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The Back 40

Blood Trailing Tips Revisited

Wed, October 02, 2013

Blood trailing revisited.  I wrote this a couple years ago and have been asked to repost it every year.  A little late, but here you go. 
You’ve just arrowed your deer.  What you do immediately following the shot may decide whether you find your deer or not.  Now is the time to keep your head in the game.  Pay attention.  Watch and listen.  Your hunt is far from over.  Here are some trailing trips that may help you find that trophy of a lifetime.  First we must talk about shot placement.  For archers, the only shots to take, in my opinion, are either broadside or quartering away.  They offer the best kill shot opportunities.  Your arrow will have a clear, and virtually unobstructed, path to the vitals.  Yes, you can take a slightly quartering to shot, but remember, you’ll probably be going through shoulder before you ever reach the vitals.  I shot my heaviest buck to date with a slightly quartering to shot.  The shot was only at 11 yards and I was able to blow through the shoulder and still have complete penetration through both lungs.  Head on or straight away shots should never be taken, especially from an elevated position.  I did hunt with one guy years ago in Kentucky who gave his buck a “Texas Heart Shot”.  Let’s just say that you could have looked for the arrow’s entrance hole for hours without ever finding it.  Bullseye.  The entire arrow disappeared and the deer dropped in 30 yards or so.  Though this was a quick kill, there is very little room for error.  How many people are need to track a hit deer?  Two or three is my number.  Any more creates too much noise and activity.  My eyes aren’t what they used to be, so I like to take one of my kids, particularly my son, Jake, who has eagle eyes.  This boy can find the smallest of drops 20 feet ahead of him with a flashlight.  So it’s good to bring someone along with tracking experience and better eyes than you have.  While on a blood trail, there are a few obvious, yet important things, to point out.  Don’t trample all over the sign left by the deer.  Mark the blood trail every so ofter so you can look back and clearly see the path being taken.  Always mark or have your tracking partner stay at the point of last blood.  Be quiet and move slowly.  If you jump the deer, pay attention to its path and see if it beds down again.  Mark that spot and back out quietly.  Give the animal time to expire or stiffen up.  If you’re tracking at night, use a normal flashlight such as a MagLight.  Forget about those red and green blood lights.  In my opinion, they’re worthless.  After the shot, take note if the deer left with your arrow or did you get a complete passthrough?  If he left with your arrow, was there an exit hole?  If you’ve had a complete passthrough, inspect the arrow.  What color is the blood?  How much blood is on the arrow?  A bloody arrow does not mean a dead deer, and a relatively clean arrow does not mean you won’t find your deer.  Some hits leave an arrow caked in blood with very little damage done to the deer.  A high muscle hit may leave a bloodier arrow than any other shot, but your recovery chances are very slim.  A muscle hit like this will leave very bright red blood for the first 100 yards or so, but will then end abruptly.  Human blood clots quickly, but a Whitetail’s blood clots up to four times faster, putting an end to a blood trail quickly at times.  If you have a high muscle hit, it’s best to wait it out for several hours, possibly till the next day (weather permitting).  Hopefully your deer will stiffen up and die or at least allow for a follow-up shot.  Deer react differently to different shots.  Though not all deer will react the same way to the same shot, patterns have certainly developed.  A good solid double lung shot will usually make the deer mule kick and run hard.  Heart shots will usually make a deer run faster than you ever thought a deer could run…usually tail tucked and low to the ground.  Gut shots will almost always hump a deer up.  They may mule kick like a double lung shot, but they’ll leave the area with a noticeable hump in their back.  Though a gut shot deer can travel long distances, they’ll usually stop within the first 100 yards and may even bed down right there.  Leg and ham shots will also make a deer stop after a relatively short distance.  Liver shots are tricky.  Most liver shot deer will either lay down and die within 150 yards, or take you into the next zip code.  So what do you do after each shot?  Here’s how I handle each shot.  By no means am I an expert tracker, I am just a guy who has tracked well over 150 deer…sometimes doing something right and sometimes screwing up royally and hopefully learning something from it.  I take each mistake and file it into my mental Rolodex.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned.  Bright red blood.  For some strange reason it always gets me all excited…followed by a feeling of ‘Oh, oh.”  Bright red blood usually means a muscle hit.  Not to be too negative here, but good luck finding your deer, you’re going to need it.  Muscle hits may leave tons of blood on the ground or none at all, depending on the location of the hit.  If you have tons of blood on the ground, don’t get overly excited.  Continue to track slowly.  Muscles blood will usually come to a fairly abrupt end.  Tons of blood, then a few drops, then nothing.  As I stated above, deer have clotting agents that will clot their blood four times faster than our blood.  Muscle only hits rarely result in death.  Though your deer may have bled a lot, it has to actually lose 45% of its blood to begin the death process.  That’s a lot of blood considering a Whitetail deer has 1 ounce of blood per pound of body weight.  That means your 200 pound (on the hoof) buck will have 6.25 quarts of blood in it.  He will have to lose about 3 full quarts before death can occur.  You know how big of a blood trail I could make with 3 quarts of bright red blood?  That’s why big blood trails can be deceiving, making us wonder how that deer can still be alive.  My rule on muscle hits….leave the deer alone.  Go after him the next day.  One of three things will probably happen by the next day.  Either you’ll find your deer dead within a couple hundred yards, or your deer may stiffen up and hold tight allowing for a second shot, or he’ll heal up to be hunted another day.  Leg shots are tough.  Leg shots can actually kill a deer quickly, especially a rear leg shot.  The femoral artery runs along the back and down through each of the hind legs.  Cut this artery and you’ll open a faucet on the deer.  If you know you have a leg hit, don’t wait.  Keep the deer moving.  Pushing him will keep the wound bleeding.  Letting him lay up will definitely cause the blood trail to end.  Keep him moving till you either get a second shot or he gives up the ghost.  Leg shots will usually produce bright red blood much like a muscle hit.  Gut shots.  Every hunters worst nightmare.  More times than not you’ll get a complete passthrough.  Your arrow will have some blood on it, but not much.  It’ll be covered in watery fluids and gut material and smell like….well….like a gut shot deer.  Do not push a gut shot deer.  If you shot him in the morning, wait till mid afternoon to track.  If you shot him in the afternoon, wait till the next morning.  More deer have been lost due to gut shot deer being pushed than anything else.  If you have a coyote problem like I do, you may find an eaten deer the next day, but pushing it will not help.  Just take your chances with the coyotes and wait it out.  Even with a 24 hour wait, your deer may still be alive, so track slowly and be prepared for a second shot.  Liver shots.  These can be tricky.  Shoot a deer through the liver, and he’s dead.  Nick the liver with one blade, and he’s dead.  The only questions are how much of a blood trail will he leave and how far will he go before expiring?  I haven’t shot that many deer through the liver, maybe 4 or 5, but I’ve learned something from those few occasions.  I even helped a family member track a liver shot deer once.  With a liver shot, you will more than likely get a complete passthrough.  Not much to stop an arrow behind the shoulder.  Your arrow will more than likely be sticking in the ground, covered in blood….dark red blood.  Liver shots always produce that darkest blood.  Don’t look for liver blood to be dark purple, just darker than normal blood.  The liver is a good bleeder and should kill your animal quickly.  Though I have read many times that you should wait at least two hours before picking up the trail of a liver shot deer, I have never seen them live anywhere near that long.  On the side of caution though, wait the two hours.  Don’t push your deer.  A liver-shot deer usually won’t go that far and will have a happy ending.  If your exit hole is low on the body, you should have a fairly easy blood trail to follow, even at night with flashlights.  With a mid body height liver shot, you should still have a decent enough blood trail to follow.  In my experience, all of my liver hit deer have expired in 10 minutes or less and have been pretty good bleeders.  Like I said though, wait the two hours to make sure you end up with your deer.  Lung shots….ah yes, lung shots.  Love ‘em.  That’s what we all aim for.  They’re the biggest vital organ, there’s one on each side, and they bleed like crazy and kill a deer quickly.  Cut just one lung though and you may have a problem.  I’ve been a victim of the one-lung hit more than once.  Deer can actually live for hours, several hours, with only one lung.  They can even travel great distances on a single lung hit, even if not pushed.  I’ve seen single lung hit deer bed within 50 yards of the hit, get up and walk 20 yards, bed down again….do this several more times, then get up and walk 150 yards or more and bed again.  Make no mistake, a single lung hit makes for a dead deer.  But it can also make for a very long tracking job and phone calls to your neighbors for permission to cross fences.  The double lung is what we all want.  Rarely will a double lung hit deer go farther tan 150 yards.  Sure, some may go 400 yards (I had one of those two years ago), but most will be dead in 20 seconds and cover only 75 yards.  When you lung punch a Whitetail, expect to see the deer mule kick….sometimes almost to the point of flipping themselves over vertically.  These deer will run hard and fast.  Once they stop to figure out what just happened, that’s usually their final resting place.  Not always, but usually.  A good double lung shot will cause tremendous blood loss quickly and the deer will be dizzy from a loss of oxygen rich blood to the brain within seconds.  If the deer stops, watch as he will probably spread his legs out to keep his balance….usually a sure sign that he is about to go down.  Keep an eye on him anyway.  Stranger things have happened.  Lunge blood is lighter in color than blood from other parts.  Almost pinkish.  It will also have tiny bubbles of air in it.  Don’t look for big frothy bubbles, just tiny ones.  Sometimes lung blood is almost frothy and can spill out almost with the consistency of a thin shaving cream.  Though not every time, far more times than not a lung hit deer will blow this light colored blood out of its nose as its lungs fill up.  Sprayed blood is a good sign of a dead deer.  Sometimes you can even hear a lunged deer coughing as it tries to clear its lungs.  The deadly double lung shot.  Go for it overtime.  The heart shot.  We usually don’t aim for the heart, it’s just a bonus that occasionally comes with a good lung shot.  Talk about a bleeder.  To hit the heart, you’re guaranteed a low exit hole.  A low exit hole along with a hole in the heart,…Ray Charles could find that deer.  When shot through the heart (and you’re to blame….sorry….80’s reference), deer usually run low and hard with a huge blood trail.  It can look like you opened up a faucet on both sides of the deer.  Plus, unless you somehow shot straight down or at some weird straight on ground angle, you probably also got at least one lung.  You can start climbing out of your stand before he even hits the ground.  But don’t.  Calm your nerves, then climb down.  Don’t ever climb down until you’re completely calmed down.  You just killed a deer.  It’s a good day.  Do’t ruin it.  Like I said, I’m not an expert, but I have learned a few things over the years.  To most of you, this stuff is all obvious and goes without saying.  But hopefully someone gets something out of it.  Everyone have a great season.  Stay safe and kill the buck of your dreams. 
John Soehn