AIKEN — Eighteen police officers from across South Carolina took to the Aiken County woods Tuesday to hunt.
They weren’t looking for game; they were hunting people.
It was the second day of a week of bloodhound tracker training led by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s an art that’s not taught much anymore,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Cpl. Dee Humphreys, who helped with the training.
On Monday, the officers heard presentations in a classroom from prosecutors, forensics experts and veterinarians on the benefits of bloodhound tracking.
On Tuesday, the officers spent their first day in the woods off Old Graniteville Highway learning how to track without the use of a tracking dog’s nose.
Humphreys taught the officers to notice clues left on the ground – including toe digs, broken twigs and crushed moss – while trying to find a person hiding in the woods.
“It’s a lot more difficult (tracking without the dogs),” said Matthew McCarty, a member of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Bloodhound Unit.
The training is an annual event held by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, which has been tracking with bloodhounds since 1985, when the sheriff purchased a dog named Only.
Since then, the team has grown to 12 dogs and five officers who annually respond to 150 to 200 calls in Aiken County and nearby counties. Lt. Chad Hyler said the team has a catch rate of 60 to 70 percent.
Hyler said he knows of at least six agencies that started tracker units since Aiken County began outside training.
For the rest of the week, trainees will work with bloodhounds in several scenarios, including the countryside, city, across railroads and in water.
“From here, the rest of the week is full speed ahead,” Hyler said. “Thursday, we’ll actually be swimming.”
McCarty said his colleagues are looking forward to learning some techniques for their newly expanded bloodhound unit. He is especially interested in learning how to track off-leash like Aiken County does.
“It’s going to be fun, I think,” he said.