Much has been written about tracking and trailing white-tailed deer over the years, but a few points are often overlooked. Successful blood trailing doesn’t require complicated strategies, but it does require that hunters pay close attention to simple details.
Incorporate the following five rules into your game plan, and you’ll drastically improve your trailing success rate.
Blood Trailing Tip 1: Use a compass.
A simple compass reading just after the shot can point you in a straight line toward your dead deer. A lot of guys merely use the sun’s position in the sky for direction. That can provide a ballpark estimate, but it’s not as reliable as a compass reading. Most smartphones have a built-in compass. Use it. It is extremely helpful when standing in the woods, because our best guesses on direction are usually a little bit off.
Blood Trailing Tip 2: Never, ever assume.
Trying to think like a deer is a good strategy for finding stand sites, but it’s highly inaccurate when following a blood trail. Some hunters claim wounded deer won’t climb hills, cross open fields or wade streams. Nonsense. Deer do not possess rational thought. Rule out nothing, and literally leave no stone unturned when searching for blood.
Blood Trailing Tip 3: Don’t obsess.
Never give up on a blood trail just because it’s sparse. That’s a huge mistake. Many hunters assume a deer isn’t fatally wounded when they’ve trailed it a few hundred yards and only found sporadic droplets. Deer have thick layers of tallow along their backstraps, as well as around their organs. Fat can easily plug a wound, making the resulting blood trail seem like it came from a superficial wound.
While bowhunting a few years ago, I shot a mature buck high through one lung and low through the other. The deer wheeled and sprinted about 200 yards into a thick clearcut. He died within a minute, but it took us three hours to unravel his blood trail. The arrow was coated with tallow, and the blood trail was nothing more than a few drops every 10 yards or so. The exit wound, near his armpit, was completely plugged with fat.
Legendary outdoor writer Jim Casada told me of a similar blood trail he experienced while gun-hunting at Alabama’s White Oak Hunting Plantation. Casada said the shot felt good, but there was little visual evidence that he actually hit the deer, even though his hunt was caught on film. After searching for 30 minutes, Casada and expert guide Bo Pitman found some hair. “Still, there was no blood at the site of the shot, and for 50 yards nothing,” Casada said. “Then, Bo found single drops at six or eight places, none of them closer than 10 yards to the previous one. A couple of broken sticks and one stagger spot helped, and finally, 150 yards later, he found where the deer had stood and bled maybe 15 drops. Ten yards later, almost all of this was in a dense thicket, he found the deer. My shot had been near perfect, but something, probably some bone or cartilage, had stopped up the holes.”
Blood Trailing Tip 4: Put your pride aside.
Under the “it’s not sexist if it’s true” department: Overall, women are better than men at seeing blood on the ground. If you don’t believe me, take your wife, daughter or girlfriend on your next blood trail and test this hypothesis for yourself. I was absolutely amazed when I took my wife on her first blood-trailing excursion.
Tracy’s keen eyes helped me find a deer I might have very easily given up on. Since then, she has unraveled many puzzling trails. Her ability to find pin-sized blood droplets in pine needles is flat-out amazing.
In fact, an Arizona State University study concludes that women possess a gene that allows them to see varying shades of red much better than men. According to the researchers, the gene is linked to the X chromosome. Because women have two X chromosomes (men have just one), their ability to see into the red/orange spectrum is believed to be twice as good as men.
According to a report in the American Journal of Human Genetics, Dr. Brian Verrelli and Dr. Sarah Tishkoff made the conclusions after studying DNA samples from nearly 250 men from various countries. The report also noted that while 8 percent of all men are colorblind, few women suffer from the malady because their twin X chromosomes all but prevent it.
Blood Trailing Tip 5: Take some measurements.
Depending on region and age, white-tailed deer stand about 36 inches high at the shoulder. Some Southern deer are a few inches shorter, while some Northern deer are a tad taller. This information helps the hunter gauge a wound’s location when he’s following a blood trail through high vegetation.
If you’re finding consistent blood smears 30 inches high or higher on saplings and such, chances are the arrow or bullet entered high through the lungs or possibly missed them altogether. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as an empty space between the spine and the lungs.
According to respected deer researcher Jay McAninch, formerly of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a deer’s chest cavity is pressurized, and any disruption of these sensitive membranes will cause death in a whitetail, but it might take longer than usual. However, that’s the topic of another section. In short, if the blood trail indicates a high hit, be prepared for the possibility of a longer tracking effort.
— — —
Get even more streaming deer hunting content to your mobile device with the new, free app from Pursuit Channel. Download it today and begin watching all of your favorite deer hunting shows right now (including Deer & Deer Hunting and Destination Whitetail!)
— — —