You practiced all year, trained so much, hunted so hard and finally put your arrow or bullet into an animal. Every instinct in your body pushes you to run in the direction you saw that animal travel post shot in order to put your hands on your harvest, but this is a bad idea. Even a mortally wounded animal can run hundreds of yards — if not a mile or two — depending on your shot placement and penetration depth. Putting pressure on this animal too early may reduce your chance of finding it and mess up your blood trailing techniques. This fall, before you go chasing after the animal that you shot, follow some of these steps and tips in order to increase your chance of recovery.
It doesn’t matter if you are shooting a bow, muzzleloader or rifle: placement is vitally important. You want to hit the animals in their vitals — specifically the heart and lungs if you desire a quick and ethical harvest. However, there are a lot of circumstances where this might not happen or occur in the way you want it to. I have shot deer perfectly only to catch the shoulder blade and watch the buck run off with the entire length of the arrow protruding from the shoulder. I have seen hunters shoot a bull with a two-blade broadhead and only penetrate one lung, leaving no blood trail and an elk gaining thousands of feet into the next basin. What is essential in all of these scenarios is that we understand where we hit the animal, what type of penetration we got and how quickly it should take for the animal to expire before taking up the blood trail and trying to recover the game.
There are different rules I set up for various scenarios in order to make sure that I am patient and I will share them with you. You do not have to follow my rules; however, setting up something similar will help you not make some of the mistakes that I made. If I saw the animal drop or heard it crash in the trees, I give it at least 15 minutes after the sound before going to recover my arrow and find the animal. If the shot seemed perfect, but I didn’t see or hear the animal go down, I like to give the animal at least an hour before pursuing it. If I do not know where I hit the animal, but it felt like a good shot, I give the animal multiple hours or, even, on an evening hunt, I will return the next day. If you are honest about your shot placement, you will provide the animal with the right amount of time and increase the chances of recovery. I have seen poorly placed shots on animals where the buck or bull will move a few hundred yards and bed down and die in its sleep. If you are an impatient hunter, that buck or bull may be miles ahead of you as you fumble along a blood trail after a poor shot.
Just after your shot, it is essential to mark your current location and take a picture or a mental picture of where you saw the animal when you shot it. Then, move forward and mark that location as well. I like to take a quick photo because I have had times when I moved forward to find no blood, then started to get confused about where the animal was. If you are hunting with a bow and arrow, always search for the arrow because a well-placed pass-through shot should give you a good indication of shot placement. Marking all of these locations will provide you with a good starting point for your blood trail.
Once enough time has passed and it’s time to start blood trailing, you will look at the place where you shot the animal or the last place you saw the animal before it went out of sight. Hopefully, you have good blood and it is an easy track job; however, this is not always the case — even on well-placed jobs. Animal wounds have been known to close up, especially in fatty areas or on fatty animals, leaving little blood. The trick with blood trailing is to never lose your last blood sign before finding your next one. You can do this by flagging the last blood with a ribbon or having a buddy hold that location as you move to the next spot, essentially leapfrogging down a blood trail. Blood trails will often change in the amount of blood you see as you progress, depending on the speed of the animal. Ultimately, you need to use the blood to tell you a story. If a blood trail starts to peter out, look for other signs such as fresh prints, torn-up ground, broken limbs or other signs that seem out of place; however, do not lose the last blood. Hopefully, the trail leads you right to your harvest.
There are times where the blood trail disappears or was less than stellar right from the start. This is when a grid search method using a GPS and some wounded animal know-how helps. Suppose you have been following a trail and have seen the animal generally on the same elevation for the entire trail. If this is the case, it would make sense to stay on that elevation — even after the blood disappears. You can even perform a grid search on that elevation. The point of grid searching is to look for any new sign such as blood, tracks, disturbed earth or plants and, ultimately, your hope is to grid search right into your dead trophy. It’s essential to cover the area in a way that you are confident that you didn’t miss the animal. I always want to do my best to find any wounded game, especially when I know it was lethally hit. Grid searching is a very effective strategy when working with some hunting buddies on a well-hit animal. It is important to note that a lot of the time wounded animals start acting erratically towards the end of their life as the blood has drained from their body. This may cause them to double back, head straight downhill or pick up speed, hoping to get to their bedding area. Try to think like the wounded animal and you can have good success.
No matter what we are hunting, our end goal is to harvest the animal and bring home meat to our families. This means that once you find your harvest, you need to take care of the meat as soon as possible. Get the animal gutted or the meat off the body using the gutless method to prevent the spread of bacteria and meat spoilage. When the weather is warm, it will be imperative to get the hide off the meat and allow air to cool it as you get it back to the cooler or the butcher’s shop. The last thing you want is to work hard to harvest and find an animal only to lose it all due to negligence and heat.
When hunting anywhere in the world, it is crucial to work hard to become the best hunter you can be. A lethal shot is the best shot on an animal because it makes everything easier, especially tracking the animal. Once you release your arrow or pull the trigger, be sure to assess your shot honestly and give the animal enough time to expire. Mark your shooting location with a GPS and a physical marker and then mark the animal’s location the same way. Once you start blood trailing, pay attention to the animal’s behavior, direction, blood flow and hoof print size. This information will help you paint a story as to what the animal is doing and when and where you might be able to recover it. If the blood runs out or the blood trail is weak to begin with, use the grid searching technique to carefully cover acres at a time and try to recover your harvest. Blood trailing animals is full of ups and downs, optimism and pessimism; however, it becomes all worth it when it ends with a dead animal.
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