Losing the first deer I’d ever shot with my bow forced me to understand that knowing how to track a deer with no blood trail should be a top priority.
A cold front had slipped through south Louisiana, and the evening was still, the sun had just started to duck behind the trees. When I spotted two does behind me, I knew exactly where they were headed. The game trail looped around to my right, then cut in front of my stand at 25 yards.
Instead of continuing on and presenting me with a broadside shot, the doe I had targeted started to turn around. But I was determined not to let the opportunity slip by so I pulled off a shot with the deer quartering toward me. I knew I connected when she bolted with her tail tucked, but the angle of the shot was less than ideal.
I waited a half hour, then checked for blood and my arrow. There was no blood at the last place I spotted her, but the leaves were disturbed from her running off. I walked her general direction for a few yards until I found my arrow with some streaks of dark blood and a brown tinge, which meant I had clipped the guts.
After a few hours of waiting, a buddy and I started the search. For 50 yards, we found a speck of blood here, a drop there, then nothing. We were teenagers and not too adept at blood trailing, let alone one as tough as this. And though we spent most of the night on all fours looking for any signs of the deer, we neglected to check watering holes, thickets or take care to properly mark the trail we were following.
That hunt changed me, as I’m sure similar experiences have done to others. I felt ashamed for making a bad shot and even worse for not coming up with the deer. If anything positive came out of the situation, it was my desire to practice more, take cleaner shots and remember to do everything I could when blood trailing a deer to find it.
Locating a deer that’s barely bleeding or not at all is easier said than done. While a pass through shot will often produce blood immediately, an arrow that doesn’t penetrate both sides of the deer can cause the bleeding to take place internally, making the trail minimal. Also, a poorly placed shot may not yield much blood, if any.
Assess Your Shot
If you find some blood near the initial point of impact, but not a defined trail, try to identify the severity of the injury to determine if you should begin your search or wait longer.
Is the blood a rich pink and full of bubbles? Rich and red blood likely means a shot in the vitals, such as the lungs or heart. In this case, the deer will expire soon.
Blood that appears dark and crimson is likely the result of your broadhead hitting the kidneys or liver. While this shot is probably a fatal one, it’s best to back out for at least three hours to give the deer time to lay down and die without pushing it, an all-too-common mistake. Of course, what all bowhunters hate to see is their arrow covered with a yellow or green plant matter, indicating a gut shot. In this case, give the deer the rest of the day or overnight before you begin tracking.
If you’re having a hard time finding any blood at all, check your arrow for signs of a hit. Look for hair or blood on the broadhead or in the fletchings. Often, white hair means you’ve shot low. Dark, coarse hair means a high shot, while thinner, lighter-colored hair is from the side of the deer.
Where to Look Next
You know the deer is hit but can’t find any sign or worse yet, the sparse blood trail fades after 100 yards. If you’ve waited the appropriate amount of time, you can begin searching in the direction it ran.
Since there’s no blood, look for signs of distress by identifying scuffs in the leaves or tracks in mud. This will give you a good sense of direction. Mark signs by hanging a piece of toilet paper, which will wash away in the next rain, from a twig.
There’s a good chance the deer will bed down, so keep an eye in the thickets you come across. A wounded deer will often seek some of the thickest cover available to remain out of sight and give it a view of any approaching predators. If you jump the deer, mark the area and back out to avoid pushing it more. Return several hours later to check the bedding area for blood and resume the search.
Check waterholes, too. A gut shot or wounded deer suffering from dehydration or an elevated body temperature will often seek water. And if you stumble upon an established game trail, it’s likely the deer used it, seeking the path of least resistance.
Don’t Give Up
If you haven’t found blood or tracks after searching for a few hours, return to the last spot you saw the deer or blood and begin a zigzag pattern in the direction it ran. Get as close to the ground as possible, on all fours if needed, to avoid missing any specks of blood or details in the earth.
If you still haven’t located the deer, but know you made a hit, try finding a friend with a tracking dog if your state laws allow it. A last resort is waiting to check the sky for buzzards or listening for the howl of coyotes at night.
Working hard to recover a wounded deer is not only the ethical thing to do, but also presents a valuable learning experience. If you’re anything like me, the next time you’re in the stand you’ll think back to the incident and do everything you can to ensure future opportunities won’t be taken for granted.