Blood Trailing Basics: 6 Tips for Finding Your Game

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The adrenaline won’t leave your bloodstream for hours, and your smile won’t disappear for days. Meanwhile, you’ll grace your social-media pages with photos of your hard-earned trophy, and email favorite pictures to everyone on your contacts list. You’ll also serve venison at every meal, and tell the story of your harvest while savoring each bite of wild meat.

But before you can enjoy such pleasures, you must find your deer by following its blood trail. Start by following these six steps to find your deer.

Step 1: Make a Great Shot

Be picky about your shot placement and shooting angles. Don’t try to stretch your effective range or shoot at a deer that’s poorly positioned. Photo Credit: John Hafner

The most critical part of blood trailing is making an excellent shot. Poor shot placement makes finding your deer difficult, which is why it pays to prepare with good equipment and shooting form. Before you go hunting make sure your bow is sighted in, even if you had everything perfect before the season. Keep practicing during the season because your point of impact can change. It also boosts your confidence to know your bow is dialed in. Even consider a refresher lesson to stay accurate throughout the season.

During your hunt, assess your likely shot distances and confirm them with a laser rangefinder. Be picky about your shot placement and shooting angles. Don’t try to stretch your effective range or shoot at a deer that’s poorly positioned. If you need to refresh your shot-placement knowledge, take our interactive quiz here.

Next, make sure your broadheads are razor sharp. Scary-sharp broadheads cause massive hemorrhaging, which ensures short blood trails and humane kills.

Step 2: Watch the Deer

As the deer flees, note the last place you last saw it and the direction it was running. Identify landmarks that will guide you to that location. Photo Credit: Terry Sohl

After shooting, pay close attention to the deer’s body language as it runs away. What you see can tell you much about your shot. If a deer hunches and walks slowly, it could be hit in the paunch. If it kicks its rear legs like a bucking bronco, it’s likely heart-shot. If it runs off fast in a straight line, it’s likely lung-shot. If it drops to the ground, it’s likely spine-shot and requires a follow-up shot.

Also consider using a lighted nock, where legal, to help determine the hit’s location.

As the deer flees, note the last place you last saw it and the direction it was running. Identify landmarks that will guide you to that location. Pay close attention, because everything will look different once you climb down from your treestand and walk through the woods.

Step: 3 Sit Still

While you wait, settle your nerves and call someone to help you blood-trail the deer. Also use the time to reflect on your shot and sear those blood-trailing landmarks into your memory. Photo Credit: John Hafner

As much as you want to begin blood trailing right away, wait at least 20 minutes. Some bowhunters set a timer on their smartphone to keep track. While you wait, settle your nerves and call someone to help you blood-trail the deer. Also use the time to reflect on your shot and sear those blood-trailing landmarks into your memory.

Step: 4 Find Your Arrow

If you find signs of a good hit, begin blood trailing right away. If you find blood droplets sprayed in clusters, it’s likely a heart shot. If the blood contains small bubbles, it’s likely a lung hit. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Go to the spot where the deer was standing and look for blood. If your arrow passed through the deer, try to find it. Physical clues help determine where you hit the deer.

If you find signs of a good hit, begin blood trailing right away. If you find blood droplets sprayed in clusters, it’s likely a heart shot. If the blood contains small bubbles, it’s likely a lung hit.

If you see green bile and partially digested plant matter, it’s likely a stomach hit. Smell your arrow. Gut shots leave an unpleasant odor.

If you find signs of a poor shot, wait at least six hours before beginning your search. This might seem long, but you must allow the deer to lie down and die. If you scare the deer from its first bed soon after the shot, you’ll push it much farther, which reduces your chances of finding it. Most gut-shot deer run only a short distance and bed in the first secure cover they find. Leave the woods in the opposite direction you saw the deer run and come back later.

Step 5: Start Blood Trailing

Poorly hit deer will follow trails and flee down corn rows. Also study disturbed leaves and broken branches to determine the deer’s path. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Start walking in the direction the deer ran, and use orange flagging to mark blood sign. If you lose the blood trail, go back to your last sign. Start looking in concentric circles around the last sign.

Also realize that hard-hit deer rarely run uphill and usually make straight-line runs. They’ll stray from well-defined trails and crash through obstacles. Poorly hit deer will follow trails and flee down corn rows. Also study disturbed leaves and broken branches to determine the deer’s path.

Step 6: Find Your Deer!

Finding your deer can be a wonderful feeling. Be sure to take pictures and relish the moment. Photo Credit: John Hafner

As you blood-trail, look carefully for your deer. They can be hard to find when lying motionless on the forest floor. White patches, especially their belly, stand out in the woods.

Once you find your deer, take all the pictures you want and start planning your wild game feasts!


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