Blood Trailing a Deer Shot With a Bow

As a bowhunter, you take preparation serious. So do we. We’re practicing every month of the year. By opening day, our bows are dialed in and we can confidently shoot tight groups up to 40 yards. Of course, our stands are in the best places they can be. Gear is checked, then rechecked to ensure nothing spoils an opportunity.

But it’s what happens after the arrow is released that is truly important. Blood trailing deer shot with a bow is an important skill to know. We have a responsibility to the animals we hunt to dispatch them as humanely as possible and recover them.     

Before the Shot

Be proficient with your bow and have it tuned for shooting broadheads long before you step into the field. Clear shooting lanes and practice from an elevated position if you’ll be hunting from a stand. Also, you must be aware what shots you are capable of making. Make sure you’re confident when the deer steps into range. The key is staving off buck fever and feeling as comfortable as possible when you draw back your bow.

During the Shot

Be able to analyze shot situations quickly. Consider the distance, angle of the deer and its demeanor. A nervous deer will react differently to a shot rather than one that’s calm. Breathe deeply and never take your eyes off the animal.

After The Shot

Be Observant

As soon as you release an arrow, the process of tracking a deer begins. Try to determine where your arrow made contact. Was it high or low? Too far back? This, in addition to watching how the deer reacts, will give the first clues of how to proceed with the recovery. Also make note of where the deer was standing when the broadhead hit and what direction it ran. Keep an eye on the deer until it falls or you can no longer see it. Burn the image of where it was last seen into your memory.

Broadhead to the Vitals

A broadhead to the heart and lungs is optimum for a humane kill. You can tell if you’ve hit the heart by a deer’s reaction: it jumps wildly and kicks back. This immediate reaction is often followed by a hard 30- to 40-yard run. You may see the deer slow, become tipsy and fall. Even if you don’t see the deer go down, listen for a crash. A 30-minute wait is typically long enough before you begin tracking.

With a heart shot, blood may be sparse in the immediate area of impact, but you should see more as you move away from the site. If the arrow passed through, look for long brown or grayish guard hairs. A deer shot in the lungs will usually run hard for 50 to 65 yards before it slows to a walk and eventually falls. Check your broadhead for coarse and brown hair with black tips. You may see air bubbles in the bright, pinkish blood along trail, which usually becomes more prominent the closer you get to the animal. If you hit the deer high in the lungs, there may be little blood to follow, as it takes time to fill the lung cavity with enough blood to discharge externally.

A shot to the vitals makes blood trailing a deer show with a bow an easier task.
A shot to the vitals makes blood trailing a deer show with a bow an easier task.

Broadhead to the Abdomen

A gut shot deer is never ideal, but with patience and proper tracking it can be recovered. During impact, it may hop straight up or simply flinch. Seldom will a deer run hard after being hit in the abdomen. It will more likely wander off a distance that can vary from a few yards to 100. Once it stops, it may stand in place for a few minutes before bedding down.

The hair from this wound is brownish gray and short. The lower the shot is on the animal, the lighter colored the hair will be. The blood trail is usually poor with small pieces of partially digested plant matter. Wait at least four hours before tracking. It may die within an hour if you hit the liver, but don’t risk it. Be patient and if you bump the deer, let it lay overnight.

Broadhead to the Spine

A deer shot in the spine will usually drop in its tracks from paralysis. A second shot will probably be required for a clean kill. The spine is definitely not a target you want to aim for and usually happens when a bowhunter shoots directly under their stand or misjudges yardage.

As a new season starts, it’s important to remember that making the best attempt to recover an animal is just as important as shooting one. It’s a skill we all should work on as diligently as we approach scouting and target practice. It’s simply the right thing to do, and an ethically sound practice to instill in the new generation of hunters.