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    • SteveMcD
      Post count: 870

      Blood Trailing Big Game

      For the purpose of this exercise we are assuming White-Tailed Deer, as the most abundant and popular big game species hunted in North America today. This exercise could easily be used for the tracking of other Big Game, as well.

      Before The Shot

      It would be assumed that your equipment is properly tuned. You have practiced and recognize your personal range of competency in making an effective shot.

      Deer are prey animals, meaning they have a sixth sense, kind of like the bogey man effect, like how you feel in a dark basement alone. They are animals constantly on
      the alert for pending danger. As a bowhunter you need to take certain precautions
      in order to have an opportunity to take that shot.

      First, pay attention to the wind and keep yourself as scent free as possible. Separately, stored hunting clothes, rubber soled boots that are relatively scent-free, scent elimination spray; and above all Pay Attention to the Wind.

      Be mindful that humans / hunters let out a scent cone that spreads in the direction of the wind, so that once an animals gets within close yardages, particularly 20 yards or less, the higher the chances of being detected. This is why being as scent free and clean as possible is so important. Also consider “Thermals” in the area you hunt, deer pay close attention to this. Because, as the day warms up, wind thermals rise up and down from morning to afternoon. These thermals carry your scent.

      One of the reasons why Treestands are so effective is because, typically you are above the “normal” line of sight and scent tends to carry up and away from the ground and your stand. Deer have learned to look up, so camouflaged face and hands or gloves and face mask are a plus. This is not an essay about treestand hunting – but two things need to be stated here for safety sake: 1) there is no need for a treestand to be any more than 12’ – 15’ feet up in a tree; and 2) ALWAYS, ALWAYS wear a Full Body Harness and be tethered to your tree while in your treestand.

      Making The Shot

      When a deer presents an opportunity to come into range for a shot, do not move until the animals view is blocked from catching your movement. This would be typically, when the animals line of sight is behind a rock, tree or brush or when the animal has its nose to ground either scenting or feeding, it’s direction of sight is focused on the ground. Preferably, when the deer passes your position is considered the optimum time to draw and take the shot. It is also the “quartering away” shot that is most ideal. You are now behind the animal’s general line of sight, your arrow placement will be a little farther back, but your “depth of kill zone” is greater. Meaning your arrow and broadhead has greater potential for passing through a much larger area of the vital organs. This is not to say a broadside shot is also a very good shot, as it will allow for greater potential of complete body penetration.

      When taking the shot remember to focus on the SPOT. That little tuft of hair behind the shoulder, a crease, certain hair color, if you focus you will pick out a spot. Typically on a whitetail deer this is likely to be a spot somewhere between 4 to 6 inches behind the crease of the shoulder. Do not look at the whole animal – Focus On The Spot. I remember reading an article by Jack O’Connor a famous Gun Writer many years ago, who said, “Think of the deer as a running back carrying a football, the football is just behind his shoulder. Your job is to focus on the football and shoot it”. Notice I said famous gun writer… shooting at the whole animal is a problem for many including Firearms hunters.

      I am a strong advocate of focusing on the Lung Area of a deer regarding shot placement. It is a large area allowing for a forgiving shot. Secondly and furthermore a deer can’t run very far, if he can’t breath! Heart shot deer have been known to go distances of 200 yards on their final heartbeat. Good penetration into the lungs and a deer will go not nearly as far, odds are significantly less in distance. As I mentioned, a lung shot is more “forgiving”, it has a wider area; and also a heart shot placement on a deer, is a very small window of opportunity, and depending on where the deer’s front leg is positioned, a significant percentage of the deer heart area is protected or blocked by Bone! If you hit that scapula bone in front of the heart, you will hear a telltale “CLACK”! Most likely most of your arrow will protrude from the animal, they will likely pull the arrow out, if it does not fall out. With this shot, you will get good muscle blood trail from the deer, but be assured that deer will live for another day, and in a couple of weeks be no worse off for the incident only smarter. This is why I advocate the Lung shot.

      Always keep in mind, regardless of the shot. We as hunters and bowhunters have a moral obligation and responsibility to recover all game shot or track the animal to a point where we are convinced, we either missed or the shot was so minor, the animal well be fine. Many sates have “Deer Search” and organizations that allow tracking dogs to find your deer, if you run out of trailing sign or cannot find your deer, and you are convinced of a mortally placed shot.

      At the time of the Shot:

      Take mental note of WHERE the arrow hit and penetration into the animal. Concentrate on where the fletching went through. This will give you a good idea of actual shot placement.

      Be Quiet! Do Not Move – If you holler and whoop it up… the animal will only run harder and further.

      Listen – most times the deer will run out of sight! Listen for tell tale signs… crashing in leaves, splashing in water, etc.

      Wait – be patient! Wait at least 25 to 30 minutes before beginning to pick up the blood trail for your deer. Allow them to bed down, seriously hit deer will not go far. But if you trail them right away, you will be pushing them and they will get him and run further. Allow them to bed down and die / expire. For larger game animals and particularly potentially dangerous game like bear, wait 45 minutes before you start trailing.

      Take mental note of where the deer was standing when you shot it. And take a compass or GPS reading in the direction you last saw the animal. This is key, because you may have to come back and backtrack and start over your trailing.

      At the spot the animal was hit, look beyond that point for your arrow if you believe you had gotten full penetration. If you find the arrow, the color of hair, blood and body fluid will all be tell tale signs about possibly where and how well the animal was hit.

      One word on stomach shot deer. If you find yellowish-greenish fluid on your recovered arrow or on the ground / trail. Your animal has been stomach shot. He is mortally hit, but it will take more time for the animal to die / expire. You must wait 4 to 6 hours, to give the animal time to bed down, and expire before trailing. Stomach shot deer and other animals have a tendency to escape towards water, for reasons really unknown (but, Man does the same thing in the same situation). If you were to trail him right away – Good Luck! You will be trailing him clear into the next county. Another characteristic of a stomach shot deer is – when hit they will tend to hunch up their backs like a cat, and they may not run, they may actually appear to hunch up and “tip-toe” away from the scene. Wait first, even if it means overnight.

      Once starting on the blood trail. Mark your trail with Orange Survey tape, in every spot where you find blood. This will develop into a pattern and direction of travel. Preserve your trail, be careful not to step in it! Look for blood on the ground, on rocks, tree trunks and bushes. This will give you an indication of where the deer is hit. Blood on both sides of the trail obviously confirms full penetration. Also look for body hair, the type and color of hair will tell you about where the animal was hit.

      Always be looking ahead when on a blood trail. Deer will go to bed down. But they will (if not dead), be looking back on their back trail. Essentially, what you are doing is stalking your deer. In reality, you may be doing just that, if the animal is watching their back trail.

      If you lose the trail. Don’t give up. Deer in flight have a tendency to go some distance without much or intermittent blood sign. Look for tracks, scuff marks in the leaves, etc. If you lose the trail, from the last spot where you found sign, begin a series of “L” Grid Right angle intervals, walk ten yards, turn to the left, walk ten more yards, turn again, till you complete a circle, continue to expand ten yards out with each completed circle, until you either pick up the trail again, find your animal, or go get help! This is one reason why it was so important to take a compass / gps reading when you first stated out, as well as mark all spots where you found blood and other sign on the trail.

      Once you have found your deer… you have arrived! You are a skilled hunter and tracker! Congratulations!


      Types of blood sign:

      1. Blood that is frothy with bubbles usually indicates a Lung Hit.
      2. Very Dark blood may indicate a vein, liver or kidney hit.
      3. Blood with mixed vegetable matter or greenish in color indicates a stomach hit.
      4. Blood with frothy bubbles may indicate a neck hit where the arrow has cut neck arteries and the wind pipe.
      5. Blood spattered on the ground may indicate a fast moving animal or one where major blood vessels have been cut. Spattered blood produces fingers which are a tell tale sign of the direction of travel.
      6. No blood sign doesn’t always mean a miss. The animal may be bleeding internally.

      Types of Whitetail Deer hair:

      1. Back hair is long and dark, many times black tipped and coarse.
      2. Neck hair is like short back hair except underneath the front of the neck which is short and light in color.
      3. Brisket hair is very dark and twisted near the junction of the neck and the body.
      4. Side hair is short brown with dark tips.
      5. Bottom of the ribcage is a mixture of white, dark brown hairs, straight, long and thick.
      6. Belly hair is usually long, white, very fine and sometimes twisted.

      Other tips:

      1. A small spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide may go a long way in helping to find the blood trail, as peroxide will ooze just like on a cut, when sprayed on blood.
      2. On windy days you may have to be extra careful and be mindful to turn over leaves in looking for blood and other sign.
      3. Often crows, ravens and jays will congregate where an animal is down.
      4. Mortally hit animals tend to run downhill rather than up.
      5. Be sure to check streams and swamps if necessary.
      6. Often times animals will circle back and back track their trail.
      7. Do not be afraid to get help, but limit the trailing to 3 people maximum.


    • Hubertus
      Post count: 99

      Thanx a lot Steve!
      You’ve given me a lot of the information I’ve been looking for. I hope to need it come October.

    • Jarrod Feiner
      Post count: 36

      Steve I suspected this was going to be good when we discussed it…man, was I right! Thanks very much for sharing your knowledge.:D

    • Mark Turton
      Post count: 759

      Hi Steve

      Congratulations on an excellent post, I’ve been hunting for 30+ years and it never hurts to recap on the points that you have mentioned and for anyone starting out it’s a must read article.


    • Robin Conrads
      Post count: 916

      We agree that SteveMcD’s post is a “must read” for new and experienced hunters alike. It has been posted as an article in The Trailhead department and as a Feature Article on the home page.

      I have seen many great posts with helpful information for new hunters. SteveSr’s post in storing meat is also excellent! All the tips for rookies were great, keep ’em coming! Thanks to all of you for the ideas and support. It wouldn’t work without all of you.

    • Steve Sr.
      Post count: 344

      Steve Mcd’s information is indeed full of helpful information that a good many EXERIENCED hunters don’t know.

      I would like to make an addition and also an experienced observation on one particular item.

      Steve correctly points out that WHERE you really hit the animal is crutial information and his color ID on hair is something we all need to know from memory.

      What to do after the shot DEPENDS on you KNOWING where the animal was hit, the angle of penetration and a solid information base of the organs damaged.

      Nothing can tell you more than SEEING it hit and paying attention.

      As the arrow connects pay CLOSE attention to exactly what angle of entry you had on contact.

      In my opinion, that is where your choice of fletching color should come into play. You MUST be able to see the arrow connect if you want accurate feedback on what to do next.

      NOT meant as a reason to “bash” the compound shooters and I have friends anf family that do, but this is ONE of my biggest problems with them for hunting.

      With the unbelievable speeds most get and the TINY vanes used, even WITHOUT a sight in the way it is IMPOSSIBLE to see that arrow fly OR hit. I say that not only from watching them shoot but also from the number of them that have found that indeed the arrow did NOT connect where they said it did. Most inaccurately claimed the arrow hit where they were aiming. When found over 3/4 of them were not.

      Never take it for granted the shot was a good one unless you SAW the arrow connect and never shoot if it’s too dark to see your arrow connect….even if IN shooting hours.

      Deer (and other animals as well) can move dramatically at the sound of the shot! My brother shot a doe at 15 yards and even though the shot ended in a double lung hit, the deer had COMPLETELY reversed direction and the arrow penetrated the opposite side from where he was aiming! By the way, my brother was shooting a compound, sights and light arrows. The deer was faster by a wide margin.

      There is NO such thing as a bow capable of always beating the deer’s speed of reaction and NO such thing as TOO QUIET a bow and arrow set up.

      I can name dozens of cases where I helped track wounded deer that when the animal was finally found the arrow was SO far off from where the hunter “was sure he hit it” that the hunter almost refused to admit it was his deer!!

      “Gut shots” are a hunter’s WORST nightmare! The horrendous job of recovering the animal is only second to the suffering of the animal shot.

      I’ll agree with Steve McD but with a bit of added informaton I’ve found helpful. Knowing you gut shot the animal and NOT taking out at least one lung, mark the area well and leave and come back later, with help.

      I’ll agree with the 4-5 hours but would like to make a humble observation that this amount of time (for me) is ONLY if the weather does not allow for a longer wait.

      If rain is in the forecast, again I would allow 4-5 hours if I can but unless the liver or one lung was hit, expect that deer to still be alive yet hopefully too weak to get up and run.

      If the weather is cool or cold and the shot was in the evening it’s just best to wait till morning. 12 hours is a much safer wait when conditions allow and one used here locally by the few hunters I am around much.

      Believe it or not, a human can find a downed gut shot animal by smell for maybe 20 yards or so and Ive found a few I helped track just by that method. Not a pleasant thing but the animal must be recoverd at all cost. It’s not a smell often forgotten once you’ve been around it.

      A short addition here on equipment. Not only is the visibility of your fletching very helpful in seeing the arrow connect, Dr. Ashby’s single bevel heavy arrow suggestions in many ways ALSO helps with reducing the number, if any, of lost animals.

      The heavy arrows I am shooting of 660 grains and up make my bows VERY quiet at the shot and the confidence of the bone splitting capabilities of the arrow and single bevel heads also allows me to “crowd” that shoulder and stay as far away from the paunch as possible.

      With this set up,if I DO make a bad shot, four inches too far forward should allow for a much more quickly recovered animal than a shot that is four inches too far back!

      High visibility, more than adequate penetration at most angles from a quiet shot. All of which are provided for us in this combination.

      I hope none of us have to go through the torment of a bad shot but doing all we can practicing and using the best set up will tip the scales heavily in our direction.

      Keep em sharp and pick a spot!!

      God bless!

    • Daniel
      Post count: 247

      Both Steve’s need a kuddo’s here, great information and obviously tons of knowledge, thanking the both of you for a ton of really great information and help.


    • Clay Hayes
      Post count: 418

      Excellent post, but I’d like to add one thing about whitetails after a shot. After the initial “blow out”, crash through the bushes moment, a deer will often hit a trail and follow it before dying. That’s a good thing to know when the blood runs out and other sign is lost.

    • NavySkyPilot
      Post count: 29

      Great post! Tuesday I shot an arrow at a whitetail for the 1st time. I let her alone for 1 hour and then began to follow her blood trail for 2 hours. The going was most challenging as most all of her bleeding was internal. I’m so thankful a friend and I found her! He’s a skilled tracker.

      A comment/ question? Is it just me or are traditional flashlight bulbs/lights MUCH better than LED for spotting blood?

      I found my friends Maglite a much better tool than either of the two LED headlamps I’d brought back from OIF.



    • Steve Sr.
      Post count: 344

      A good question on the lights used. I too would like others to chip in on what they have found to work better.

      Us “old timers” still swear by ye old Coleman lanterns, lol.

      One downfall is the lack of my ability to shine it out very far?? Blood shows well but must be very close for my old eyes.

      I too would like to hear a better solution.

      It’s been awhile since I had to night trail a deer hit yet want all bases covered should the need arise. Part of that might well be that I start slipping out of my area before legal hours end stalking my way back to the truck.

      For ME, when I can no longer see my arrow fly it’s too dark for ME to shoot with confidence anymore. That was not always the case but is true now. By then, I’m half way back to the truck.

      Hunting strictly from the ground I’ve noticed that it SEEMS to be “too dark to shoot” earlier than when I was in treestands. ???? It COULD be old age, night blindness coming on?? arghhhhhh!

      I’ve been lucky and it’s pretty rare for me to not see the deer I’ve taken go down unless it hits some heavy underbrush or standing corn.

      I probably just “jinxed” myself LOL!

      I do realize that it will happen again someday and preparation is the key. Someone (or two) can help here with their preferred light source.

      Season here starts Thursday. Oct 1.

      I wish you all a safe season with the wind in your face and short blood trails!

      Steve Sr.

    • SteveMcD
      Post count: 870

      Good question. Personally, I haven’t had to trail too many deer in the dark. Normally would back out and wait till morning. I’ve used the good old regular flashlight with no problems. But, Steve, Sr. is right, I’ve heard using a coleman lantern works even better. As far as the new LED lights go. I guess the jury is still out on that one for now.

    • NavySkyPilot
      Post count: 29


      That raises another question- What need the temperature be to have the back out and wait till morning option? Down here in the south, like when I shot my doe last week, it can be in the 80 ‘s (F). Hence, I felt finding her and getting her to a cool place was critical.

      Thanks for the great mentorship.


      Camp Lejeune, NC

    • Steve Sr.
      Post count: 344

      I’d have to personally agree with you there, Dave.

      80s? YIKES! We have a FEW days that can hit those temps here in N. IN some falls but not many.

      I hope you don’t have to make that decision and see em go down.

      I don’t think I could wait but neither waiting or not waiting would be a great situation, IMHO, in that weather. You’d have to go with what your instincts tell you about the hit.

      I honestly can’t offer either as a suggestion, if it were me and what I’d do. Probably not an option there but here, 80s is so rare, I normally dont hunt that evening for that very reason. I can’t handle the heat nor would I want to have to leave one overnight.

      Season opens Thursday here and we’re looking at mid 40s at night and mid 60s in the day. That’s normal temps for here but it will go up and down like a yo-yo for a month yet.

      God Bless

    • Snakeeater
      Post count: 23

      This is all great stuff. A couple of things that we always cover when we teach the blood trailing section of the IBEP are:

      1. You might not have blood at the site of the hit, so don’t get upset if you don’t see any.

      2. We should really be talking about trailing, not blood trailing, because sometimes you don’t have any blood for some portion of the trail, especially on a high hit where it just leaks onto the body or if it wasn’t a passthrough and the blood is collecting inside of the body cavity. Here are some things to look for other than blood:
      – leaves turned over the passing of the deer
      – spider webs broken, or not being broken; if you see two trails that the deer might have taken and one has a web across it then you know it didn’t go that way

      3. When you look at a drop of blood on the ground it can tell you alot about what the deer is doing.
      – If it is mainly round in shape the deer was standing still when it fell.
      – If it has little “fingers” on it, the fingers point in the direction the deer was travelling when it fell off of the deer.
      – The longer the “fingers” on the splash of blood, the faster the deer was travelling when the blood drop fell off.

      4. Don’t just look at the ground!
      – Check out bushes up to the height of the deers back as you move down the trail as blood from its sides often rubs off on the leaves.
      – If you know that it was hit on the right side and was NOT a passthrough, then the side of the trail with the blood on it will tell you the direction of travel; in other words, if it was hit on the right and the blood sign is on the left side of the trail the deer was moving in the direction you just came from.

      5. Spiders and other insects love to feed on drops of blood, especially Daddy Long Legs. Look for them if you (or your older eyes) are having trouble finding blood.

      6. Look for tracks or scuffed areas of the trail to see where an animal (hopefully your deer) went by.

      7. And finally, always look ahead, or have someone else look ahead, for the deer. Too many of us have been intent on looking for sign and walk right up on the deer, or right past it. You might miss seeing it or wind up jumping it from its bed. A pair of binoculars can be a useful tool here.


    • shully
      Post count: 3

      One trick, especially in the South, is looking for insects that find the blood trail quickly. Mainly fire ants and Grand Daddy Long Leg Spiders. Also when tracking in a pine forest, as the deer runs,the blood falls at an angle. Angle your light source to be able to pick up blood under the top layer of loose pin straw.

    • JEVANS
      Post count: 15

      Enlist an experienced bowhunter. I have called my Dad and my Uncle (Before he passed) many times to help me find a deer. They each had over 40 years as traditional bowhunters and a great eye for picking up blood trails. One of the greatest traking jobs I have ever seen was by may dad. I hit a 150 inch ten point right at dark. I called my Dad and he immediatly notied that I hit it high and the and the deer wasen’t dead yet. We trailed it for about 500 yards in the dark and sure enough there he was, laying under a tree, still alive. I was able to make a good follow-up shot and recoved my biggest whitetail to date. I would have never found that deer without my Dad’s experience. He found the sign, knew it would still be alive, and tracked it with a weak blood trail in the dark. Unreal. As good a bloodtrailer as I think I am…..I will always call someone better than me in that situation.

    • Daniel
      Post count: 247

      Up here, when someone shoots an animal, we make sure he’s the last one doing the bloodtrailing. We’ve seen too many signs disturbed by the guy that did the shot due to excitement, adrenaline and I think I could name a few other reasons. Slow and steady taking the time to mark with flagging tape, and guess who puts up the flagging tape 🙂 ( of which he remove after we find the animal ).

      Awesome tread !!!!!


    • Bert
      Post count: 164

      This is a great and very informative read- thanks guys!
      Unfortunately this year the only blood I’ve tracked is the selfsustained knife wound on my left thumb- say, that looks suspiciously like white knuckle amidst all the red!- caused by, of course, sheer unadulterated stupidity.
      The Surefire LEDs with 2 lithium batteries REALLY light up the night and run cooler and longer than the bulb type. Anybody ever use or try a blue filter?
      Another salient point- if you see cougar tracks over the blood spore and/or over your quarry’s prints, you can reasonable assume that YOU’RE HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION-Good Luck! Bert

    • William Warren
      Post count: 1384

      There are some good blood trailers on here! I can only add one thing to this thread. The GPS thread made me think of it.
      I always carry a compass with me even in small blocks of woods. (My good friends laugh at me for this) After the shot note the last land mark where you saw the deer and take a compass reading on it. When treestand hunting or in uneven terrain this is valuable since everything looks different down on the ground. Do as you normally would, find the arrow, look for hair, blood, hoof prints and begin trailing. If you get confused or there is no blood you can skip ahead to that landmark you got a fix on with your compass. Just go back to your stand and get a fix on it and go straight to it. If it is a good hit you should pick it up there or may help comfirm a miss. They may laugh at my compass but I have never been lost with it in my pocket and I have lost my bearings trailing deer and used it many times to regain my bearings, sometimes not wanting to believe it!

      PS: Sorry guys, I see Steve McD covered the use of a compass/GPS in the original post 😳

    • Chris Shelton
      Post count: 679

      Snuffornot, I would not laugh about being lost while draggin a deer:shock: that would not be a good day. I have gotten lost before, once with dad, once without, but where I hunt all you have to do is go down the hill, and it will either lead to a river, a trail or a road, follow the river trail or road out and you are good to go.

      Back to getting lost while draggin a deer, I have dragged a deer for a entire 8 hours:shock:, we were not lost, but the deer went down the mountain and dad couldnt drag it back up. So we had to go down, down the mountain was a hiking trail. Unfortunatly the where we hit the hiking trail it was about 10 miles into the woods, and we crossed the creek 13 times. And it took 8 hours. I was only 13 or 14, and all I could really do was hold up the legs-dad had the hard part, although looking back, I had all of our gear, so two packs, and his bow. Definatly a never want to do that again experience.

    • William Warren
      Post count: 1384

      I reckon you and your Dad drug the hair off that one!:D

    • Chris Shelton
      Post count: 679

      actually it wasnt that bad, there was a thick layer of leaves covering the ground, so although that helped with keeping the hair on, it really bunched up around the legs really bad:)

      all these new names, I am not going to know who I am talking too:shock:, just kidding, I know that is you snuffornot-you guys may not know it, but I seriously have a list going here on the desk

    • Bert
      Post count: 164

      Well, Chris, you can add another one to your desk list- HalfaHun-Bert. Good thing is wasn’t an Elk, you would still be out there! It’s a memory with your Dad that you’ll never forget, never want to repeat but always reminiscence about and that is precious.
      I, too, had the disastrous journey with my Dad and others to hike after the elusive California Condor at the age of fourteen- It rained, we weren’t prepared, no fire, two ticks in my neck after spending hours in a wet cotton sleeping bag, and no condors- I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything!

    • Chris Shelton
      Post count: 679

      Well bert you are right, 100%, and I have to say that it definatly made me appreciate the meat ten fold, even thought I already did!

      Desk List:

      O gosh, I will get it though

    • Chris Shelton
      Post count: 679

      P.s, sorry from derailing this amazing thread Steve!?

    • jamesdonahue
      Post count: 9

      I have a terrible time with blood trails, being red-green color blind;; makes me be really careful about my shot and have to go home and get my dog- he is 100%; Just lost him after 18 years and had a rough time this season.

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