of their lives. So too have their two Blue Tick Hounds, Annie Mae, age 5, and Lady Mae, age 6 months. Together, the family foursome, operating as “Bloodline Trackers,” has been recovering injured game for local and regional hunters.
It all started for John Hockaday with a love of the outdoors, and the desire to pass on his passion for hunting and fishing to his children. Eventually, Hockaday would draw in not only his children, but incorporate his two Blue Tick Hounds into the family’s passion. Though really just getting started, the Hockadays have scored win after win for motivated hunters just looking to recover their game.
“My dad is not a very serious outdoorsman at all, his biggest interest is football. He did fish, however, and those were times I looked forward to with my dad. My favorite memories were fishing. That being said, my hunting background comes from a gentleman named Thurl Roy. Thurl was my friend’s father,” Hockaday stated. “I spent a lot of time with that family, and they had a camp up in Tucker County. I knew I loved fishing; spending time with the Roy family in Tucker County is where I fell in love with hunting.”
John, whose day job is as a train engineer with CSX, began taking his two children, Alli, now 19, and Jesse, now 16, into the woods at the earliest of ages. It sparked a love for the outdoors in both of them.
“I brought my children, Alli and Jesse, up in it. That’s been very important to me. I’ve got pictures of them when they were both just big enough to carry a bottle of water and a sandwich in a backpack, following me around in the woods when I would go squirrel hunting, and they loved it,” John stated.
Enter the dogs, well, for starters, just Annie Mae at first. While John had always had an interest in hunting dogs, it was when Jesse turned 11 that the younger Hockaday expressed his desire to get a hunting/tracking dog. But it was a big responsibility, a responsibility John expressed to Jesse.
According to John, “I explained to him that a hunting dog is different, you need to train the dogs, you need to work the dogs, and they’re just really high energy and need lots of attention. I told him if he would do the research, and write me a two-page essay on what it takes to have and train a squirrel dog, then he could have one. Sure enough, four or five days later, he comes at me with the essay.”
John and his wife Tara did research on a breed that would make both a great house pet but still put in the work hunting for you. They came up with Blue Tick Hound breed. That December, on the way back from a Christmas shopping trip from Pittsburgh to their house in Short Gap, Tara and John realized one important gift was missing, a dog.
“I told her if she could find a respectable Blue Tick Hound between Pittsburgh and home, we would get one. In a matter of minutes, she found one in Fairmont. As soon as we laid our eyes on this beautiful pup, we knew we wanted her,” John explained. After a thorough interview with the owners, “Annie Mae” as they named her, became theirs.
“That’s how we came to get Annie Mae, our first Blue Tick Hound. We trained her on squirrels, she was awesome, and she still is. Eventually, as the law changes allowed and such, we began training her to blood track.”
“With Annie Mae, I thought, we have this awesome hound who clearly loves being in the outdoors, and this was something that had always been on my bucket list and would allow for more opportunities to spend time in the woods with Jesse. The dog itself, and now we also have another one, Lady Mae, she’s 6 months old, absolutely love it, it’s what they’re born to do.”
As Hockaday formed his Bloodline Tracking business, he had to align under a certified outfitter.
According to John, “I use a gentleman named Shon Butler, from Buckhannon, West Virginia, he owns Long Spur Tracking and Outfitting, he is the Outfitter that I work under. He reached out to me as he is inundated with calls and he needed someone in the Eastern Pandhandle to help. He’s mentored me on the legal side of things. I track under his license as a subcontractor.”
Though really just getting started, Bloodline Tracking has had a successful recovery season thus far.
“We’ve been on 17 tracks this year, we’ve had 10 successful recoveries, and four additional deer that were accounted for. Which means it showed up back on camera and/or it was harvested later. Maybe it was hit in bow season but the hunter got another shot at it in rifle season,” John explained.
Hockaday detailed three successful recoveries from 2020. The first a few hours away in Phillipi, West Virginia. The other two were local and very close to home in the Black Oak area of Mineral County and the other on Dan’s Mountain across the river in Allegany County.
“I was referred to the track in Phillipi by Shon, my outfitter. This family was from Florida, they had obviously invested a lot of time and effort into the hunt. We thought, based on information collected during the phone call, that we could recover this deer. We drive to Phillipi, meet with the hunter, drive down into the holler, and we get on the deer pretty quick,” John details.
According to John, “Annie goes to work. The first thing we want to do is show the client that our dog identifies a blood trail. Within minutes, Annie had her nose in blood. The second thing is that I want my dog to find more blood than what the client found, basically for my dog to go beyond what the hunter found. The third thing is to find the arrow, and I mention arrow because normally the bulk of our blood tracking happens in archery season. Finally, beyond that, I want to see the bed where the deer laid down for the first time.”
“In Phillipi, we were earning our goals. We tracked that deer 600 yards or so past the last location that the hunter had found blood. It went through an incredibly thick greenbrier patch. Annie found that buck in 40 minutes within arriving on property. It was an incredible West Virginia buck, measuring 156 7/8 inches.”
The second story, in Black Oak, was just a few minutes away, with the Hockadays not even having to leave Mineral County to make a difference for a hunter.
“At Black Oak, they hit a deer at five o’clock in the evening, looked for it that evening, and then had to call off the search until morning. After an exhaustive search, they made the decision to call us in. We took both dogs with us, Annie Mae and Lady Mae, it was Lady Mae’s first track,” John explains.
According to John, “It was a very difficult blood trail, the deer was hit very high with no exit wound, and blood at the end of that track was scant. We, as humans, couldn’t see blood, the dogs were smelling blood that we couldn’t see. You just trust the dog. The track was at least half a mile. It took probably two and a half hours, but we found that buck.”
The third story was just across the river in Allegany County on Dan’s Mountain. The significance with this one is that it took three days for a successful recovery, but hard work paid off. Most significant, however, is that it also was the first track that 16-year Jesse Hockaday had really taken the lead on.
“On Dan’s Mountain, the deer was shot on Thursday, and this was Jesse’s first solo track, I had to go to work. Jesse was there on Friday afternoon, and 17 hours had passed. The hunter knew the deer was hit hard, with a rifle. Jesse and the hunter went to work, they recognized the first bed where the deer had laid, and then Jesse and Annie, as they were approaching a thicket, the buck gets up and walks away but is very injured,” John details.
According to John, “They made the decision to not push the deer anymore. Saturday, they go back in and get back on the deer. We worked the thicket that we saw the buck walk into. We let the dog just go, we followed the dog, and a total of three days later after it was shot, Annie found the deer.”
“The hunter had lost his dad the week before. He pulled out his knife, and said that it was his dad’s knife, it was very emotional for all of us,” Jesse Hockaday explained.
The success of this recovery led by him, and one that was so emotional, yet such a success story for the hunter, solidified for Jesse his desire to not only continue tracking, but to become as proficient as possible.
According to Jesse, “I’ve been hunting since I was 7 or so, I’m 16 now. Now that we’ve started to track, I probably like tracking even more than I do hunting. It’s just the fact of being outdoors with my dogs and being able to make other people happy. As for continuing it, I definitely will. It’s hard work, but I definitely enjoy it enough to keep doing it.”
John Hockaday just wanted to pass along a love for the outdoors to his kids. Mission accomplished.
Through Bloodline Tracking, a family affair, the Hockadays are now able to enhance the hunting experience for others as well.