Although we tend to discuss well-placed shots from a long gun or bow as the key to successful hunting, there is actually another skill we need to develop at the same time. In many cases, a good shot can be achieved but instant death is not the result. Even well-placed shots can lead to deer than bolt a ways before they succumb, and in order to find that deer you're going to need to develop a set of skills to successfully follow the blood trail to your kill.
The first thing to do once you issue a shot is to collect as much information as possible about the moment of impact. Despite a pounding heart and adrenaline rush, try to watch the deer at the point when your shot connects. The way the deer's body absorbs the impact and how it reacts are clues as to how effective your shot was. For example, a back that arches or a tail that rises indicates that your shot either struck the deer in the gut or another non-vital area. However, if the deer seems to kick or his tail goes down, these are signs of a significant hit that will bring the deer to an end sooner than later.
Another indicator of shot placement and quality is blood, which can actually tell you a lot about where the shot hit and the toll it is taking on your deer. There are several different types of blood you may see. One of the most disheartening is a blood that signifies not only a got shot but also lengthy searching, possibly overnight, to find your deer. The blood of a gut shot will have a brown or yellowish appearance and may have stomach contents mixed with it. Blood that appears thick and grows thicker with clotting could be a shot to the muscle which in some cases can be survivable.
Photo: Growing Deer
Better signs to see in terms of blood quality include those that will indicate a shorter trek to find your harvest, such as a deep, rich red which comes from a wound near to the heart. If blood is foamy but still red, that is a sign of a lung impact which also bodes well for having to pursue a deer. Darker red blood that is not as thick indicates a possible liver shot and is a welcome sight for a short trek as well. Other things to keep in mind when seeking a wounded deer include where the blood is falling. Blood that is seemingly falling on two sides of a trail is likely from a shot that went clean through both sides of the deer. Trails that seem to end abruptly are from deer that simply stopped and turned around, which is what you'll need to do as well to find him.
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when you have to follow a blood trail is to simply stay calm and be patient. Although it may be tempting to climb right down from your stand to pursue a deer, give it some time. Watch the deer to see where he goes and wait to see if he is going to double back. Remember that a deer being pursued will be driven further away, so give him a chance to go down on his own. A 15 minute wait to follow your deer really can easily save you an hour of walking after a wounded deer.
Though waiting it out is sometimes easier said than done, it makes good sense to practice continued patience when pursuing a deer after you've been patient enough to wait for a shot in the first place. Some deer can go on to recover from a wound and some will find unexpected places to succumb, but the key thing is to not give up. It could be that victory waits around the next bend, but you're going to have to make that turn to find out.
What are your routines when following a wounded deer? How much time and distance do you like to give him before setting off after him? Let us know in the comments.