Every hunter has an obligation to know how to trail a wounded animal. It is vital to the hunter to only take the shot that allows a clear path to the vitals of the animal. Know YOUR limitations and stick to them. Missed shots make lousy blood trails.
Imagine yourself in a tree stand during bow season and the buck of your dreams offers you a broadside shot. You draw your bow, aim, release and the buck bounds off into the brush. If you find yourself in this scenario this fall, here is some information that will help you bring your animal from the field to the freezer-
I. Pick a Spot- Mentally pick a spot on the animal when taking your shot; never look at the entire animal. Also, pick a landmark (spot) where the animal was standing when it was hit. Whether it is a tree, bush or rock, these objects will help you locate the beginning of the trail to your quarry.
II. Sit and Think- It seems to be commonly accepted practice to wait at least a half of an hour before trailing. Listen for the animal’s direction of travel. If a fatal shot was made, you may even hear the animal fall. Replay the shot and think of what the animal’s reaction was to the shot. Be patient. A quick pursuit could push the animal into clotting the wound. Massive bleeding is the cause of death when bowhunting. If the animal stumbled or ran off wobbly, the arrow probably hit a shoulder, leg or vertebrae. A gut or intestinal hit will cause an animal to stagger and run away slowly. Finding your arrow and blood trail will give you an idea where you hit the animal.
III. Find Your Arrow- After the waiting period, go to the point of impact and locate your arrow. Hair, blood, bone and fluid on the arrow can tell you where you hit the animal.
Ask yourself the following questions-
1. What color is the blood or fluid on the arrow?
2. Is there any brown or green fluid on the arrow?
3. Is the blood light or dark?
4. Are there any bubbles in the blood?
5. Is there any hair in the area?
6. Is there an odor to the arrow?
Every one of these questions will give you clues to locating your animal. Let’s go into more detail-
1. Blood Color. The blood color and consistency will help identify the type of hit. Bright red blood with no bubbles signifies a muscle/arterial hit. Dark red blood with no bubbles indicates a hit in a vein, liver or kidney. Pinkish blood with small bubbles is a good indicator of a vital hit in the heart/lung area. Blood that has a clear, odorous fluid with food matter is a sign of a stomach, intestine or bladder hit. If this is the case, you should wait at least 45 minutes to an hour before pursuing the animal. The animal will soon feel sick and lay down in the vicinity if it is not pursued too soon. Death could be in a few hours or a few days with this type of hit. Unless there is a threat of meat spoilage, give the animal at least four hours before searching heavily.
2. Hair. Look for any hair in the area where the animal was standing when it was hit. Broadheads ALWAYS cut hair upon entry. The hair you find can help identify where on the body you hit the animal. Long, dark hair comes from the neck and back of a deer. Short, dark hair grows on the head, legs and brisket. Light, white hair is from the belly and behind the legs.
IV. Mark Your Trail- I carry a roll of orange surveyor’s tape strictly for marking trails. It is very visible and will help identify a direction of travel if you lose the blood trail.*
*Note- Don’t forget to remove your markers after you find your animal. Always leave the woods cleaner than when you arrived.
V. Get Help- “Two heads are better than one” holds true when trailing a wounded animal. Back in 1989, I shot a fat little four point that ran off into the brush. Since I was hunting three miles from home, I drove home to ask my wife to help trail my deer. She was a great help following the blood drops that were easily lost in the red leaves of fall. There were times when I lost the trail but Denise kept me from straying off the deer’s direction of travel. We found the buck in less than an hour in a thicket less than 100 yards from where he was shot. It was gratifying to share the experience with the person who suffered through my countless hours of preseason rituals.
VI. Cut grids- If you find yourself at “the end of the trail,” cut grids starting at the last marker. I use a compass and markers to search an area and do so in a snail shell pattern. This type of search will eventually have you back-tracking to the origin of the trail. Check known escape routes, bedding areas and water sources in the area you are hunting. Wounded animals often return to the preferred areas of security- especially down hill when mortally wounded.
VII. Use All Clues- Every blade of grass, broken spider web and snapped twig can be a clue to finding your animal. Does a rock look like it was recently kicked? What direction is a broken weed pointing? Did a red squirrel or birds start making an unusual amount of noise in a thicket close by? All of these “little” things can make a difference.
VIII. Electronic Tracking Devices- There are electronic tracking devices on the market that measure temperature changes as slight as a degree and have ranges up to 300 yards. I don’t have any experience with these units but I thought I would mention that they are available.
Your proficiency with your weapon of choice will determine the future of hunting. Be a responsible hunter and acquire the skills needed to make a quick and clean killing shot this fall. Your actions represent ALL sportsmen.
If you are an experienced hunter and tracker, teach those nimrod skills to the less experienced hunters. Share the hunting experience with someone who has never hunted. By all means, get involved with your local sportsmen clubs. Join some of the state and national organizations that are fighting for your PRIVILEGE to hunt. By helping others in our ranks, we help ourselves. Happy blood trails.
*Learn about ‘Making Sense out of Scents’ and ‘Call of the Week’ by going to www.usaoutbacktv.com