Even a hard-hit deer can cover lots of ground before it goes down for good. There’s only one certain path that leads to your trophy: Follow the steps below to make the job of following the blood trail easier and increase the probability of recovering every whitetail you shoot.
[BRACKET “1”] Never assume you’ve missed.** Just last year I watched a buck walk away after my shot, seemingly unscathed. He paused in a clearing, looked calmly around for half a minute, then tipped over dead. Until you confirm that you’ve missed the shot, assume you’ve made it.
[BRACKET “2”] Watch the deer carefully as it runs off. You may see blood on the buck’s hide that indicates where your bullet or arrow struck. Body language can also provide clues: paunch-shot deer frequently hunch up, and heart-shot bucks may leap when hit.
[BRACKET “3”] Memorize two locations before leaving your position: Point A is where the buck stood as you shot, and Point B is the last landmark you saw him pass.
[BRACKET “4”] Go immediately to Point A and search for blood. If none is present, walk slowly toward Point B until you find some. Mark the blood trail with surveyor’s tape or reflective markers.
[BRACKET “5”] Analyze the blood. The presence of bubbles means a lung shot. Green or yellow matter within the blood indicates a hit to the paunch. Very dark red blood suggests the bullet went through muscle.
[BRACKET “6”] Proceed on the blood trail now if you’re certain the hit was immediately fatal. Otherwise, wait several hours (on morning hunts) or overnight (on evening hunts). The exception is if you expect major precipitation, which could wash away the blood.
[BRACKET “7”] Go slowly and mark the trail every several yards. If the blood diminishes, this will help you determine the buck’s likely path.
[BRACKET “8”] Remain patient if blood becomes difficult to find, and try these two tricks: (A) Stand at the last drop, look behind you at your marked trail, then project it forward. The next blood is apt to be along this line. (B) Make small circles ahead and to the sides of the last sign of blood, searching for further evidence. Gradually expand the size of this cloverleaf pattern until you pick up the trail again.
[BRACKET “9”] Keep at it. Recruit some buddies if need be. And when you find your buck, take some time to consider exactly what he did and where he went after the hit. Wounded whitetails exhibit similar behaviors. The more you learn from each buck you recover, the more readily you’ll find the next one.