September 24, 2018
PIKE ON THE EDGE by Doug Pike – 1810 October
September 24, 2018

The Lost Art of Blood Trailing

MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about how to get to the point of releasing an arrow into a whitetail deer.

However, not much has been said about what you should do immediately after the shot and following a blood trail.

There are five steps that I feel are paramount if you want to bring home the venison.

Watch: Everything happens so fast sometimes it can almost be impossible to see exactly where your arrow enters the animal. Although you have picked a spot and done everything right, you still may question yourself when you start your blood trailing. 

Watch the reaction of the deer after you shoot. Did the deer kick back its hind legs? If it did, then you should have a good hit. If the animal runs off with its tail tucked down, it is another sign that the deer may be fatally wounded. You may find that the animal just bounds a few feet and stops to determine where the noise just came from. That may not mean a clean miss. You could very likely have a lethal pass through shot. Everything happens so fast, the whitetail will react to the noise that the arrow makes as it sails thru the animal.

Look: In the excitement of the moment, it is easy to miss some important facts that will help you recover your game. 

Look at where the deer goes. Follow it as far as you can and then pick a landmark where the deer was last seen. If you are hunting on the edge of a field, it is much easier to see where the deer enters the woodlot.

A blood trail is easier to locate if you know where to start looking. I like to pick a few landmarks so I can line them up once I am on ground level. It may be to the right of an evergreen tree or to the left of that edge of swail. Whatever it is, make a mental note of it. At the very least, you will have an idea of where to begin your search.

Listen: It is very important to open your ears and concentrate on what you hear as the deer leaves your sight. 

You should resist the temptation to immediately sit down and put your bow away. If you have a radio handy, you will have to defer that call to your hunting buddies for a few more minutes. Now is the time to listen for any clues the deer may give you. You will have plenty of time to sit and call your friends up soon enough.

Open your ears and you might hear when the deer you are trailing falls.

Open your ears and you might hear when the deer you are trailing falls.
(Photo: Canstock)

Listen for the sound of a deer falling and thrashing in the leaves. Believe me, that is a true sign that your deer is not far away and is not going anywhere fast. You may even hear the death moan of the animal. 

The sound of an arrow shaft hitting brush and trees will tell you that you did not have enough penetration for a pass –thru shot. The blood trail will only be on one side of the deer trail. It might mean you are in for a long day.

Wait: I think this has got to be the hardest thing to get used to after the shot. Even if you know the shot was true, you still need to wait and give the deer time to expire.

How long you wait depends on where the shot was. A lung shot, although very lethal, calls for a wait of at least ½ hour. If you have determined that you have a gut shot (which is also very lethal), then you should wait five to six hours before you start tracking your animal.

Investigate: Carry a field tipped arrow in your quiver. Before you sit down to wait the allotted time, try shooting your field tip in the exact spot the deer was standing a minute ago. You might not have the exact spot, but it should be close enough to find the evidence you need. It always amazes me how different the shot looks like from ground level. Most bow hunters find it almost impossible to locate the exact spot the deer was standing when they let their arrow fly. Check the color of the blood. If it has bubbles and is bright red, it probably is lung shot. A recovery should be quick.

If the color of the blood is darker and even almost brown in color, it means you hit the liver. If there is no exit wound, the deer will bleed internally and the trail will be difficult to follow.

Bow hunter aiming at 8-point buck from elevated stand.

A lot happens the instant you let go of an arrow aimed at a deer.
(Photo: Grady Allen)

You may be fortunate enough to find your arrow. Examine it well to help you to track the deer. A green residue that may be left on the arrow tells you that it was a gut shot and you will need to quietly leave the area until it is time to return to start the blood trail.

Go with a friend to help track and stay out of the way. You want to stay behind the person who is following the blood trail.

Toilet paper has many uses: Other than the obvious one, it can be a valuable tool while tracking your whitetail. Use this biodegradable tissue paper and place it on branches near the blood sign. You can use surveyor’s tape that is bright in color. Every time you see any blood sign at all, place some toilet paper on a branch next to the blood, or tie a piece of surveyors tape on the branch. 

Slow is the way to go. Always keep last blood in sight. You may need to go back to that spot and look harder for any sign of blood. If I lose the blood trail, I usually place my hat near the last blood I see and start making circles. Start with a circumference of three feet. Take your time and slowly complete your circle while you look for any signs of blood. If you still cannot find any, then expand your circle out to five feet. Continue expanding the circle until you locate some new blood. 

Capital Farm Credit


Finally, while looking for the blood trail, pay attention to see if you can find the arrow you just used as well. If you do, then look hard to see if all of the razor sharp blades are still on the broadhead. If some are missing or even a piece of a blade is broken off, then extra care will be needed when you field dress your trophy. The razor sharp blade may still be inside the deer. 

Just remember the phrase “slow is the way to go” and you should be fine!




Lou Marullo on ‘The October Lull


—story by LOU MARULLO


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