[This publication is a copy of the actual lecture notes used by Major G Wilkinson MBE for a Course given to the British Deer Society's Course, Stockbridge. I bought my copy from the BDS. I have not asked George specifically if I can post this mainly because his health is failing and I am sure he would not object. I read this in using a scanner and, as the source was not brilliant, the software has made some errors. I think I've got them all, but you never know...]

Some background to the article.

Is probably true to say that George Wilkinson is responsible for the presence of the German Wirehaired Pointer in Britain. George, an enthusiastic stalker, spent many years in Germany with the British Army and most of what he says here is based entirely upon the German methods. Note that the Bringsel technique was originally developed for dogs to identify the locations of wounded soldiers in no man's land during WWI. George saw active service in WWII. I recall that on one occasion, when he had asked where in Germany I was then based, I said "Kleve, do you know it?" to which he replied, "I ought to, I liberated the place from the SS."


by Major G Wilkinson MBE

Dogs as an Assistant to Deer Stalkers


What do we want in a dog as an assistant to a deer stalker? (a) The ability to follow quietly at heel without questing or whining. (b) Dog to go 'Down' on word of command, or better still on sibilant hiss. (c) Dog to 'Stay' while stalker goes forward to spy. (d) Dog to sit at foot of 'High Seat' maybe for several hours. (e) Dog must be able to track wounded deer even after lapse of several yours (even twenty-four to forty-eight). (f) In certain cases dogs may be required to move deer to forward guns (Not in the scope of present lecture.) (g) Dog to be able to communicate with the stalker when he has found the deer. This is done by three methods, each of which must be taught separately. (NO DOG CAN DO ALL THREE.) It is up to the stalker to decide which of the three methods is best suited to his circumstances. (See these three under their respective paragraphs later.) (h) Dog to be able to pull down and "strangle" wounded deer where otherwise it might escape to die a miserable death.


Almost any good gundog (or even many other breeds such as Alsatians, large terrier breeds or even mongrels) can be used. However, as in the selection of a good gundog puppy, it is best to choose one from parents that have been pre-eminent in the work. In this category comes first the breed not mentioned previously, that is the bloodhounds, which are bred purely and specifically for following blood trails. However, for practical reasons the English Bloodhound is too large for the average family and the good German breeds (which are smaller in size) such as the Hannoverian or Bavarian are virtually non-existent in the UK.

My recommendations in order of preference would be:

  1. The German Wirehaired Pointer
  2. The Hungarian Vizsla
  3. The German Shorthaired Pointer
  4. The Weimaraner.

All the above breeds are used extensively for tracking deer on the Continent [i.e. the European mainland].

Following these, the Munsterlander, Labrador, Spaniels, Golden Retriever and Flatcoats could be trained (as many have) for this purpose. Years ago I had a Cocker Spaniel that always 'gave tongue' when on any trail and, while it is to be deplored on the shooting field, nevertheless would lead me to any wounded (or unwounded) bird or animal.


It is not within the scope of this lecture to go into this. There are many excellent books on the subject on the market and I would in particular mention Michael Brander's "Rough Shooter's Dog" [now out of print, sadly]. If you want very simple straightforward instructions you could do no better than Dick Sharpe's "Dog Training", but I am afraid it is difficult to find a copy these days. (My own has disappeared, probably to some 'forgetful' friend.)

Suffice to say that a dog trained in basic obedience as required by any gundog already has the basics to continue on to deer work. Therefore dogs trained to the standards mentioned at the beginning, to be able to follow quietly at heel, to go 'Down' when required and to 'Stay' as required, to sit quietly either with you or at the foot of a 'High Seat', are ready to proceed to deer work. DEER WORK

This is basically split into two. First of all the 'Tracking' and secondly the 'Communication', which can by one of three methods. The latter are in German because the German words for it are simpler and more descriptive, and are 'The Verweiser'; 'The Bringselverweiser'; and 'The Totverbeller'. Roughly translated, 'Verweiser' means 'Making you wise where the wounded deer is situated'; 'Bringselverweiser' is a more sophisticated version of the 'Verweiser' where the dog returns to you with a 'Bringsel' in its mouth, which denotes he has found the deer dead; 'Totverbeller' is where the dog finds the dead animal and 'bells' (barks) to indicate he has found the deer.

Of the three methods the second is the most widely used on the Continent. The 'Totverbeller' is the most spectacular but is the most difficult to teach. [My dog Boris, a GWP, is a Totverbeller]. DEER TRACKING

The tracking of wounded game, rabbits or deer, is the most important task any dog is called upon to perform. It must be the prime objective of all 'Sportsmen' to pick up and dispatch as quickly as possible all wounded creatures, and without a well-trained dog this becomes very difficult and often impossible.

It is also the most demanding task that a dog is called upon to perform. It has been estimated that over [a distance of] 700m a dog's lungs inhale and exhale over ll,000 times deciphering the minutest spots of blood which will lead it to its objective.

Training therefore requires patience and a great deal of understanding by the handler (that is, good rapport with the dog). For tracking deer always use a special collar, so that the dog learns that when this collar is on his task is to track a wounded deer AND NOTHING ELSE. If possible, obtain a Game Tracking Collar [a great big heavy leather collar]. [I've spoken to George concerning the collar since the above was written. He now places much less emphasis using a special collar (that comes from the Germans in WWI). I don't use a special collar and the dog quickly realizes what is going on.]

Start by using a Long Leash (20m) attached to Tracking Collar. The following points should now be followed.

l. Handler keeps in contact at all times with leash, feeding it out and back as required.

2. At no time does the handler ever pull the lead or attempt to guide the dog with it. The lead is normally trailed under the right foreleg.

a. Obtain 0.25 litre of blood from an abattoir, either sheep or bull's or "freshly" killed deer. Add one teaspoon (small) salt. Stir it and preserve in freezer. [It is imperative that the blood is fresh - else the dog is being taught to track carrion.]

b. Use as objective air-dried deer skin, or fresh shot deer or fresh skin of deer. [I use a salted skin which smells of deer. I have had the misfortune to smell (yes, "I" could scent it) a mangy uncured skin that someone was using.]

c. Put a reward underneath or on top of objective. Reward to be either a piece of tripe or a piece of lung from deer.

d. When beginning to set the trail, leave visible markers to show where you have laid the trail.

e. Practice on green fields to begin with but then switch to woodland where most of your work will take place [assumes lowland woodland stalking for roe].

f. When dog is advancing well use someone else to lay the trail.

g. Use a drop of blood every 3 ft. on trail, the trail being laid in a zig zag.

h. Never use hot, dry weather.

i. If blood is not available, use a piece of fresh lung dragged along on a line to get the dog started.

j. Begin to use less blood as the dog becomes proficient.

k. Always, always, keep your temper when training.

1. When near the end the deer must be visible. Put blood on the deer and site [it] so the dog can see it.

m. IMPORTANT. ONLY TRAIN ONCE PER WEEK, AT THE MOST TWICE. Dogs tire and get bored very quickly with this complex exercise.

Sit the dog down and give command to stay. Go over to the start of the trail and examine it yourself showing great interest in this spot. The dog will become curious. Stand up, then go and get the dog. Slip trailing collar over his head and bring to the start of the trail. Point to the ground and generally tempt the dog to bend head down and start to sniff trail. Allow the dog to carefully start following the trail. If the dog loses the trail, stop, then pick up the dog in your arms. Repeat the whole process again at the point the dog became confused. Bring him to the failure point and repeat the process. Begin trails over short distances; progress to 700m.

When using deciduous woods and the dog is beginning to progress well, start to cover blood spoor with leaves, making him begin to work hard to locate true track of deer. Many other animals may cross a track; he must not at any time begin to hunt these but remain true to the blood track. The dog must be encouraged to work SLOWLY AND METHODICALLY. It would be no good careering off as if he was out on the moor doing 300 yard casts at 70 m.p.h.!! [which the same dog will be expected do when working red grouse]. VERWEISER

This is where the dog is left running free to find the deer (having completed its tracking training) and is being encouraged to return to its handler and show by his attitude he has 'found'.

This is probably the most used method in Great Britain today, but it is not very scientific and leaves a lot to the dog; it could lead to a wild dog or a savaged carcass [hah!]. BRINGSELVERWEISER

This is the most widely used method in Germany and consists of a 'Bringsel' being attached to the collar. (A 'Bringsel' is a short piece of leather or leather-bound wood). When the dog finds the wounded beast he swings the 'Bringsel' into his mouth and returns to the handler, thus denoting he has 'found'. He should then commute between the dead beast and his handler. It may sound difficult but oddly enough it is easier to teach a dog this method than the 'Totverbeller'.

Start by getting the dog used to retrieving the 'Bringsel' when not attached [to his collar]. Always reward him with praise, interspersed with odd spots of meat or tripe.

When efficient at this, start putting [the Bringsel] at the end of a short laid blood scent and as soon as the head goes down to it call and encourage him to return with it in the mouth [and take it from him when he returns].

Next firmly stake down a freshly air dried deer skin, and place the 'Bringsel' on it. Position yourself so that you can see what happens when the dog reaches the skin. He may first try to retrieve the skin but must be firmly discouraged and encouraged to pick up the 'Bringsel'. When he has brought it, encourage him to take you back to the skin and on reaching it make him go 'Down' by the skin and praise him mightily. [Wallace says that under no circumstances should you accept the Bringsel from the dog except after he has taken you to the dead beast. This avoids the dog returning with the Bringsel and then losing interest i.e. refusing to return to the beast. My own dog started doing this because I took the Bringsel from him immediately he returned to me having found.]

Once proficient at this, attach 'Bringsel' to collar with a longish piece of nylon or cord and again get him going to the skin and encouraging him always to pick up the 'Bringsel' and bring it back. After a little training at this it will be found possible to shorten the nylon/cord so that it is hanging from the collar well clear of the ground. If the previous training has been done methodically and thoroughly he will soon get the trick of swinging it into his mouth on finding the skin and then returning to the handler.

Proceed from this to a stuffed skin and then to a freshly shot specimen [if you can get one, it is not essential for training but the dog is likely to be mesmerized by the first fresh beast he comes across].

If the dog attempts to bite freshly shot deer, pepper sprinkled on it will discourage him. But never put pepper on the neck as he may later be required to pull down and "strangle" a deer that might otherwise escape.


A good 'Totverbeller' is a dog beyond price and, while a few are born, the majority have to be specially selected and trained intensively and well. The dog selected for this work must be a good, strong dog and not nervous in any way. If he shows a natural aptitude to bark at treed cats or squirrels, so much the better.

There are two methods of training, one by Coercion and the second by Compulsion. The former will appeal to us more than the latter, but there is no doubt the Compulsion method produces the best dogs. COERCION

Both methods require that a dog barks on command and many 'pet dogs' are taught to 'Speak' before they are given their food or a tidbit. The same type of training forms the basis for a 'Totverbeller' dog. To start when the dog is hungry, get a nice piece of meat and, having given him the smell of it, tantalize him by holding it up and repeating the word 'Speak' (or 'Bell-Bark' or whatever). As soon as he barks give him the meat and make much of him.

Do not overdo it but, leading from this, when you take his food hold his dish high and do not give it to him until he 'Speaks' for it. When he is proficient at this, take him into the country and with a piece of meat get him to speak for ever longer periods of time.


Now is the time to introduce the deer skin. When you take his food place the skin over the dish and give the command 'Speak'. As soon as he 'speaks' give him the food.

The foregoing part of the training takes much patience, but handlers of dogs must have plenty of this.

When he is 'speaking' on command, consistently and well, start putting the dish on the ground covered with the deer skin (not allowing him to touch it, however) and tell him to 'Speak'. As soon as he does, remove the skin and let him eat. After a time take the skin only, and providing the foregoing training has been done consistently and well, he will speak without the food. But always feed him after picking up the skin.

Now comes the time when we reinforce previous training by putting on a collar and lead, the purpose being also to get the dog to bark continuously. (After some initial training on the collar, unless you have no near neighbours, it would be wise to carry out this training in the country).

The dog should be put on the lead and be led to the skin where the lead can be arranged so that the dog cannot lie down, then told to 'Speak'. This part of the training requires even more patience than before, as the dog will sometimes need a lot of persuading to bark on the lead, but as soon as he does, he is released. The idea is that the dog begins to realize that, not only will he get food after barking, but will also be released from the hated lead. Again, keep extending the time he must bark, until he will bark for up to 15 minutes.

The next stage is to teach him to go to the skin and bark. Put him on a long lead and put the skin a few steps in front of him. Given the word of command 'To the buck', lead him so that he is sitting behind the skin facing you, then ordered to 'Speak'. After 8-10 occasions the dog will usually on the command 'To the buck' go on his own behind the skin, face you and 'Speak'. (Discreet use of a pulley or ring above and behind the skin can be used for a particularly difficult dog).

Now, gradually increase the distance each time you carry out the exercise, providing of course he carries out the exercise successfully each time. If he fails at any time, go back to a shorter distance until he is doing it perfectly again.

By the time you have achieved success with the dog going 'To the buck' and 'Speaking' at 100m, you can start sending him back longer distances, but vary the terrain and always use ground where you can see the dog (by doubling back), so that if he is slow to 'Speak' you can give the command 'Speak' to remind him, and give him praise when he does so.

Vary the time when you go to the dog to release him from 'Speaking', as otherwise he will (if for instance you go every time after two minutes) stop barking after two minutes. Dogs have a very good sense of time. Vary first between 1-10 minutes and gradually work up, occasionally to half an hour. gradually extend the distance to 400m.

In the course of training it will probably happen that the dog does not go to the object at all. In these circumstances there must be no compromise. He must be caught, put on the lead, and made to go back to the skin. Thereafter for a few sessions go back to shorter distances. You should be thankful if this only happens once during training, and preferably in the early stages, as this makes correction easier.


Now if the dog is successfully and consistently doing the exercise up to 400m, one can start varying the skins and use Red or Fallow in addition to Roe.

Then follows the cold deer carcass, with practice over very short runs and on terrain, as in earlier exercises, where you can observe what the dog does when he reaches the carcass. When he is successfully 'Speaking' at the carcass, and not attempting to savage, one might say the 'Totverbeller' training is complete.

However, this is not to say he is a fully trained hunting dog, as one cannot find out in training how he will react on finding a warm carcass, or perhaps a deer not quite dead. These are questions that one can only answer on the real thing and cannot be told from the previous 6-8 months' training.

It may indeed be months before his services are called upon, so take every opportunity of practicing on freshly shot deer, first of all by observing him from short distances. Then start taking him when you go stalking, so that every time you shoot a deer he can be sent to it and carry out his 'Totverbeller' [even if you are satisfied that his skills are not required]. Now also the tracking and barking exercises can be combined by laying a blood spoor to a freshly shot deer.

You will by now have completed a very arduous training programme for both dog and trainer, but if it has been carried out thoroughly and well, you will have a dog of which you can be thoroughly proud and be in great demand from other stalkers. COMPULSION

The idea of Compulsion training is repugnant to most British people, but is practiced extensively on the Continent.

The Germans say that a dog trained in this way will never let you down, and while some of it sounds a little cruel, don't forget the sessions are only short and one doesn't beat the dog, only teases it. The method given below is the one used by a trainer in Germany who is one of the most successful, but I cannot pretend to like it personally.

"My experience with training 'Totverbeller'" by a German professional trainer

Before starting with the real training, I would like to point out that the 'work on the lead' forms the foundation for every 'blood trail'. 'Totverbeller' and 'Verweiser' (bringing to the prey) are merely the finishing touch.

A dog to become a 'Totverbeller' must be, for this demanding exercise, of very strong character and be able to bark for a long time, without becoming too exhausted.

It is obvious that a dog, who is by nature not inclined to bark and is soon exhausted, will not be suitable as 'Totverbeller'. It does not have the qualities to bark at a wounded buck, probably after several hours' chase, especially under a burning August sun. Such a dog would probably not even make a good start, or would be completely exhausted after a short while, so that he could not, even if he wanted to, give any sound at all.

It will also be obvious that it needs special self-confidence and excellent character, for a dog to be able to chase and even kill a buck, sometimes having to stay with the corpse for hours, probably even into the night. Dogs who become frightened and nervous on their own are not suitable for these demanding requirements, especially if the buck should have to be defended against other animals which arrived because of the barking of the dog. The 'Totverbeller' must have special mettle. To train a dog to bark to these standards for 10 minutes would certainly be possible for a great number of dogs, but it does not give one a 'Totverbeller' on which one can rely completely in practice.

Before starting with training, one should consider whether suitable working conditions for the 'Totverbeller' are readily available. The dog needs constant training if he is to be available for the work at any given time. This is in contrast with the 'Verweiser', especially 'Bringselverweiser', who won't forget what he has once learnt, even after many years. This is not to discredit the 'Totverbeller', but these hints should merely serve to make sure, before starting any training, whether the dog will be suitable for such exacting requirements.

If the dog fulfills these requirements and there is the possibility of using the dog sufficiently in practice, there should be absolutely nothing against the training of a 'Totverbeller'. I have been hunting with them for years and have had unforgettable experiences with them.

From the beginning of the training we must be sure ourselves what is needed from the dog, and in which order these requirements should be trained.

The dog must give sounds on command. He must not touch the skin, i.e. the specimen. He must attend the skin, i.e. the specimen, (and bark) until the master releases him.

It will be necessary therefore in the first place to teach the dog to bark on command. One can achieve this by various methods, but I have found in my own experience that as a rule reliability can only be achieved by Compulsion. We will therefore start to incite the dog to bark by using Compulsion. For this purpose we will put him on a long lead or chain, in such a manner (not on a choke chain) that he can stand up, but won't be able to sit or lay down. Now we use a small stick (switch) and start pretending to attack the dog, by poking his flanks, and hitting his forelegs and so on. Every attack must be accompanied by the command 'Speak'. Every time the dog gives a sound the Compulsion will stop and we praise the dog with 'Good boy'. These two actions must be repeated over and over again, so that the dog, while these actions follow each other, will know that the Compulsion will make place for praise as soon as he utters any sound. Soon afterwards the dog will realize that praise will follow Compulsion when he starts barking.

These exercises should at first not last longer than 5 minutes at a time, but they must be repeated as often as possible. One should be content with even the smallest success. It must be realized (by a beginner) that Compulsion cannot be chanced by brute force.

During his training the dog does not learn from logical thinking, but from the total of his experiences. Speaking of using Compulsion means that the dog learns less from force than from the unconditional consequences during a multiple of repeats. As soon as the dog has accepted this, he will not oppose any longer.

When we achieve that the dog, on influences from outside and the command 'Speak' at the same time, barks for a few minutes, then we must continue this, first on the lead, later without lead, at every possible occasion. It must be stated that the command 'Speak' will gradually replace the original Compulsion. After every satisfactory achievement must follow praise. I cannot recommend the use of pieces of meat. To a dog with which one has a rapport, abundant and copious praise is sufficient. One can use this everywhere and at any time, while pieces of meat are not always available. Only during 'blood work' do I give dogs meat, and the 'Verbeller' also after barking at the end of working on the lead.

After about 4 or 5 weeks we will with some luck have achieved, with daily training, the properly suitable dog - and only then will we train a 'Verbeller' who will bark abundantly and continuously to a simple command. If this does not seem to work out, we will go back to the beginning. These exercises must also be carried out after physical effort and strain (drive/beat, fox drive, work in water) and, if necessary, again with Compulsion. Through constant exercising the dog will soon understand that there is no way out and that only continuous barking will result in his master's praise. Consistency is better than force, but this consistency must be continued to the bitter end.

When we are as far with the training that the dog at any time, at any place, at a simple command, will bark joyfully for up to 30 minutes, that is the time for us to advance to work with the roe-deer skin. This does not have to be sown or stuffed. The dog will realize straightaway that it is not a roe deer. Just a dried out skin will suffice, it is light enough to put in a knapsack and easy to carry on country or beat walks. Place the skin in front of the dog, on the lead, go back some paces and tell the dog to bark on the command, 'Speak'. Many a dog will try to pick up the skin and bring it to his master. Every such effort must be stamped out with the remark 'No' followed by the command 'Speak'. Dogs which up to this exercise behaved faultlessly will soon start barking. If not, we go back to the original exercise and make the dog bark with the command. These exercises will be short at first (about 2-3 minutes), they must be done rather in quick succession and be repeated as often as possible during the day. These exercises can be done in the yard, the garden or in the country. IN PRINCIPLE THE DOG SHOULD BE ON THE LEAD, AND IN NO WAY SHALL THESE EXERCISES BE CONNECTED WITH 'BLOOD TRACKING WORK' (WORK ON THE LEAD).

The skin is placed between dog and master: the dog should at all times be behind the skin. The purpose of this exercise is to train the dog to bark as soon as the skin is placed in front of him, and the skin must substitute the command to bark. Every satisfactory effort should be followed by abundant praise.

If after 6-8 weeks we have reached the stage that the dog barks at the skin as soon as it is placed in front of him, with or without telling, for about 15 minutes, then we can start sending the dog to the skin.

For our purpose we now put the dog on a long lead, the skin is placed about 2-3 metres in front of him, and on the command 'To the buck' we bring the dog behind the skin. There we order him to lay down and 'Speak'. This won't succeed immediately. Some dogs lay down but do not bark, and others bark but won't lay down. I push both commands immediately through, and step two paces backwards. After the first noise I go to the dog and praise him, and the exercise is finished. This exercise too must be repeated frequently and often each day. After a few days the dog will on command (without increasing the distance) go behind the skin and start barking. In my experience, the dog will realize that he should stay behind the skin much quicker, the earlier we have started with the laying put [eh?]. The purpose of this is to make it easier for the dog to realize the connection. It is also only useful until the dog has realized that he should not leave his place. If the young dog on the command 'To the buck' at a distance of about 2-5 metres goes behind the skin and barks on his own account, then we can increase the time to about 15 minutes and gradually enlarge the distance. Should the dog once bark longer, then we should not increase the distance to the skin.

Under no circumstances should the requirements be increased too quickly. There are no general rules to show how fast one can go. It all depends on the dog, the trainer and the intensity of the exercises. He who proceeds slowly and watches the commands with utmost care will make the best progress. Many dogs will on the command 'To the buck' go to the spot but, standing next to or in front of the skin, start barking. To be able to take the dog to the right spot on longer distances, without going to him, one can make use of a long line. This should be pulled through a ring, fastened behind the skin (or round a trunk or something similar) and on the command 'To the buck' one can draw the dog to behind the skin.

The spot must now be changed often, but one should always remind oneself that it is possible to make the dog go on demand with the long lead. In case of a failure one must fall back to the last stage in training. Only then should we send our dog to the skin on his own, when he will go on the command 'To the buck' at a distance of some l5 metres immediately to the spot and barks there for about 15 minutes without order. This should be exercised until the dog has realized for certain that he only needs to bark to receive abundant praise. With intensive exercise one can after about 3 months reach the stage when the dog at a distance of 50 metres will bark at the skin for a quarter of an hour.

Decisive for success with the increasing of the distance and the lengthening of the time of barking is painstaking persistence up to this point. Once the young dog has reached this stage successfully, there will be hardly any difficulties in the rest of the work. The distance will be increased gradually and so will the time of barking. However once more my advice is: Take care of strict execution of tasks, slow down the progress if something goes wrong, and give plenty of praise after every satisfactory effort.

Without any trouble we can now start using the specimen (animal). Obviously the first exercises will start with a short distance, and as an intermediate phase we cover the specimen with the skin. Every effort to get hold of the specimen or to savage it must be stamped out immediately. It should particularly be noted when the dog immediately starts barking. If the effort with the specimen is successful and the dog barks after a few repeats, then the skin can be taken away. There should be no more difficulties after this stage. We shall still go on in phases from now on, and we place the specimen in such a way that we can see the dog easily and keep a close watch on him.

The next stage is to make the dog used to the warm specimen. Here difficulties are inevitable, because the sweet warm smell causes such an attraction [distraction] that many dogs will forget their task altogether. Here too we must stamp out the picking up of the specimen and make the dog bark, if he fails to do so - if necessary using our original means. Great difficulties are not to be expected, because in the beginning we made absolutely certain of the performance, so that the dog will almost immediately bark behind the warm specimen even with simple requests.

The joining of the tracking work on the lead and the 'Totverbeller' can start; as soon as the dog finds its way to the skin and barks continually with obvious enjoyment. To try and do this at an earlier stage will result in a less than top-class result as far as the tracking is concerned. The dog tracks naturally and with pleasure whereas the 'Totverbeller' has been taught under Compulsion; to couple them earlier would cause confusion in the dog's mind and could put him off the tracking. Because of this tracking comes first, and only when the dog is proficient in both exercises should they be joined together.

In conclusion, the advice is that the first practice work, if possible, should not consist of a drive hunt, to enable one here in the beginning to have full control of the situation. Drive hunt, grounding and strangling of the animal will excite the dog so much that he will forget his task and the master must step in here and intervene with a firm hand.

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