Shots at deer don’t always go as planned, and every bowhunter who chases whitetails long enough will eventually be faced with a difficult blood trail. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t hit the panic button — these tips can help you recover your deer even when the odds are stacked against you.
Where legal, a tracking dog is the best solution for expediting the recovery of your deer. If you’re not confident about the shot, it’s best to trust your gut and call a tracking dog immediately. Don’t try to follow the blood without the dog, as doing so can contaminate the trail and make it more confusing for the dog to follow. Contrary to popular belief, tracking dogs don’t need blood on the ground to follow a specific deer. Instead, they’ll pick up on the individual deer’s interdigital gland located on its hoof to stay on track, eventually leading to your deer. Learn more about game recovery dogs here, including United Blood Trackers, an organization dedicated to promoting resource conservation through tracking dogs trained in the ethical recovery of big game.
When the going gets tough, it’s helpful to add a visual aid to your tracking efforts. Marking the trail with flagging tape tied to tree limbs or shrubs at various locations where you’ve found blood will help you visualize the direction the deer is headed. Space your flagging tape out every 15 yards or so. Even if you run out of blood, reviewing flagging tape will help you predict the animal’s next move, and it just might lead you to a dead deer at the end of a nonexistent blood trail. Don’t forget to take down the flagging tape when you’re done. Littering isn’t cool.
A grid search is the last resort for many bowhunters when the blood trail dissipates. As the name implies, a grid search involves walking an area down and back in a grid pattern to make sure no section of the property is left unsearched. The key to a successful grid search is tracking your path, a function that nearly all popular mapping applications offer. Make sure your grid is spaced evenly, and don’t be deterred by thick cover. Wounded deer can crawl into tight spaces before expiring, and a well-executed grid search is among the best ways to find them.
If you wound a deer and are having trouble recovering it, be sure to let other hunters in the area know what happened. Talk to your neighbors and other hunters and even consider leaving a note at the parking lot if you’re hunting public land. I’ve heard stories on more than a few occasions of other hunters recovering a buck shot by someone else and returning it to the hunter all because they did their due diligence in spreading the word.
If all else fails, keep on the lookout for scavengers that might yield clues to a dead animal in the area. Obnoxious blue jays, circling vultures and howling coyotes are just a few of the opportunistic critters that are first on scene when there’s an unclaimed dead animal in the woods. It’s worthwhile to check out any area scavengers might lead you to. Be especially keen to the smell of rotting meat. While the animal would certainly be spoiled, the closure of knowing what happened to the deer and notching your tag gives peace of mind and, hopefully, a lesson learned for next time. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to game recovery. Bowhunters need to be creative and resourceful, especially on blood trails that are difficult to navigate.