Tips & How to Blood Trail Wounded Game While Hunting
- 02 Sep, 2020
During the peak of the Illinois whitetail rut two years ago, I spotted a glimpse of antler through the trees in the strip of woods along a creek I was hunting. The “Big 7”, a buck who had been on trail camera for the past two years, was heading down a trail that would soon take him out of sight. I quickly grabbed the grunt call strung around my neck and soon he was bee-lining my direction. He stopped broadside between some trees twenty yards directly behind my stand, so I buried the pin at the vitals, and heard a THWACK as the arrow hit the buck. He turned and plunged down the creek bank, where I heard splashing, and disappeared.
After waiting until sunset and then grabbing supper, Dad joined me at the tree with flashlights. We found my bloody arrow near the spot where I shot Big 7, and followed small drops of blood to the creek. As we moved upstream, we found several large washes of red blood—a hopeful sign.
We followed his progress drop by drop, crossing the creek twice, until we lost it near the neighbor’s property line. I marked the spot and returned in the morning, following ever-diminishing specks of blood down to nothing on my hands and knees. I felt sick that I had wounded and not recovered this deer, but a week later he appeared on trail camera, alive and apparently well. His shed antler was found that spring. The loud thwack noise I heard when I shot him was my arrow hitting his shoulder, a tough piece of bone that shields his vital organs. While it bled for a half mile, it was a muscle wound and not a killing shot.
What I remember best about this story and all of the other deer I have helped blood trail is this: There is something to learn from every blood trail. Even if you see your animal pile up dead forty yards away, you can learn some signs of a mortally-wounded animal by looking at its blood trail. Here are some things to keep in mind after the shot.
During/Directly After the Shot
Questions to ask yourself:
- Were there any branches or grasses that could have obstructed the shot and caused it to deflect?
- How did the animal react when I shot?
- What was the animal’s body position when I shot?
- Where was the animal standing? What direction did it run?
- How did it act while it was running? Limping?
The first thing to do after a shot is to mark the spot where the animal was standing when you shot it. This is the starting point for blood trailing. Note any body signals from the animal—bucking, limping, stumbling, favoring a side—that could be telling (bucking can indicate a heart or leg shot, favoring a side could be a shoulder or leg). Even with a good shot, many hunters wait at least 30 minutes prior to attempting to trail the animal.
The Scene of the Shot
Upon approaching the spot the animal was located when it was shot, look carefully for sign. If using archery equipment, finding an arrow can give away useful information. A broken off, or even missing, arrow can indicate that the arrow is still inside the animal, causing further internal damage to expediate bleeding.
- Dark, sometimes gritty blood on the arrow could indicate liver, lung, or potentially a pass through of the intestine, depending on the body position of the animal.
- Solid red blood can mean a heart or liver shot, and pinkish blood can point to a lung shot.
- Muscle blood, like the deer I shot in the shoulder, can also be bright red and produce a lot of blood.
- Greenish material such as bile can indicate a gut shot, far back on the animal’s body.
Use this information to decide how long to wait before proceeding with the search. If you’re confident you hit heart or lungs and have a strong blood trail, you are probably safe to continue. However, if you suspect a gut shot, it would be best to wait six or more hours so the animal has time to die without being pushed from a bed.
This photo shows a buck bed 800 yards from where he was shot. He bled the whole way and the arrow came out of his body at this bed site.
On the Trail
Once you have given the animal sufficient time to die based on the evidence at the time of the shot, it’s time to follow the blood trail. A few things to keep in mind:
- It’s easy to look down and become absorbed with the search. Remember to keep an eye on what’s ahead in case the wounded animal is jumped.
- Try not to destroy the blood trail as you go. It holds useful information and if a tracking dog is brought in later, they will have better success with an undisturbed trail.
- Keep conditions in mind—rain, snow, or a high predator density can influence your tracking decisions and wait times.
- Always mark where you found the last blood spot in case you need to go back and regroup.
- If you lose the trail, pay attention to tracks, especially in the snow. Follow existing game trails in the area looking for blood.
- Wounded animals will go somewhere they feel safe. Bedding areas are a good place to search if the trail is lost. However, be cautious of spooking the animal from its bed. The chance of it openly bleeding are much lower and will be even harder to find.
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