If a Deer Falls in the Woods … How Do I Find It?
Knees weak and hands trembling, your adrenaline surges. The past few seconds are a blur. The deer came in just as you imagined. Your rangefinder gave you the exact distance, and you executed the shot just like you practiced.
But the deer ran off and disappeared into the brush. You’re not panicking. You read this article and know how to find your deer. Arrowed deer sometimes fall within sight, making blood trailing unnecessary. But, even great shots usually require blood trailing because broadheads kill from massive blood loss. Although death comes quickly, deer can cover 100 yards or more in the blink of an eye. Also, it’s easy to lose sight of a deer after it’s shot, especially in thick cover. That’s where blood trailing comes in.
Blood Trailing Gear Checklist
All this gear and more expert advice are available from an archery store near you.
- Orange flagging tape: Use it to mark the blood trail.
- Flashlight and headlamp: You can never have enough light for nighttime blood trailing.
- Compass: You can take a reading of the direction the deer ran, and it helps you find your way back to your vehicle.
- Knife and gloves: Once you find your deer, be ready to field dress
Right After the Shot
After shooting, you must gather valuable information. Where did your arrow hit? Did you see the actual impact? How did the deer react? Carefully note where the deer was standing. Before moving, identify landmarks to pinpoint where the deer stood and where you last saw it.
If you saw your arrow’s impact, you’re ahead of the game. Understanding shot placement and deer anatomy helps you assess your shot.
A deer’s reaction to the shot can tell you much. If it bucks and kicks both rear legs into the air, it likely was heart-shot. If the deer hunches its back, it likely was shot in the abdomen.
Watch the deer as it flees, and make mental notes of its flight path until you lose sight of it. Stay still and mentally mark these spots, looking for defining features on trees, rocks and foliage. As much as possible, burn those images into your memory because everything looks different once you leave your stand.
Wait at least 30 minutes after shooting before leaving your blind or descending from your treestand. This will test your patience much more than waiting for a good shot opportunity. Minutes can feel like hours, but waiting calms your nerves and helps you reflect on what just happened. It can also help ensure short blood trails.
If the impact didn’t cause a quick death, waiting prevents you from pushing a deer farther from you. If you begin blood trailing too quickly the deer might resume running, leaving you with a much longer and more difficult blood trail. But if you made a less-than-ideal shot and wait, the deer will likely bed down after a short distance and die.
Go to the Shot Site
After 30 minutes, begin your investigation by quietly walking to where the deer was standing when you shot. Look for blood and your arrow. Trailing scenarios vary, but wounded deer rarely head uphill, and they’ll often head toward water if the wound wasn’t quickly fatal.
An arrow passing completely through the deer can provide excellent clues. Pass-through shots also open an unobstructed wound channel, which usually creates a better blood trail.
Try to find your arrow, and give it the sniff test. You might not have a bloodhound’s nose, but a quick sniff can provide insights about your hit. Bile has a pungent smell like manure, and indicates a hit to the abdomen. Blood has a more neutral, or slightly metallic odor.
Reading blood is much like reading other sign. Different colors and consistency of blood tell you lots about the hit. Bright red blood with small bubbles indicates a lung hit. A hit through both lungs delivers a quick kill. Dark red blood signals an arterial hit, especially if it looks like it’s spraying on both sides of the deer’s flight path. This is a good sign. Your deer is likely close by.
Green bile or yellow-brown partially digested plant matter can signal a bad hit in the intestines or stomach area. If you see this, don’t despair, especially if you also find significant amounts of blood. In that case, you have a good chance of recovering your deer. Still, it’s time to back off for now.
If you find any sign of a bad hit, wait six to eight hours before pressing on. Tracking a poorly hit deer too soon makes it run farther. It’s best to let it bed and die. If it’s getting dark and temperatures are below 40 degrees, leave the woods and come back in the morning.
Follow the Blood
Once you’ve assessed the situation, slowly follow the blood trail, using information you collected after the shot to guide you. You’re looking for blood drops, splatters and smears, which can appear on the ground and trees.
The amount of blood will depend on the wound. For example, a low exit hole typically produces a great blood trail. You might see lots of blood or occasional splatters. In either case, work slowly while carefully inspecting the area. Blood looks shiny and wet. Unless hours have passed, it won’t look dull like red leaves.
As you progress on the blood trail, stay off to the side and mark each spot with orange flagging tape. If you lose the blood trail, you can go back to the last spot. Or, start making concentric circles. Go slow and look for sign other than blood, such as tracks, broken branches, disturbed leaves and overturned rocks. Also, look for the deer itself. Deer blend in well to the surroundings, and it’s easy to walk past a motionless body.
Blood trailing is much easier when you place your shots accurately, which comes from practice, self-discipline and proper equipment. A nearby archery store can set you up with the equipment you need, and make sure your broadheads fly true.