Several years ago, in mid-October, I had a doe and two button bucks bed within 40 yards of my treestand location. Shortly before dark, they got up and came within easy range and I put an arrow through the big doe at about 15 yards. I watched her and the buttons run off directly south of my stand, but with the heavy foilage, I lost sight of them about 25 yards out. I waited for about 20 minutes, by which time it had gotten completely dark, and I backed out in the opposite direction (i.e., north). After retrieving my hunting partner who had been hunting about 600 yards away, we went into the location from the north to take up the blood trail. We got on blood at the point of impact, found the arrow, and tracked in a straight line south for about 30-35 yards when we heard something get up about 15-20 yards out front of us. We turned the lights toward the sound and caught a glimpse of a deer, which almost immediately was out of sight, heading due south. We laid down some toilet tissue to mark the last blood sign and backed out.
It was suppose to rain late that night, so I didn't want to wait until the next morning to take up the trail, so we took a chance and went back about 90 minutes later. By now the woods were pitch black; cloud cover and no moon at all. We found the last blood sign and I went out to try and find where the deer had been bedded, expecting to find a pool of blood. I scoured the area for over 20 minutes while my buddy directed me from the place we had been standing when the deer had jumped... I found nothing. I came back and slowly zigged-zagged in a general southerly direction trying to find the blood trail and/or where the doe had been bedded.... after another 15-20 minutes, nothing. Then my partner went out to look while I stayed back and provided some direction... after another 15-20 minutes, nothing. Eventually, I backed up about 15 yards on the original blood trail and followed it up to the point that it seeming ended, and I immediately realized that it turned directly east (i.e., a 90 degree left turn) at the exact point we had been standing when the deer jumped earlier in the evening. I shined my light toward the east and we could see blood clear to a creek bank about 15-20 feet away, which was as far as the light went. The trail dropped into the creek and within about 20 yards there was the doe; she had gone about 60 yards and surely was dead within seconds of the shot. By the time we got the doe out of the woods it was after 10 PM.
I try to learn something every time I follow up a blood trail, but this one was particularly useful. Of course, there was no question in our minds the deer that jumped shortly after we took up the blood trail was the doe I had shot. But, most certainly it was one of the button bucks that had come back and bedded to wait for momma. I had hunted enough, and killed does with young ones before, and new this was something that happens, but forwhatever reason I was unable to get out of my head that it was the doe we jumped. First lesson, when the trail gets tough, question everything, don't make any assumptions. In other words, when the trail seems to end, clear your mind, and suspend belief in what you "know to be true."
Second lesson, if the trail seems to end, retrace your steps, and then follow the trail while considering the possibility that the deer made a sharp turn left or right, or even stopped and backed-tracked before taking a different direction.
Third lesson, whenever possible, get someone to assist in trailing. I can be honest and say that had I been looking for the deer by myself that night, I likely would have given up after spending 40 minutes, much of it on my hands and knees, trying to find where I believed the doe had bedded. Of course, I would have gone back the next morning, but with the weather that came in, there is a good chance the search would have not been successful.