Trailing Wounded Deer
Too many hunters spend countless hours hunting, only to lode that trophy because they don't know how to trail the animal after the shot.
Actually the trailing process starts immediately as the trigger is squeezed or the arrow is released. Always watch the animal carefully to see if you can see an entrance wound or a protruding arrow shaft. Deer that are hit in a vital area usually won't travel very far and a the most easiest to recover. Click here to learn about Shot Placement.
As you shoot , watch the deer and study it's reactions. If the deer jumps and runs it usually means that you grazed the deer in the ribs or a leg. But, a heart or lung shot may produce a similar reaction. The deer may not even respond at all. It may walk off as if nothing has happened or it may bolt off at full speed and pile up about 200 yards away. If the deer is "gut " shot it will often hold it's tail down and hunch up as it runs. If you miss, the deer may do nothing at all, or stand still trying to locate the source of the disturbance giving you a chance for another shot. Even if you don't get another shot you must follow up on the first one . Who knows you may find that trophy, you thought you missed, lying just over the next ridge.
If you know that you hit the deer it is a good idea to sit and wait about 30 minutes before checking for signs of a hit. Don't follow too quickly. Many deer are lost because the hunter followed up on a shot too quickly.
Before trailing a deer it is a good idea to use toilet paper (I hope you take some in the woods with you) to mark the location from which you shot. This way if you need to backtrack you can locate your starting point again. Walk along the line that your bullet or arrow traveled checking for nicks of gouges in vegetation as you go. If you notice these nicks it may be a sign that your projectile was deflected in flight, but, this is not always the case. When you get to the scene of the "hit" carefully study any blood or hair that you may find there. Do not disturb the site; mark it in case you need to return to it later. If you find a lot of hair at the site chances are that it was a grazing shot. If you find a little hair you can be assured that you hit the animals body. If the hair is brown, it was a hit high in the body. If the hair is white, the hit was a low one.
The blood trail is your best link to the deer. Always walk beside the blood trail and not directly on top if it so you don't destroy it. If you lose the blood trail, mark the last place that blood was found, then look for overturned leaves, scuff marks or broken branches that may indicate the animal's direction of travel. Deer tend to bleed more as they exert themselves, so you are more likely to find a better blood trail where the animal crossed a gully or ditch. If you still can't find the blood trail, systematically search any heavy cover that is nearby. Make every effort to retrieve a wounded animal before resuming the hunt, even if it takes all day.
One thing to remember is, you cannot predict the behavior of a wounded deer. They don't always run uphill, go to water or run in a straight line. Do your trailing based on the sign you find, not where you think the deer should go.
You cannot always tell where the deer was hit by the color of the blood. Don't jump to conclusions based on the first blood that you find. The initial blood pattern may be misleading because any wound causes immediate surface bleeding. Look for pattern in the blood that you find as listed below:
Fine droplets sprayed on both sides of the trail for the first 50 to 100 yards. These droplets may be several feet up on tree trunks and brush as well as on the ground. Small bubbles in the blood burst when they are touched. This pattern indicates a hit in the heart, lungs or a large blood vessel in the neck. Chances are excellent that this deer won't travel too far.
Large splotches of blood at the spot where the animal was hit, turning into continuous drops that diminish within 100 yards. You may even find some clots along the trail. Bleeding continues as long as the deer is moving but stops when the animal lies down. This pattern suggests a hit in the leg, back muscle or the neck muscle and in rare occasions in the body cavity. Eventually this type of wound will stop bleeding. Once you start trailing this deer, move as quickly as possible. If you move too slowly the blood trail will dry up and become less obvious. Always be ready to shoot because you are not likely to find a dead animal.
If the blood trail is difficult to locate at first, the large splotches appear between 20 and 50 yards. Blood sign steadily decreases until only scattered specks remain after 100 yards. This pattern is typical of a gut shot deer. Food particle in the area of the hit may confirm this. The volume of blood circulating through the digestive system diminishes as the muscles of the moving deer demand more blood. This, together with clotting, explains why the blood trail thins out after about 50 yards. Gut shot deer are the most difficult to recover. You must wait at least 2 hours before trailing, even if rain may wash away the blood trail. When this deer beds the blood flow to it's muscles decreases and the flow to the gut increases. This deer will bleed to death in it's bed and will be found within 200 to 500 yards. But, if you follow too soon and continually spook the deer from it's bed, the trail will then have any if little blood.
No matter what type of trail you may have to follow ask for help if you need it. Ask you partners for help or go get help and return to the area the deer was shot. Be quiet, stay together and designate shooters for safety's sake. Someone should always stay near the last blood spot and look ahead for the deer while the other search for more blood or tracks. If you are hunting in an unfamiliar place always keep track of your location with a compass. It's easy to lose your way when concentrating on a blood trail.
Sooner or later you will come across the animal. If it's standing or bedded with it's head up, shoot it again. Please remember to approach a downed deer with caution watching for signs of life. If it doesn't move, touch it near the eye with a stick. If it does move, dispatch it quickly with a gunshot to the neck or an arrow in the chest cavity.
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