By Mark Fike
If you hunt enough, it’ll happen. It is never pleasant and real hunters try hard to avoid the necessity of having to blood trail an animal. We all strive for the perfect humane shot that ends the life of the animal quickly.
Sometimes though, the shot won’t be perfect or the animal moves at the last second or simply does not expire as we wish. So, what do you do in those circumstances?
There are many schools of thought and numerous opinions on whether animals should be tracked immediately or some time should be given for the animal to bed down and expire. In short, each situation is different.
During archery season if I hit a deer and it runs, I generally prefer to give it at least a half hour if not a tad longer before tracking. That can be hard to do. What if it is about to rain? What if coyotes are nearby? There are a lot of what ifs.
If you need to track immediately or not, the basics of tracking that bleeding animal are the same.
First, before moving from the spot where you shot last, take a hard look at your location, where the animal was when it was hit and line up trees or other structure in order to be able to come back to that spot again if necessary.
Close your eyes and visualize what happened when you pulled the trigger or released your arrow. How did the animal act? Replay that moment. Did you listen to hear if the animal stumbled or fell in its haste to get away? Did it get back up? Which way did it run and where was the last place you saw it?
Mark that spot too.
As you begin tracking, go to the spot where the animal was standing. If using an arrow, recover the arrow. Is there hair on it or the ground where the animal was? What color is the hair? That will tell you where you hit the animal.
What color is the blood? Bright blood is usually a good sign provided you did not just nick the animal. Pink froth will indicate lungs. The animal will probably expire very soon. Dark red brown is an indication of a liver shot. This is usually lethal but may take time for the animal to expire. Let it expire and don’t pressure the trail.
Blood with green matter or nuts or other stuff in it means a gut shot. You need to back off and use techniques that I can discuss in a different article.
As you begin tracking, keep in mind that wounded animals usually take a path of less resistance when possible. Keep sharp and ready to shoot again if necessary. Don’t walk all over the trail you are tracking on either. You may need to come back.
Stoop down to look ahead from the animal’s perspective. Lots of blood is a great sign. Little drops here or there mean a long tracking ahead. Sometimes the deer’s cavity will need to fill up first before it starts bleeding bad from exit or entrance wounds.
Is the blood on both sides of the trail? If so, a pass through shot occurred making your job easier. If not, the bullet or arrow likely did not go through. Tougher tracking but not impossible.
Look for blood on grass stems, tree trunks, logs, rocks or anything else. Don’t look just on the ground either. Blood can be located on branches 18 inches up! Mark the last spot of blood and then go ahead and find and mark the next one. Then leap frog the markers. Stop to line up the travel of the animal frequently.
Look for the belly or other portions of the animal when you can. If at night look for glistening blood drops, reflecting eyes, ants congregating on the blood, basically anything that indicates the animal passed through the area.
Be ready to put down an animal that gets up. Even if the animal is down when you approach, be cautious. Animals may lay quiet and then leap to their feet injuring the hunter.
Above all, remember we owe it to the animal to give it our best effort to track it down and not let its life go to waste. Sometimes animals run off and don’t bleed right away. Sometimes you have to look in ever widening circles for signs. I will do another article on that soon. Meanwhile, do your best to make clean shots to put the animal down quickly.
Look for blood. Bright blood means a good shot and a quickly expiring animal.
If you use these tips your result will be a tag notched and meat in the freezer.