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How To Read a Blood Trail

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Learn how to read a blood trail with our expert tips.

You’re sitting in your treestand, concentrating on the forest around you, with your bow or rifle primed and ready in your hands.

Suddenly, a trophy buck for the ages wanders out of the woods 50 yards from your location. You are overcome with adrenaline and excitement as you prepare your shot, so excited that you probably don’t aim as carefully as you could.

You fire your bullet or loose your arrow, and you’re sure it connects, but the buck still bolts from the clearing in front of you and takes off deep into the woods, potentially carrying your bullet or arrow with it.

This is a scenario that many of us have experienced over the years. Bucks are strong animals, and it takes an incredibly well-placed shot to bring them down. The fact that you have to take that shot while dealing with extreme levels of anticipation only makes things that much more difficult.

However, if you take a shot and the buck takes off, don’t just write it off as a miss. If the deer was worth taking, it is certainly worth climbing down from your treestand and investigating the deer’s former location for signs of a blood trail.

If you did get a hit, you will see indications of that hit not only at the spot where your shot connected, but also throughout the forest, following the path the deer took to get away from you. It is in your best interest as a hunter to follow this trail, as it may lead you to an opportunity to finish the buck off and bring your trophy home.

The first step to being a successful blood trail tracker is to keep your eyes peeled after you fire your shot. If you can see where your arrow or your bullet connects with the animal, you will be able to better judge how to track it.

Luckily, even if you don’t have a good view of the hit, the blood trail will be able to tell you most of the story.

Different hits yield different blood trails. For example, if you strike the animal in the lungs, you will see a frothy and pink-tinged trail; if you nail the heart, the blood will be bright red and plentiful; if you made contact with the liver or a kidney, the blood will be dark and thick; and blood with a greenish tinge indicates a stomach hit.

All of these hits can eventually prove lethal, but the wounds also vary in how long they will take to kill the deer and how long a wise hunter will wait to begin following the trail.

If the blood trail is little more than a few droplets, chances are you hit a leg or another part of the body – a wound, but not a lethal one. In most cases, the less serious the hit, the longer you should wait to begin following the blood trail.

For instance, a hit in the heart shouldn’t take more than half an hour to bring the deer to its knees; a hit in the stomach will take more in the neighborhood of four or five hours. As a general rule, don’t be too eager, as you don’t want to risk spooking the deer a second time.

You will have a far easier time if you track and locate the deer after it has died. If your hit had little chance of lethality, wait an hour or two to let the deer calm down and lower its guard again. Then get on the trail and prepare to finish it off with a second shot.

Another aspect to consider is how fast a deer is moving. A walking wounded deer produces blood that doesn’t splatter much, and doesn’t give away as much information as a running deer. However, if it’s walking, that’s a good sign that it’s close to keeling over.

Running deer drop blood with splattered fingers that point in the direction it is moving.

When you can’t find any blood initially, track one in a wide sweeping direction towards the path you believe the deer took.

It’s wise to mark blood spots with tape, cloth or even toilet paper, so you can see a possible pattern developing (or get yourself back to the treestand).

Keep in mind that wounded deer often run downhill or towards water.

Do you have additional blood tracking tips, or advice for post-shot tracking in general? Or, do you have a good tracking story? Share them in the comments below. 

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