Tracking wounded game has been a pursuit of mine for many years. As a both a rifle hunter and bowhunter for well over a decade now, it is of vital importance to me to be good at tracking game after the shot of a bullet or arrow and there are few things as relieving and exhilarating as finding a downed deer or other wild game at the end of a long tracking expedition.
The first thing to do in tracking wounded game is to wait and give that animal time to expire. For rifle hunters the rule is usually 15-30 minutes after the shot. For bow hunters, the time to wait is significantly longer, more like 45 minutes to an hour. This is mainly because of the way a weapon’s projectile works after it is shot or released. The absolute worst thing you can do is start tracking too soon. I have been on many hunts with hunters so eager to find their animal that they spook it and the process of finding it after that becomes much more difficult to say the least.
One of the best things you can do is always have a weapon ready to go when you are tracking wounded game. On one hunt I was on a few years ago, the hunter not being prepared with a weapon to dispatch a wounded but crippled deer resulted in the deer getting away and the hunter coming home empty handed. It happens but it does always have to be that way.
After the shot, notate where you last saw the animal and what condition it was in after the shot. Also note which direction it ran. That point of impact and last sighting is where the expedition should start. Look at the type of blood there is and, if bowhunting, what kind of blood or smell the arrow has. I film most of my own hunts and having a camera there to playback the shot certainly helps. In bowhunting, another tool I use is lighted arrow nocks and I use the originator of this innovation, Lumenoks. These can be found here and purchased here. Lighted arrow nocks will help you see the flight of your arrow and even easier see it on camera when you play back the footage of your shot, showing you the point of impact and aiding you in finding your arrow after the shot. Depending on the color and condition of the blood you find will usually tell you the quality of the shot.
At this point, many hunters I have been with start scouring the woods aimlessly. I don’t do that! I get as close to the ground as feasibly possible and start looking for blood signs, no matter how big or small the drops are. I have even crawled on the ground before in some cases!
If it is dark using a good white flashlight will help you detect blood but even a better option in the dark is a UV LED flashlight like the one from VASTFIRE I have recently reviewed on my YouTube channel. This flashlight has a zoomable focus, making it easier for you to find organic matter such as blood up close or further away. With this being the case, blood usually appears highlighted in color in comparison to the darker surroundings. This flashlight also has a very nice red and green LED, making it a great all-around hunting tool.
If you are having trouble finding blood, another trick I use is a spray bottle filled with regular household hydrogen peroxide. Since peroxide foams when it encounters any blood, it is a great idea to mist some around an area with scarce blood trails and see what bubbles up. That, my friends, is a “ninja trick” I learned from an old bowhunter many years ago and, trust me, it really works!
The name of the game in blood tracking is to go slow and keep calm. I, along with many hunters, know the agony and suspense of not finding your animal right away. It’s the worst! That all being said, it is so important to keep your emotions at bay and search hard for your game. If a blood trail ends, look around you in the woods and see what possibilities exist on where that animal could have gone. In one case of a friend of mine, the deer jumped into a tall line of brush instead of expiring on the ground where she was looking. If she didn’t look up and around, she would have missed the deer obviously right in front of her!
If you are searching for a trophy of a lifetime, considering a blood tracking dog in your local area is also a good idea. I run the website of the Texas Lacy Game Dog Association and they have a list of members who can help you on a search like this in Texas and beyond: http://lacydog.org/tracking-services-2
The most important point of this article is to be thorough and deep in your blood tracking search. Don’t give up easily and back out and come back later if needed. I hope these ideas and suggestions will help you in your hunting pursuits this season and for all your days in the field.
Bonus Video: Blast from the Past – Dustin Bowhunting and Blood Tracking a Texas Whitetail Doe
Story by Dustin Vaughn Warncke