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Blood Trailing

Blood trailing: Five tips for success

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

Grit and determination brought you to this point. Finally, a shot opportunity has presented itself. With innate focus and clarity, you burn a hole through the vitals of the animal. The shot follows and, now, after working so hard for that opportunity, you’ve got another job in front of you. And that is blood trailing. A skill that hunting demands whether making a good shot or not. They don’t always fall over insight. Knowing how to blood trail could mean the difference between recovering an animal and not. The rub here is we are very limited on actually being able to practice this skill. So, I’m going to lay out a few things that I’ve picked up through the years of walking blood trails. With any luck, they’ll help you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow this season.

Hold your horses

You’ve made the shot and are all jazzed up, ready to lay your hands on this animal. While sooner might sound better than later does, we need to put the brakes on. Heading after an animal too quickly is a great way to not find them at all. We need to wait before starting our search. Reassess the situation. Recollect things like how the shot felt if you saw where the bullet/arrow hit and how the animal reacted upon the shot. If you were bowhunting, try to find your arrow to investigate the color of blood. Take the time to try and gather this intel beforehand to have a better understanding of how to approach the next steps.

Hold your horses

After shooting a bear one evening and recovering my arrow, I confirmed it was indeed a liver hit. This is a fatal shot, but I knew I wasn’t going after this bear right away. Upon my arrival the next morning, I’m glad I waited. It was indeed a liver hit and the animal was actually in rigor. Meaning that they perished not too long before my arrival. Had I went right after the bear after the classic 30 minute wait for a lung/heart shot, I likely would have bumped him and possibly never found him after the fact.

Go slower than you’d like

Go slower than you’d like

We’ve shot, assessed the situation and waited. It’s time to start investigating this trail. As much as you want to just run down the trail in the direction the animal ran and quickly find them, this part is really about going slow. And, more accurately, going slower than you’d like. It is downright scary how many details a person can miss if they aren’t paying well enough attention. Blood drips on the backside of rocks, grass and branches are classic examples of this. The little things matter, but the fact of the matter is that they are little and require a little more time and effort to find. Which is precisely the reason you need to search slowly. Obvious blood trails are easy to follow. It’s the tough ones that will test us.

Look ahead of you

When we are following blood or looking for tracks, most of our attention tends to be down. Our eyes are glued to the ground trying to find that next tidbit of positive reinforcement. This is great and that focused attention is needed during times like these. However, it also pays to look up ahead of you a ways, too. Not on the ground, but in the foreground. Hopefully, the animal you’re searching for has perished and is laying motionless just up the way, but that’s not always the case. They could be laying under a tree watching and listening to you coming down their trail. Hearing and seeing this commotion can cause an animal to get back up and go even farther. By looking up ahead of us, we open up the possibility of catching this.

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On a fall bear hunt years ago, I made an unfortunate marginal hit on a bear. After looking all day, I returned the next morning to continue the search. On our hands and knees we crawled down the bear trail following dried blood that fell the day before. Soon, we came across a fresh bed with wet and fresh blood in it. I found one pin drop of blood past that point and never found the bear. I truly believe that the bear heard us coming and simply got up and walked away. And I wonder if we were looking ahead of us if I would have seen the bear and possibly got a follow up shot. I’ll never know.

Stay off of the trail

Stay off of the trail

As you’re meticulously walking down the blood trail, be sure to try and keep your feet off of the actual trail. When we walk through an area, we can disturb the ground quite a bit. Rocks get flipped, sticks break and things fall below the leaf litter. You don’t want to disturb the scene of the crime and not find a vital piece of intel. Abiding by this will be especially handy if you find yourself having to backtrack to the last known blood. Everything will be as it was and you can continue with confidence that you didn’t muck up the area.

Always go back to last blood

Always go back to last blood

The more blood trails you follow, it’s inevitable that you will get hung up every now and again. While these aren’t ideal situations, they happen. When encountering a mental roadblock, the best thing to do is go back to last known blood. The blood tells you where the animal was with 100% certainty. Even if we do it 15 times over again, this is the last breadcrumb we’ve got. And somewhere up ahead from this point, there is another clue. What that clue is, I couldn’t tell you. Could be more blood, a track missed that leads to the next blood drop, a broken stick, etc. Simply going off of a hunch instead of the blood can work, but it is often premature due to our loss of patience. No matter how impatient we get during these uneasy times, always go back to last blood.

I want to point out here that even if an animal is hit good, they can still leave a marginal blood trail. Bears are notorious for this.

It all ends with your patience

It all ends with your patience

At the end of the road — or blood trail for the sake of this article — it really all comes down to your patience. The hunt started with your patience and that’s likely what got you the shot opportunity. It’s only fair that it ends with it. Blood trailing an animal can be somewhat of a painstaking process filled with emotional ebbs and flows around every corner. It is just that though: a process. And an intricate part of that process is our patience. Patience finds the animal. I’ve found that taking a break here and there helps curb my anxiousness and reinvigorate my mental endurance. So stay the course, stay diligent and keep your eyes on the prize. That pot of gold at the end of the “red rainbow” is there somewhere.

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