Are you making these common mistakes when blood trailing a deer?
There’s a common misconception that after shooting a deer, the hard work is finished. But actually, the work is just beginning!
If you didn’t see that deer drop within sight, you need to lace up your boots and start the blood trailing process.
Here’s how to do it effectively, and avoid some common mistakes.
1. Good Shot?
Recall the details of the shot in your mind. Also make a mental note of which direction the deer ran.
- Did the deer run away blowing with its white flag up? Sorry, likely a miss (but you’ll need to confirm).
- Did the deer hunch its back upward? It’s probably a gut shot, and the deer may head to water sources.
- Did it kick into the air? It’s probably a good shot, and there should be a good (and short) blood trail.
2. Patience is a Virtue
I know it’s difficult, but waiting 15 to 30 minutes after the shot before getting down to check the blood trail is absolutely necessary. Unless the deer went down within sight, this is the minimum time to wait.
If you suspect a gut shot, you should wait a few hours so as not to push the deer. In most cases, a wounded deer will run a short distance before bedding down. That’s what you want to reduce the length of the blood trail and increase the chance they will expire closer to your stand.
3. Fools Rush In
Following the second tip, go to the last spot you noticed the deer and start slowly scanning the ground for blood, hair, or tracks. Don’t run around looking everywhere, as you’ll likely overturn leaves and hide any evidence. A deer may not bleed immediately, so look for chunks of hair or hide on the ground.
When a deer is shot, they quickly hightail it out of there, leaving the shot site with overturned leaves or broken brush. Once you confirm this spot, start trailing the deer until you find blood. Then you’re off to the races.
4. Blood Consistency
Once you find the blood trail, pause to observe the color and consistency. This is a critical clue you should pay attention to.
If the blood is:
- bright red and heavy at first, but then fades to only droplets abruptly, it was likely a leg or muscle shot. These wounds will clot up quickly, leaving you with very little to track. It’s likely not fatal.
- watery, brownish green, has food particles, and stinks, it was a gut shot. Abandon the blood trailing process for several hours, if not overnight when the conditions are right.
- dark red or maroon, it was likely a liver shot. This is fatal, so allow the deer an hour at least before pursuing.
- bright pink and frothy, it was probably a lung shot. The deer will likely expire within a couple hundred yards, but wait another half hour or slowly pick up the trail.
- bright red and heavy, it was a heart shot. The deer is almost certainly already down somewhere ahead of you. Proceed to Go and collect $200.
5. Leave Bread Crumbs
If your blood trail starts to thin out to droplets, it’s time to start marking the trail.
Use flagging tape, toilet paper, etc. to mark the last known blood. That way, if you continue onward and cannot find any more, you can look back at your markers and go scan in a grid pattern around that spot until you find the blood again.
You can also see the general direction the deer was traveling to help you pick a possible path forward.
6. Look Up
Don’t just shuffle through the forest with your face to the ground, looking like a truffle pig. Pause to look up and scan ahead every 20 yards or so.
You might find the deer you’re after just ahead, or you might see it bedded down and be able to get another shot before it runs.
Also, scan the brush, grass, and trees for signs of blood spatter. It won’t only drop out onto the ground.
As a deer passes by, it will spray onto surrounding plants, or they will brush against it, leaving telltale signs that you would miss if you keep your eyes down.
7. Back Off
If at any point you jump the deer from its bed, pause for a moment and observe.
- Which direction did it travel?
- How was it acting?
- Was it definitely the deer you shot?
- Listen to the deer’s retreat to hear if it’s stumbling or if it crashes again.
At this point, it’s tempting to pick up the chase while the trail’s fresh, but that is a major no-no.
Since you jumped the deer, it’s either a worse shot than you anticipated or you didn’t wait long enough. Slowly back out of the area and allow another hour or two for the deer to expire.
8. Get After It
If you’ve let the right amount of time pass after jumping the deer, get back out trailing it. Pick up where you left off and slowly work your way down the trail.
Pay attention to overturned leaves, broken branches, or anything that looks unusual. This is where basic tracking skills really pay off. If you run out of blood, hair, or chunks of fat/tissue, start following a noticeable deer trail for a while and look for these telltale signs that you’re on the right one.
If you run out of deer trails, start a grid pattern search with a buddy. Slowly comb the woods around the last spot you noticed, and look for blood or the deer itself. Continue this for another day or two at the minimum if needed. Do not abandon a search until you’ve gone to all these lengths.
You owe it to the animal you wounded.
9. Found It!
When you get a glimpse of a white belly, don’t just run up to the deer! Especially after an exhausting trail, it’s very tempting.
Slowly approach it with weapon raised, should you need to fire one more shot. If the animal is expired, congratulations!
You were able to successfully track a difficult deer and recover it. Now you just need to get it out of the woods and start the butchering process.