Petzal: On Tracking and Losing Game

Those of you who saw my half-hour on the Outdoor Channel heard me claim that I had never lost a head of game that I had shot. This is true, but what I did not have time to add was that, on at least three occasions, if I had not had expert help, I would have. What I've learned about tracking hit animals is: Get down on your hands and knees and crawl if you have to and don't give up.

Very often even a fatal wound will result in very small drops of blood falling very infrequently, and unless you have extraordinary eyesight you'll miss them unless you get down on the ground and look at every leaf, twig, and blade of grass. When you do find blood, mark it with surveyor's tape. After a while, a trail will emerge. (And if you think that blue light will show up blood in the outdoors, you can't prove it by me.)

Fatally-hit animals can go astonishing distances and/or get themselves into spots where it's almost impossible to locate them. Years ago in Alabama, Wayne van Zwoll shot a nice whitetail buck that ran off. Wayne began tracking it at noon, and worked on the trail through the rest of the day and into the night, then picked it up the next morning and stayed with it until evening when he finally found the animal.

Even with that kind of effort it doesn't always work out. About ten years ago in Africa a friend shot an eland that we followed for two and a half days, dawn to dark. Its trail showed that it was eating and drinking, and after a while there was no blood at all, so the trackers said that it would recover from whatever damage had been done to it and we gave up the search.