Congratulations, you matched wits with a wary pray and delivered a shot. Fist pump in the stand but hold the full celebration as you now have work to do. Finding and recovering your trophy is now the task at hand and we at 1strut have developed this guide for how to blood trail a whitetail deer. We as hunters strive to make a clean shot for a quick and humane kill. In a perfect world the deer expires in sight, but that doesn’t always happen. That is where blood trailing comes into play. It is skill that is learned through experience. We will cover strategies in this guide to help shorten your learning curve.
Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!
Blood trailing is an essential skill a whitetail deer hunter should have in his toolbox. After a good shot, a whitetail deer can run hundreds of yards. Most shots won’t be perfect in the field for a variety of reasons, so it is vitally important that we are able to recover the game we shoot. Everyone has had their own experiences with blood trailing. Some are probably good, and others are probably not so good. Luckily for us, there are several strategies and tips that are available to us that can help us recover our whitetails with greater efficiency and success.
Shot placement is the main factor in determining how long and far your deer will run before expiring. A heart shot deer will be much easier to track compared to a gut shot deer. The times and statistics that follow are a rough estimate and are by no means always going to be what occurs. My rule of thumb is to wait 1 hour before beginning to trail an arrowed deer. For larger North American game such as elk I have a strict 2 hour time limit. You can ask the 1st Rut family I am strict about waiting. Even in the event I see or hear the deer go down, I will wait if the weather is cool.
A heart shot is the best one you can make on a deer because of the short 10 seconds or so it usually takes them to expire. They could get anywhere from 25-200 yards of ground covered when they are heart shot. When shot in the heart, whitetails run as hard as they can and often crash through brush clumsily. The blood you find from a heart shot will usually be a thick, bright red that sprays enough that it will be easy to find and track.
If you see frothy, almost bubbly, crimson blood, you more than likely hit the deer in the lungs. Lung shots are good as long as you hit the lungs are hit squarely. If one is only partially hit, the deer can run for a long time. When shot in the lung, whitetails run as hard as they can. If it was a good double-lung shot, the deer should only have gone roughly a couple hundred yards at most.
If you think you put a liver shot on a deer, you should see dark red blood. If you liver shot a deer, the common advice is to wait anywhere from 2-6 hours. Liver shots will end up being fatal, so there’s no need to worry about a non-lethal wound. The problem with liver shot deer is that if you push them too early, they will run a long way and you risk not recovering your trophy.
No one likes gut shots or strive for gut shots but it happens in the field. If you gut shot your deer, it is recommended to what anywhere from 4 – 10 hours before blood trailing. Because the length of time it takes for the deer to succumb to being shot in the stomach or intestines, it’s recommended to wait anywhere from 4-10 hours before beginning your search for the deer. You should see yellow or brown mixed with the blood, and there might be an odor you can smell as well. Sometimes there will be little to no blood trail. Gut shots can be problematic in warmer temperatures due to spoilage.
With the various shots discussed, we can move on to what we need to consider before we start tracking the deer. Before you begin tracking, think about what you saw and heard right after the shot. Make mental notes of direction and behavior of the deer after the shot. This will give you many hints about where to start looking for your deer. If you saw or heard the deer crashing through brush in a specific direction, it’s always good to remember these kinds of details. Make sure you remember where the deer was shot initially. I use my cell phone to take pictures of the spot from my stand for reference. When you’re sure you’ve waited long enough, get down from the stand and go to where you originally shot the deer.
Once you’re at the location where the deer was originally shot, you can start looking for the trail leading from the initial area. I mark the point of impact with fluorescent flagging material so I can easily reference the impact point. If I saw which direction the deer ran, I know which way to start working. I will slowly follow the blood trail or the direction the deer went marking with flourescent ribbon periodically. Our Backcountry Kill Kit article will give you everything you need to have for post shot harvest. This will allow you to connect the dots of the path the deer followed.
If you didn’t see which way the deer went, look for any blood or signs of disturbance leading away from the site. Work in a grid pattern around the point of impact to determine which direction the deer ran. I prefer to slowly work in 10 ft square areas until I determine which direction the deer ran. From there I mark the trail periodically to allow easy tracking and connecting of the dots if the blood trail runs cold. Always remember to look up periodically, you don’t want to come right up on your wounded deer and spook it. Once you have found your deer, make sure it’s dead. Once the deer is recovered, the celebration is on, enjoy the moment and your harvest!
Every blood trailing experience is different and an opportunity to hone your skills. Don’t get discouraged if you are having trouble. Slowly work in a grid pattern until you find blood and keep marking the trail. If you need, two eyes are better than one so call in help from a friend. Enjoy your time in the field!