Following the Trail

Following the Trail

IMG_1044You have just managed to get a shot off on a deer and it immediately runs off into the great unknown. Their trail is nearly impossible to follow as it leaves little blood tearing through the understory. It’s gut-wrenching feeling. If you have yet to experience this you will probably will sometime in the future. As it turns out, it seems that most trails that go cold are on the bucks of a lifetime, making situations even worse. Here are a few things that you should do to increase your chances of finding that deer once you squeeze the trigger or release the arrow.

The first and foremost is to be proficient with your weapon and are capable of making ethical shots on game but when it comes to after the shot, there are a few things you should do. Paying attention to the body language is critical. Many times a deer shot in the lungs will kick like a horse and a gut-shot deer will hunch its body up. Some hunters will tell you to pay attention to the animal’s head and their tail but I have found that this is not the best indicator of where a deer has been hit. Also, understanding the anatomy of a deer is not only important, it’s critical. You should be able to determine if the deer was hit in the lungs, the liver, or the paunch. This seems simple until you factor in quartering away and quartering to shots, then things become more complicated.

Identifying the blood by color is also beneficial. Sometimes, especially with a firearm, it’s difficult to determine where the shot placement was at. By studying the blood variations you can determine where the projectile entered the deer. Bubbly red blood is common with a lung shot and the trail can usually be taken up soon after the shot. Darker colored blood may be a liver shot. While the shot is fatal it is important to leave the area for a few hours and let the animal expire. If you trail the deer and then jump them from their bed you are starting the trailing process all over again and increase the chances of losing your deer. Then there is the dreaded gut shot, which has dark red blood and can have stomach contents mixed in with it. If you are using archery equipment the arrow will likely have an odor to it. In this case you need to leave the deer overnight and give them time to die. Just like the liver shot deer, the shot is fatal but you may not recover your deer if you push the issue and trial too soon afterwards.

For the hunters who hunt primarily fields with firearms it is crucial that you pick out a landmark in the background before taking the shot. If the deer drops in a field of soybeans it can be difficult to locate them or if the deer runs off you need to locate where it was standing to begin the blood trailing process. For example, try marking the background such as a few yards to the right of the tall pine and just to the left of the drainage ditch, approximately 170 yards away. It’s surprising how many hunters can’t find deer that have died immediately and dropped in their tracks in standing crops and other hunters who hit deer but believe they missed because they can’t locate where the deer was standing nor read the deer’s body language.

Hopefully all of your blood trails will be short, easily followed, and lead to a recovery. In some cases the deer may not be fatally shot or leave almost no trace of where the deer traveled. Sadly, some deer are never recovered but it is our responsibility to exhaust all efforts in hopes of a recovery. Just keep these few things in mind this fall, you’ll be glad you did!

Andrew Walters