Tips for Blood Trailing Deer…and Finding Them
Let’s imagine it’s deer season and you just shot a deer. Maybe your first. Great news, right? The bad news is you didn’t see or hear it fall. Now you have an agonizing dilemma on your hands and an important decision to make. Do you climb down and take up the deer blood trail right away or give the deer more time to expire? Your decision may impact whether you find the deer or not. So before you start blood trailing deer, especially if it’s your first time doing so, here are some important questions you need to answer.
- How did the deer react? Was it running instead of bounding? Was it stumbling and crashing through the underbrush instead of jumping over it? Those are both usually good signs.
- How did you feel about the shot? Were you shaking from nerves, or were you very calm and relaxed?
- How were the weather conditions? High winds can affect arrows and bullets alike and may steer them off-course.
Difference Between Archery and Firearms
First, there are some key differences with blood trailing deer between bow hunting and using a firearm.
- Looking at the blood color and consistency is easier in many ways when bow hunting. Usually, your arrow is still at the site of impact (assuming it passed through the deer). You can inspect the blood on the arrow to get a better idea of where you shot a deer. Also, bow hunting relies on the broadhead cutting a large surface area so that the deer will bleed out quickly, and so it generally leaves a lot of evidence.
- On the other hand, you can’t exactly find a bullet to inspect it after you shoot, so you will need to look at the blood on the ground or surrounding vegetation instead. Firearms rely on trauma and shock to kill an animal, and sometimes leaves less of a blood trail, especially if the bullet doesn’t pass all the way through. Although if you hit it low (in the case of a heart shot) and it comes out the other side, there should be no shortage of a blood trail.
In my experience, you will typically find a better blood trail when bow hunting than when rifle hunting. Another benefit of bow hunting deer is that you can use lighted nocks to help pinpoint where you hit. Instead of a typical nock on the end of your arrow, lighted nocks turn on when you shoot, leaving a bright light trail for your eyes to follow. Even in the daylight, lighted nocks help you see exactly where you hit a deer, based on where the light blinks out on the deer’s body. It’s even more pronounced in dimmer conditions.
Blood Color, Consistency, and Pattern
Looking at the color and consistency of any blood you find (on the ground, vegetation, or your arrow) can help you make the right decision when blood trailing deer. Depending on which organ your arrow or bullet penetrates, the blood color, consistency, and pattern will be different. Here’s a rough sketch of the various organs for a visual picture.
When it comes to reading the deer sign and figuring out how to blood trail a deer, here are some different scenarios you’re likely to encounter. In addition to your weapon, make sure you carry some basic tracking gear with you, such as a compass, some flagging tape/toilet paper, a knife, a drag rope, and a flashlight (if it will be dark).
Rich, bright red, and sprayed on the vegetation or ground…
You very likely made a heart shot. If you’ve waited the minimum 20 minutes, the deer almost certainly died 19 minutes ago. Proceed following the blood trail slowly.
Bright reddish pink and frothy…
That should be a lung shot. In many cases, heart and lung shots can be combined, and this is obviously a very fatal shot. While the deer is likely already dead, you may have only clipped one lung depending on the angle of the shot. I tend to wait another 15 minutes before taking up the trail when I see bubbles, as you can see in the photo below.
Dark red or maroon colored and watery…
This might indicate a liver shot. A liver shot deer is still going to die, but you need to wait a while longer – plan on another two hours to be safe. Either climb back into your tree stand or sneak back out and return non-essential hunting gear to your vehicle while you wait.
Brown/yellow/green, watery, and putrid-smelling…
This is never a good sign. You likely hit the deer in the intestines or stomach (called a “gut shot” or “paunch shot”). Shooting a deer in the guts will still probably be fatal (deer usually die from septic shock), but if you want any hope of finding that deer, back out quietly and return several hours later. Most wounded deer will bed down within 150-200 yards, and as long as you don’t push them, they should stay (and die) there too.
If there’s no rain in the forecast (which would ruin the blood trail) and the weather is cold enough (so the meat wouldn’t spoil), consider letting it go overnight before you start blood trailing deer. There’s a risk here if you live where the coyote or wolf population is high, and you may find a half-eaten deer in the morning. On the other hand, if you track a deer before it expires, you will likely jump them from their bed and may never see it again. In some cases, it may make more sense to just back out and cross your fingers.
Red and heavy at the site of impact, but slows to drops quickly afterward…
This is likely a muscle shot. You probably hit the neck or the front leg. It tends to bleed heavily at first, but it clots up and produces only thin droplets from there on, which usually dribble down right within the tracks. This is one time you can take a calculated risk. If you continue to pursue this deer quickly, the wound may continue to bleed. Whereas if you let this deer lie in a bed, it may clot up and you won’t be able to follow it any further. It’s risky, but worth the risk with marginally-fatal shots.
Blood Trailing Deer
If you judge the situation correctly, you can have a much easier tracking job ahead of you. But there are never guarantees, so don’t get complacent. Even if you see lots of frothy, bright red blood, you should still take your time tracking the deer, and keep your eyes up to scan ahead. With any luck, you’ll find it just a short ways down the trail. Then you can feel the emotions that come with tracking a deer and walking up to it for the first time.
The last step is getting it back home and preparing some delicious venison meals with the animal you successfully hunted and tracked. And that makes the experience that much more meaningful.