Published by archerchick on 11 Dec 2011 at 12:32 am
Persistent Tracking Pays – By Shirley Grenoble
by Shirley Grenoble —
JUST BY THE WAY Fred yanked open the door to the coffee
shop and hurried to a stool I guessed he had something exciting
to tell me. Before I could even say “Hi” he began gushing. “Hey
Shirley, guess what?”
I poured him a cup of coffee and hoped business would be
slow for the next few moments. I was anticipating sharing the
savor of success with a fellow hunter.
“You got your deer!” I countered.
“No, but I put an arrow into one yesterday afternoon.
Yeah,” he continued, “I got an arrow into his middle. I followed
him about forty yards but there wasn’t much blood so I
gave up. Figure I can go back and get another one. Maybe I’ll
even go back this afternoon.”
I hoped I’d misunderstood. “You mean you wounded a deer
and then gave up trying to find it? Why?”
“Well,” he said, “Why should I knock myself out tracking
that one? ‘I`here’s plenty of deer on the hill and I’ll get one
sooner or later.” He was actually beaming, feeling that just
putting an arrow into a deer was some sort of accomplishment.
I stifled the impulse to knock the coffee cup into his over
abundant lap. “You are talking to the wrong person if you
think I’m impressed,” I snapped. “I think what you did is
The red flush that crept across his face told me my reaction
was obviously not what he’d been expecting. `°Huh,” he
blustered defensively, “I suppose you never missed anything.”
“Fred, the truth is, I’ve missed shots lots of times, as much as
anybody. But an arrow in a deer isn’t a miss, its a hit. And that
calls for every possible effort to recover it.”
Little did I suspect then that before that very week was up a
whitetail would make me prove my words.
Tracking wounded game is an art which is perfected with
experience. However, even the expert faced that first time. One
need not, indeed should not, go afield with bow and arrow
without some basic knowledge of tracking, the more the better.
There is usually an “old-timer” within the circle of every
hunter’s acquaintances who would be glad to give some basic
instruction in tracking. There are excellent books or chapters of
books devoted to the subject. They could be obtained at the
local library or through the Bookshelf in this magazine.
For over twenty years my husband Ken and I have shared an
unquenchable passion for hunting. We are both NRA-certified
Hunting Safety instructors. Ken’s father was a Pennsylvania
Forest Ranger. In the small town where we grew up, hunting
was the biggest event of the year. Getting your first deer meant
you had marched into manhood. (Or womanhood in some
So about three days a week, when noon comes, I leave the
coffee shop, jump into my four-wheel-drive vehicle and head
for the hills. The hills in my case being the heart of the Endle
Mountains in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.
My first afternoon in a gnarled jack pine next to an old
orchard, a fat doe and two yearlings came in and ate apple
until they were pot-bellied. I was tempted to shoot the doe be
held off, in hopes that the buck that had made some nearby
rubs would appear. He never did show up. But the doe came
regularly to the tree and she began to look better and better to
me as the season wore on.
Ken was having much the same experience at his stand
which was about 1000 yards from mine. He was situated in a
clump of spruce trees that border a small clearing. A couple of
does were browsing in the clearing before moving on to the
orchard. So in the last week of season we made a pact: If the
does came to our stands, we would shoot. We rather liked the
idea of our both bagging a deer with the bow in the same
I was settled in my pine tree about fifteen minutes when the
doe and yearlings came tip·toeing in. Slowly I raised my bow-
nocked an arrow and waited. The classic symptoms washed
over me——trembling, heart pounding, chills—the whole works?
But at last she moved away from the yearlings and stepped
into an open spot. I drew and released. The arrow hit too low-
in the shoulder I thought. She jumped slightly, then whirled
and ran off into the brush.
Fighting to remain calm, I waited a while and then climbed
out of the tree. I had marked in my mind the spot where the
doe had stood. When I got there I could find no blood. So I
started in the direction she had run, carefully scanning the
ground with each step. I covered twenty yards before I found
the first spot, a very small spot I marked the place with 2
piece of tissue paper and went on. I had to return to that spot
three times. Each time I’d go in a different direction until I
found the next spot, which I would then mark with another
piece of tissue. After a half hour of this I had covered less than
I knew it would be best to stop awhile and give the deer a
chance to lie down. I used the time to hike back to Ken`s stand
to pick him up so he could help me unravel the trail.
But when I arrived at Ken’s stand, he was not there! I felt 2
surge of utter frustration. Where had he gone? “Perhaps hes
off trailing a deer of his own,” I thought. However, I didn`t
have time to spend wondering about Ken’s whereabouts. It was
only a short time until dark, so I hurried back and picked up
The track was scant, just a few drops every few yards. The
doe kept in a fairly straight line close to the edge of thick brush.
About 75 yards from the hit site I found the front half of my
The trail led up to a small grove of pines. I trailed her
through them by watching where the pine needles were kicked
up. At the point where she left the pines I found the rear half of
my shaft. But I could find no more blood. By now the deepening dusk
made it very hard to see. I marked the spot with 2
tissue and scouted in small circles, but I c0uldn’t find the trail.
She had taken a sharp change of direction I guessed, but I
couldn’t locate just where.
I was reluctant to forsake the search but darkness left me no
choice. I cut through the woods to the logging road where I
found Ken waiting for me. I quickly, explained the situation.
Curiosity then prompted me to ask him why he’d left his stand.
It seems that while waiting he decided to eat an apple. He
propped his bow against some spruce limbs, got the apple from
is pocket and his pocket knife to peel it. The knife slipped
from his grasp and fell to the ground. Enroute, it neatly sliced
bow string. So he had hiked back to the car to get a spare.
What ensued was a slight discussion about one’s need to peel
apples while on a deer watch and about not having one’s spare
string on one’s person. But I was too excited about my deer to
spend much time discussing anything else.
Ken suggested we try to pick up the trail by flashlight. It had
been two hours since I’d shot her, time enough for her to have
Laid down and died. So we hid our bows in some thick brush
and hiked back to the place in the pines where I’d left the trail.
Ken searched the ground by flashlight in one direction while I
searched in another. It was a backbreaking task.
“Shirley, over here!” Ken called in a stage whisper. I quickly
scooted over to him.
“Look,” he said as he pointed the beam of light on a dime-
sized drop of blood. So we dropped a tissue there and repeated
our procedure. I went one direction and Ken went another. I
found the next spot. The blood trail followed in a straight line
for about 35 yards. I was surprised to see how shiny the wet `
blood was in the flashlight beam.(It’s from the phosphorous in
the blood.) It wasn’t long however, before it was farther and
farther between drops of blood. It was a dark red blood, indicating
a muscle shot or perhaps the spleen, definitely not a
heart or lung shot.
At 8:30 p.m., realizing that it had been nearly half an hour
since we had found any blood at all, I suggested to Ken that we
give up the search for the night. It was obvious we were not
going to find the deer lying dead somewhere. We realized it
would be best to let it bed down. Hopefully, it would die
during the night and we would find it in the morning, or else it
would stiffen up sufficiently to allow one of us to get a finishing
So we cut through the orchard, retrieved our bows from
their hiding place and drove to Towanda to make the necessary
arrangements for an overnight stay. We each had to call someone
to cover for us at our jobs the next day. We also obtained
permission to stay in a friend’s cabin that night.
It was a restless night for both of us. We each entertained our
private thoughts as to whether our tracking ability was sufficient
to enable us to recover this deer with such a scant trail to
follow. I reprimanded myself for having made a poor shot. I
realized I hadn’t compensated enough for the fact that I was
shooting at a sharp downward angle.
Finally it was morning. We were back on the trail at dawn.
We started at the last droplet of blood we’d marked and began
searching in two directions. After 45 minutes of fruitless searching,
it dawned on us that perhaps the deer had backtracked on
own trail. So we began working backwards from the last
got. And there we picked up the trail again. The doe had
indeed doubled back for a few yards, then taken an abrupt
turn and headed for the big woods.
Now our problem was compounded by the autumn leaves
which carpeted the forest floor. Every leaf bore red markings,
and every red mark looked like a blood spot. The blood was
dried by now and only by carefully picking through the leaves
on hands and knees were we able to find the pinpoints of
blood. It must have been quite a sight, both of us on hands and
knees examining leaf after leaf and muttering to ourselves.
The search led up to a tiny brook, about three feet wide,
which trickled through the woods. Knowing that wounded
deer often seek sanctuary in water, we thought perhaps we’d
hit the jackpot. Ken tied his handkerchief to the bush beside the
blood we’d found. Then he went downstream and I went
upstream. We were looking for one of two things: blood to
indicate which way the deer had gone, or the deer itself,
bedded in brush near the brook or even lying in the water as
wounded deer sometimes will do. We spent an hour in this
search and scored a fat zero.
We returned to the handkerchief and stood talking. We were
tired and discouraged, feeling we’d reached an impasse, yet
neither of us quite had the heart to suggest to the other that
maybe our quest would have to end here. We stood on the
bank of the little brook and scanned the woods on the other
side almost as if by a sheer exercise of will we could call forth
the clue we needed so badly.
And then that clue seemed to leap right out at me Across the
water, starting down in the woods a short way, was a barely
perceptible trail, made by something having walked heavily
there, scuffing up the leaves as it went. I nudged Ken’s arm and
pointed to it. His eyes widened, he nodded and wordlessly we
hopped across the brook and followed the trail. There was no
blood, but the trail of ruffed-up leaves was easy to follow.
When the trail began to zigzag we deduced that she was looking
for a place to lie down. Soon we spied a rock with a spot of
blood on it the size of a half dollar. From here there was a
steady blood trail. We found a log she had crossed, smearing
blood all over it. She was zigzagging badly now; surely she
would be lying close by. However, the blood trail went on for
another thirty-five yards, right up to the edge of a marshy area,
and there the water washed out the blood sign.
“Ken, what are we going to do now?” I wailed. I gazed in
absolute frustration at the marsh. We wouldn’t be able to find
a blood trail in that.
“I don’t think she would go through there, Shirley. A
wounded deer will follow the easiest route and that is too tough
for her to slog through. Let’s go back to that last blood spot and
search to the right and left,” Ken counseled.
TRAIL ENDS IN SUCCESS
Ken was right. She’d taken a sharp right turn, walked along
the edge of the marsh, then crossed the very corner of it. But
once on the other side we could find no blood. So we marked
the place and again began our two-directional searching.
Twenty minutes or so had passed when Ken called to me.
Something in his tone of voice told me he’d found her. And so
Ken told me that as he went in ever-widening circles his eyes
fell on a large patch of mountain laurel about forty yards distant.
A hunch told him he’d better check it out.
The doe had bedded down, then died in that laurel patch.
She was still warm, apparently having died sometime in the
early morning. My arrow had hit low behind the front leg,
slicing into_stomach and intestines.
I was jubilant at recovering this deer. We congratulated
each other on this tracking job, happy not to have left a
wounded animal unrecovered. We suddenly realized how hot
and hungry and tired we were. All told, we’d been tracking a
little over seven hours. But we weren’t finished yet. We cleaned,
and tagged her and carried her to the Scout, picking up all our
tissues as we backtracked.
Ken was happy for me about this deer. But the fact of my
now having bagged two deer with a bow sort of picked away at
his male vanity. So Friday, the last day of archery season, he
drove to Barclay, hiked into “my” pine tree and made a quick-
killing lung shot on a doe that came to the apple tree.
So we had fulfilled our goal. We’d each gotten a deer with
the bow in the same season. It was all most satisfying.
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