Published by archerchick on 17 Feb 2011
Blood Trails To Success – By John Trout JR.
After The Arrow Is Released, The Hunt May Begin!
TRACKING THE whitetail buck had become a nightmare. Only
two specks of blood were visible within a few yards of where l shot
the 10-pointer. The arrow had entered high, too far back on the quartering—
away deer. It appeared that the animal was lost.
One hour after the trailing began, four of us spread out to widen our search. We
hoped that someone would eventually find another drop of blood or locate the
deer. A short time later, we spotted the downed buck only 100 yards from
where it all began. A close inspection revealed the arrow had sliced through
the kidneys and into the paunch.
In the past decade, responsible bowhunters have become more
knowledgeable about shot placement They also have realized that they must take only
those shots within their effective shooting range. Following these standards,
along with a good understanding of the whitetail’s anatomy, is sure to make any
bowhunter live up to the ethics necessary to keep our sport alive and well.
We are human, however, and mistakes can be made. A well-aimed arrow
can easily stray, regardless of our intentions to make a quick, clean kill. After
the shot, the bowhunter still has a responsibility. He or she must trail the deer
effectively and make every effort to recover the animal. This responsibility
begins the moment the arrow is released.
Following Up After The Shot
Much can be said about the archer who pays close attention to the white-
tail as it leaves the scene after the shot. The bowhunter who does so often can
determine the type of hit that was made and assume the necessaiy tracking skills
that may be involved. The sound of the arrow hitting home,for example, may give
you an idea on the type of hit. The dull “thump” usually means that the arrow has entered
the body cavity. A sharp crack, on the other hand, may be a sound of the arrow
hitting the shoulder blade or some other bone.
Perhaps the best warning of what lies ahead is in the whitetail’s reaction after
the arrow hits. You should watch the deer for as long as possible when it
leaves the scene. The bowhunter should memorize the precise travel route the
deer uses when it leaves and the exact location when last seen. Even a mental
note of a particular tree, bush or rock will assist you later when it comes time
to pick up the blood trail. Nothing can be more frustrating than looking in the
wrong place for a blood trail.
Various hits will cause the whitetail to react differently. Normally, an arrow
that passes through the lungs will send a deer away at breakneck speed.
A heart shot also may cause the deer to run hard, but it often will jump or
jerk its body erratically when the arrow passes through. Superficial — muscle
wounds also may cause a deer to run hard, however. What may appear to be
a superficial wound should be taken seriously, because artery hits are
A deer shot through the paunch often will run for only a short distance then stop
or begin walking. Normally, they will hunch their backs as they walk. A hit through
the liver may cause a similar reaction. Following up after the shot will no doubt play a
major role in the recovery of your deer. It may help when determining how soon you
should begin trailing, and it may let you know if assistance will be necessary.
How Long Should You Wait?
A 30-minute wait before taking up the blood trail is a standard rule that many
bowhunters enforce. After all, a deer shot through the vitals will run a short distance
and fall over moments after the arrow passes through. It will not be going anywhere.
The wait will not change the outcome. Death comes quickly when an arrow passes
through the lungs, heart, kidneys or major arteries. A liver or paunch-shot deer, however,
will require a much longer delay. First, consider that death may be prolonged if
the vitals are spared. If you push the whitetail only one hour after the shot, it
will continue to move ahead. A deer that travels one—half mile will be more difficult
to find than one that travels a few hundred yards or less.
Also consider that most deer shot in the paunch and/or liver will usually bed
quickly when left alone. They may or may not leave this site, but pushing them
is a sure way to keep them ahead of you. Normally, I give the liver-shot deer
two hours. I often wait six hours before taking up the trail of a deer shot through
the stomach. I have found many of these deer within 300 yards of where I shot.
We do know that forced movement will induce bleeding. However, the entrance
and exit holes of the paunch and liver—shot deer often become clogged
with tissue that does not allow the blood to reach the ground. Trailing deer that
have sustained these types of wounds is difficult, simply because little blood can
be found, regardless of whether it is pushed or left alone. For this reason, I
find it best to wait a few hours before taking up the trail. Keep in mind, the
farther a deer travels, the more difficult it will be to recover.
Muscle wounds, though, may prompt you to begin trailing immediately. These
wounds are often superficial and recovery may be impossible, regardless of
whether you push the animal or delay the tracking. However, I usually assume
that there is little chance of finding a deer shot through the muscles unless I push
it to induce bleeding.
In my opinion, there is no universal rule for waiting. You should judge each
incident accordingly from the sign that you find and your suspicions of where
the arrow hit. Some hits will require waiting; others will not. The bowhunter
should decide this after the shot is taken and before the tracking begins.
Before following a blood trail, it will help to fully understand the meaning of
various blood colors. Blood is red, plain and simple, but the color does vary with
different wounds. Those who can recognize these different aspects will have
a better insight as to the location of the deer’s wound. The brightest blood
usually comes from a lung shot. It appears pinkish and may or may not have
air bubbles visible in the droplets of the blood. The blood that you find when the
heart, kidneys or major arteries are severed is more of a crimson red and
not as glossy as the blood of a lung hit. However, a muscle wound may also
resemble this same dull red color.
A deer shot in the liver and paunch section will leave much darker blood. This
difference is noticeable when compared to the blood of a heart or lung-shot deer.
Experienced trackers can usually spot this dark blood immediately. However, this is deter-
mined best before the blood dries. Dried blood, even that which is bright to begin with, is
always darker than wet blood.
You also can determine if the deer you are tracking is running or walking by looking at
the blood trail. A deer that is standing or walking slowly will leave blood that has splatter
marks surrounding the droplet. The blood droplet of the running deer will have splatter marks
only on the front, which also indicates the direction it is traveling. The amount of blood
that reaches the ground may or may not have any bearing on the possibilities of a recovery.
As mentioned, the stomach-shot deer leaves little blood. However, this
deer can be found when the tracking is handled properly. A muscle-shot
deer may bleed profusely at first and lead the bowhunter into believing the
deer is going down immediately, but its wound may also clot without warning.
For this reason, I pay little attention to the amount of blood that reaches
the ground. When following a blood trail, do not hurry the process. Slow trailing
will allow you to see more and prevent you from being forced to return to the last
blood found. Marking your way with trail-marking tape or toilet paper will
keep you from accidentally backtracking or straying too far from the last blood
drops whenever the trail is lost. You should remove the markers, though, after
the task ends.
An experienced tracker will do more than just look for blood. He also will
watch for tracks that may appear as only impressions in the leaves. This
helps considerably when blood cannot be found on the ground. When blood
does not fall to the ground, you may see it on limbs and high weeds. A
wounded deer may leave blood smeared on debris when it passes
through. There have been many times that only smeared blood has put me
back on the right trail.
Locating The Downed Deer
No doubt, a happy ending to any tracking situation is locating the downed
deer. This brings about an overwhelming satisfaction that makes any hunt
more memorable and enjoyable. For this reason, and because the bowhunter
should be an ethical, responsible individual, he or she must never give up if
there is a chance of finding the deer. Although the blood trail may have
expired, there is still hope of locating the deer if you follow a few simple procedures.
Primarily, these include spreading out your search and looking for sign
other than blood.
Several years ago, my dad shot a small-antlered buck through the paunch.
We could find blood for only the first 200 yards. Finally, after spreading out,
we were able to locate two beds that showed blood. Both beds were at least
another 100 yards from the last visible blood. We soon found the deer, lying
dead in a third bed 50 yards from the other two.
When you widen your search area, it will help to have more eyes available. Any-
one who can assist will increase your chances of finding the deer or some sign that
may lead you to it. When I begin tracking, I prefer to do it quietly with only one
or two others. However, once the trail is lost, several fellow hunters will increase
Trails should be followed for a long distance, even if they do not lead you in
the same direction that the wounded deer had previously. Most deer, when
wounded, tend to circle. I would also suggest walking creek and ditch borders
to watch for tracks where the deer may have crossed. Often, a drop of blood may
fall as the deer travels up and down the bank, or jumps to the opposite side.
Never assume that a wounded deer will not do what seems impossible. They
can and will do exactly what you would never expect. I often have heard
bowhunters claim that a hurting deer will not go up steep hills. I have seen
this theory proved wrong on many occasions. I have also seen them cross
large bodies of water to avoid those in pursuit. When trailing a deer, it will be
best to think logically, but do not rule out the impractical whenever your blood
Time may not be on your side, but time must be allocated to locating a
downed deer. Many times, one more hour in the field can make all the difference.
Only when all efforts have faded and you have decided that the wound is superficial
should the trail be abandoned. The sharp broadhead is lethal and
will put a deer down quickly when aimed properly. It is every bowhunter’s
responsibility to see that this happens. Unfortunately, a slight miss can still
occur, which would lead you into a difficult tracking situation. You may re-
cover your deer by following the guidelines mentioned, though. Remember that
the hunt is not over when the arrow is released.
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