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The Key to Blood Trailing is ... Blood

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November 01, 2012

The Key to Blood Trailing is ... Blood

By Dave Hurteau

This, under normal conditions, would be obvious to everyone. But shooting a deer can cause your adrenal gland to squirt gobs of high-octane, liquid dopiness—or epinephrine—up into your frontal lobe. So instead of staying on a hit deer’s blood trail, way, way too many hunters go bumbling out ahead, muttering things like “I’ll bet he went on this trail” and “He’s probably going to water” and “Are those scuff marks in the leaves up there?”

None of you do this, of course. But you know someone who does. You must, if the fairly shocking number of blood-trail bunglers I’ve run into is any indication. In the understandable excitement and stress of trailing a hit deer, some folks need something very simple to remember. Here’s what I suggest: STAY…ON…THE…BLOOD!

Even when the blood trail seems to end, stay on it. Because when you’re standing over the “last drop” and wondering where the deer went, nine times out of ten the answer lies not somewhere out in front of you, but somewhere near your feet. Look closer. Get on your hands and knees. Be very, very patient. The deer may have taken a hard turn or doubled back a little. Comb the immediate area and take all the time you need to find that next drop. It may lead to another, which may lead to your deer.  

Now, we all know that this does not always lead to the deer, and we can discuss what to do after you’ve exhausted any hope of finding more blood. But the point for now is this: Folks would put a lot more venison in the freezer if they began each blood-trailing session with a simple determination to stay on the blood. 

Comments (21)

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from bruisedsausage wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

As a still hunter I always carry a roll of "Marking Ribbon". It's cheap, doesn't weigh much, and can be extraordinarily useful.(like marking the last known location of blood, while you scout ahead for more blood)

Good info Dave.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

You are exactly right but the temptation is to jump ahead. Once you lose that last drop you are done for. You need to mark it in sone way with tape as mentioned earlier by bruised sausage or some other item.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bryan01 wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

my favorite "marking ribbon" is a roll of toilet paper. Usually very easy to see (and looking backwards when your stuck shows the overall path of the deer and can be very helpful) and distengrates in the first rain so you don't have to worry about going back and collecting it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jcarlin wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I can tell you the results can be worse than not finding your deer. A few years ago I had tagged out early and opted to head out to another hunter's stand to see if he needed a hand or just the company of another human if he was so lucky as to need to drag out. I got within 600 yards of his stand with 15 minutes of light left and decided to cool my heals and wait to be sure I wasn't going blow his hunt. Sure enough I heard him shoot a few minutes later. Gave him 20 minutes in case he needed a follow up or he was letting a deer lie, then pushed up to him. Nowhere to be found. Light cover of snow on ground and I followed the most crisp set until it came to blood. My buddy had apparently heard a report of heavy snow and so was pushing hard after the deer for fear that if he held back the snow would cover any trail. I followed him for next couple of hours slowly through a lot of heavy laurel growth and got into the habit of following boot prints and not looking for blood. Suddenly in the darkness and mountain laurel about 20 yards ahead I heard the unmistakable sound of an irritated bear. At some point in the growth(where snow cover was very spotty), the bear had crossed my buddy's tracks. The double tread of the bear's paws looked similar enough in size in the light of my dim flashlight that I mistook them for Bob's size 13 boots. I quickly doubled back until I found where I made my mistake and then continued to follow the right trail. At all times keeping an eye out to be sure the tracks I were following were on the blood.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jcarlin wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I failed to mention that I may have pooped just a little.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from bruisedsausage wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I can't recommend using "white" TP as a marker and would very strongly recommend not using it! Here's why;
There are a lot of irresponsible hunters. More than one person has been shot because the other hunter saw "white" flashing and took a shot. I personally don't want to risk that.
Number 2. White TP might be good if there is no snow, but here there is often snow on the ground during season. White TP against a white background is horrible for visibility.
Number 3. If it's not snowing here it's generally raining. Your marker would be disintegrating as you went.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntnow wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I've been down this road more times than I care to remember. Twice after deer and once, recently, after a very nice elk. None of them shot by myself and all three with miserable expandable broadheads. All three times ended in my deciding the animals would either live or travel to the next county before expiring. I have employed the hands and knees method everytime. When you run out of blood, 99 times out of 100, you may as well go home or nock another arrow. Having said that, I will always be amazed at the tracking abilities of men more experienced than myself. I recently followed a man, whom I thought was taking the "I'll be the went on this trail" route to another very nice elk. It was about 150 yards beyond last blood in thick growth and timber.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Douglas wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Gad, I can't think of anything worse than trying to follow blood spots in wet weather at night. I have taken to leaving the woods well before last light to avoid the temptation to shoot in failig light.
My friend and I followed a seemingly well hit deer from 6pm till 3am. On hands and knees with flahlights. We lost it when it swam a beaver pond and we could not pick up the blood on the other side.
Never found another trace of it afterwards either.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steve in Virginia wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I've become the resident tracker on our deer lease. Staying on the blood is critical, and having the patience to carefully scrutinize the ground in front of you for even the smallest pin drop is essential. My first deer of the season was a large doe hit a little too far forward by my arrow. She left no blood trail as she ran into a corn field. It was an afternoon hunt and night came on quickly. So I had to track her, through a corn field, in the dark, with no blood trail, save for an occasional swipe of blood on a corn stalk. I found her, but it was a combination of the occasional blood sign, perceived disturbance in the corn rows, gut instinct and patience.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from vtbluegrass wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

The excitement tracker is exactly why I only ask certain people for help or will tell certain people I hunt with to keep hunting and I got it. Nothing like being on blood and having some fool running around in front of you just looking around. Certain hunting buddies know how its done and some just kick over leaves while declaring "I don't see it". Finding deer for others can be very telling of their recovery efforts and skill as a hunter.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Losing confidence in a trail due to lack of blood is the biggest mistake trackers make. Good article, Dave.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RiverBuck wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Opening morning of the MI archery season I hit an 8 pt a little further back than I had wished for. Once I got down from my stand I tracked the deer for about 100 yards and decided I should head back to the house to give it some time, as the blood trail became very hard to track. I called a good friend of mine to come help me find my deer, after another 50 yards on the trail of where I left off, we lost all sign of blood. I just couldn't seem to leave the area of last blood, whereas my buddy is one of "those guys" that just starts wondering and trying to think like the deer. I am thankful for him coming that day because he found the buck 150 yards from the last sign of blood, sometimes it's good to have both "types" of trackers after the same result. Who knows, without him I may have been empty handed!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from woodsdog wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Yes, stay on the blood. We all get lazy. I agree about the dopiness of the shooter and the anxiety of trying to get the deer NOW after you shot it. I always like a trusted and experienced buddy to be the lead on a blood trail. They didn't shoot the animal so they have less to lose, which makes them more objective and patient. It can be very tedious at times, especially with a marginal shot.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ALJoe wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

For sure be careful of which buddies you take with you on tracking adventures. I've seen my fair share of "roamers" that disturb the sign. I find it best to always let the person that does the shooting to take the lead on tracking unless he asks you to take charge. After all it is his deer. If you know that the shooter has no clue on how to track a wounded deer, find things to keep him busy and out of the way. Make him think it is vitally important to go back to the truck to get something, go back and study the first blood for any tell tale sign that may tell where the shot was, etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenneth J PeKarek wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Years ago I used the line from a archery string tracker while following a blood trail for myself or when helping a fellow hunter who asked my help. Now I just have a ball or roll of kite string in my outer pocket. As I walk it peels off about waist high in the brush or trees as I move. In looking back you can easily see the string and the general direct of the animal it is moving or if there is a shift either right or left, thus keeping you aware of the direction it is moving. I agree about over-anxious trackers who wipe out the (sometimes) decreasing blood trail by moving ahead or around your trail. Usually we work with one on the blood and the other off to the side constantly looking ahead or around but never moving in front of the main tracker.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave Hurteau wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

RiverBuck,
There's no question that once you've exhausted all hope of finding more blood, you have no choice but to--and should--start circling or clover-leafing and looking for the deer itself, carefully checking blowdowns and thickets and low, wet, areas where a hard hit deer is apt to lay up. At some point, you have to become a roamer, and sometimes you do indeed get lucky and find the deer.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from mcrumrine wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

What My dad taught me is stay on the blood. When you get to that last spot (by then you usually know how far apart the drops are) starts circling the last spot you found in ever expanding circles. Chances are you will either find the nest spot, or (in both occaisions I have had to do this) the expired animal.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pray- hunt-work wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

On two of my last three tracking adventures I used the maps app on my Iphone. It uses google earth and your current position, so I placed a marker pin on my map where each significant blood was found and watched the trail from an over head perspective. I also use flagging tape to mark in a more conventional and very necessary way. I agree with most all of thee above, keep the speed trackers away, always keep in mind what type of shot it was ie. left side exit, right side exit and so on. Always exhaust last blood before you start circling. I don't know how many times I've literally stumbled over the animal I was tracking because I was so fixed on looking for blood rather than an animal. Also swallowing your pride and allowing the best set of eyes, and most experienced tracker take over even though we would all like to find the game ourselves. It's not about us at that point, it becomes about the animal when you decide to load your weapon.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from brentru wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

Bringing a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide may also help identify a faint blood trail. When it comes in contact with blood it will bubble up.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from steve182 wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

Dave, While tracking a deer earlier this year in thick woods with thick briars where it is easy to get turned around, i used my gps ( which i rarely use). We looked that night and the next morning. After i found the deer, where our blood trail ran dry after 75yds,(the deer had gone another 75 yds) I looked at my gps. The pattern was an exact clover leaf, inadvertantly, or instinctively i guess.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from graycoyote wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

In South Georgia ,where it rarely snows,using Toilet Paper is the best option for marking the Blood Trail. You can mark each spot of blood and look back to see a clear direction. It also helps when the blood runs out to give something to follow around when circling to pickup the blood trail or find the animal.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from jcarlin wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I failed to mention that I may have pooped just a little.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from bruisedsausage wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

As a still hunter I always carry a roll of "Marking Ribbon". It's cheap, doesn't weigh much, and can be extraordinarily useful.(like marking the last known location of blood, while you scout ahead for more blood)

Good info Dave.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bryan01 wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

my favorite "marking ribbon" is a roll of toilet paper. Usually very easy to see (and looking backwards when your stuck shows the overall path of the deer and can be very helpful) and distengrates in the first rain so you don't have to worry about going back and collecting it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

You are exactly right but the temptation is to jump ahead. Once you lose that last drop you are done for. You need to mark it in sone way with tape as mentioned earlier by bruised sausage or some other item.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steve in Virginia wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I've become the resident tracker on our deer lease. Staying on the blood is critical, and having the patience to carefully scrutinize the ground in front of you for even the smallest pin drop is essential. My first deer of the season was a large doe hit a little too far forward by my arrow. She left no blood trail as she ran into a corn field. It was an afternoon hunt and night came on quickly. So I had to track her, through a corn field, in the dark, with no blood trail, save for an occasional swipe of blood on a corn stalk. I found her, but it was a combination of the occasional blood sign, perceived disturbance in the corn rows, gut instinct and patience.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RiverBuck wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Opening morning of the MI archery season I hit an 8 pt a little further back than I had wished for. Once I got down from my stand I tracked the deer for about 100 yards and decided I should head back to the house to give it some time, as the blood trail became very hard to track. I called a good friend of mine to come help me find my deer, after another 50 yards on the trail of where I left off, we lost all sign of blood. I just couldn't seem to leave the area of last blood, whereas my buddy is one of "those guys" that just starts wondering and trying to think like the deer. I am thankful for him coming that day because he found the buck 150 yards from the last sign of blood, sometimes it's good to have both "types" of trackers after the same result. Who knows, without him I may have been empty handed!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from woodsdog wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Yes, stay on the blood. We all get lazy. I agree about the dopiness of the shooter and the anxiety of trying to get the deer NOW after you shot it. I always like a trusted and experienced buddy to be the lead on a blood trail. They didn't shoot the animal so they have less to lose, which makes them more objective and patient. It can be very tedious at times, especially with a marginal shot.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenneth J PeKarek wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Years ago I used the line from a archery string tracker while following a blood trail for myself or when helping a fellow hunter who asked my help. Now I just have a ball or roll of kite string in my outer pocket. As I walk it peels off about waist high in the brush or trees as I move. In looking back you can easily see the string and the general direct of the animal it is moving or if there is a shift either right or left, thus keeping you aware of the direction it is moving. I agree about over-anxious trackers who wipe out the (sometimes) decreasing blood trail by moving ahead or around your trail. Usually we work with one on the blood and the other off to the side constantly looking ahead or around but never moving in front of the main tracker.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave Hurteau wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

RiverBuck,
There's no question that once you've exhausted all hope of finding more blood, you have no choice but to--and should--start circling or clover-leafing and looking for the deer itself, carefully checking blowdowns and thickets and low, wet, areas where a hard hit deer is apt to lay up. At some point, you have to become a roamer, and sometimes you do indeed get lucky and find the deer.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from brentru wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

Bringing a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide may also help identify a faint blood trail. When it comes in contact with blood it will bubble up.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jcarlin wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I can tell you the results can be worse than not finding your deer. A few years ago I had tagged out early and opted to head out to another hunter's stand to see if he needed a hand or just the company of another human if he was so lucky as to need to drag out. I got within 600 yards of his stand with 15 minutes of light left and decided to cool my heals and wait to be sure I wasn't going blow his hunt. Sure enough I heard him shoot a few minutes later. Gave him 20 minutes in case he needed a follow up or he was letting a deer lie, then pushed up to him. Nowhere to be found. Light cover of snow on ground and I followed the most crisp set until it came to blood. My buddy had apparently heard a report of heavy snow and so was pushing hard after the deer for fear that if he held back the snow would cover any trail. I followed him for next couple of hours slowly through a lot of heavy laurel growth and got into the habit of following boot prints and not looking for blood. Suddenly in the darkness and mountain laurel about 20 yards ahead I heard the unmistakable sound of an irritated bear. At some point in the growth(where snow cover was very spotty), the bear had crossed my buddy's tracks. The double tread of the bear's paws looked similar enough in size in the light of my dim flashlight that I mistook them for Bob's size 13 boots. I quickly doubled back until I found where I made my mistake and then continued to follow the right trail. At all times keeping an eye out to be sure the tracks I were following were on the blood.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bruisedsausage wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I can't recommend using "white" TP as a marker and would very strongly recommend not using it! Here's why;
There are a lot of irresponsible hunters. More than one person has been shot because the other hunter saw "white" flashing and took a shot. I personally don't want to risk that.
Number 2. White TP might be good if there is no snow, but here there is often snow on the ground during season. White TP against a white background is horrible for visibility.
Number 3. If it's not snowing here it's generally raining. Your marker would be disintegrating as you went.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntnow wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

I've been down this road more times than I care to remember. Twice after deer and once, recently, after a very nice elk. None of them shot by myself and all three with miserable expandable broadheads. All three times ended in my deciding the animals would either live or travel to the next county before expiring. I have employed the hands and knees method everytime. When you run out of blood, 99 times out of 100, you may as well go home or nock another arrow. Having said that, I will always be amazed at the tracking abilities of men more experienced than myself. I recently followed a man, whom I thought was taking the "I'll be the went on this trail" route to another very nice elk. It was about 150 yards beyond last blood in thick growth and timber.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Douglas wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Gad, I can't think of anything worse than trying to follow blood spots in wet weather at night. I have taken to leaving the woods well before last light to avoid the temptation to shoot in failig light.
My friend and I followed a seemingly well hit deer from 6pm till 3am. On hands and knees with flahlights. We lost it when it swam a beaver pond and we could not pick up the blood on the other side.
Never found another trace of it afterwards either.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from vtbluegrass wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

The excitement tracker is exactly why I only ask certain people for help or will tell certain people I hunt with to keep hunting and I got it. Nothing like being on blood and having some fool running around in front of you just looking around. Certain hunting buddies know how its done and some just kick over leaves while declaring "I don't see it". Finding deer for others can be very telling of their recovery efforts and skill as a hunter.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Losing confidence in a trail due to lack of blood is the biggest mistake trackers make. Good article, Dave.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ALJoe wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

For sure be careful of which buddies you take with you on tracking adventures. I've seen my fair share of "roamers" that disturb the sign. I find it best to always let the person that does the shooting to take the lead on tracking unless he asks you to take charge. After all it is his deer. If you know that the shooter has no clue on how to track a wounded deer, find things to keep him busy and out of the way. Make him think it is vitally important to go back to the truck to get something, go back and study the first blood for any tell tale sign that may tell where the shot was, etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mcrumrine wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

What My dad taught me is stay on the blood. When you get to that last spot (by then you usually know how far apart the drops are) starts circling the last spot you found in ever expanding circles. Chances are you will either find the nest spot, or (in both occaisions I have had to do this) the expired animal.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pray- hunt-work wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

On two of my last three tracking adventures I used the maps app on my Iphone. It uses google earth and your current position, so I placed a marker pin on my map where each significant blood was found and watched the trail from an over head perspective. I also use flagging tape to mark in a more conventional and very necessary way. I agree with most all of thee above, keep the speed trackers away, always keep in mind what type of shot it was ie. left side exit, right side exit and so on. Always exhaust last blood before you start circling. I don't know how many times I've literally stumbled over the animal I was tracking because I was so fixed on looking for blood rather than an animal. Also swallowing your pride and allowing the best set of eyes, and most experienced tracker take over even though we would all like to find the game ourselves. It's not about us at that point, it becomes about the animal when you decide to load your weapon.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from steve182 wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

Dave, While tracking a deer earlier this year in thick woods with thick briars where it is easy to get turned around, i used my gps ( which i rarely use). We looked that night and the next morning. After i found the deer, where our blood trail ran dry after 75yds,(the deer had gone another 75 yds) I looked at my gps. The pattern was an exact clover leaf, inadvertantly, or instinctively i guess.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from graycoyote wrote 1 year 23 weeks ago

In South Georgia ,where it rarely snows,using Toilet Paper is the best option for marking the Blood Trail. You can mark each spot of blood and look back to see a clear direction. It also helps when the blood runs out to give something to follow around when circling to pickup the blood trail or find the animal.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment