The two key factors to recovering every arrow-shot deer are patience and practiced blood-trailing skills. Generally speaking, the more patient you are, the longer you wait before taking up the trail, and the more persistent you are, even to the point of getting down on your hands and knees and studying sign, the more successful you will be.
During my 25 years of hunting exclusively with a bow, I have shot about 250 deer. Notice, I said shot. In my early years of bowhunting, I failed to recover some animals because I began tracking too soon after the shot and had no blood-trailing knowledge. However, I did learn a lot about the recovery of animals during those first few years and have continued learning for a quarter century, and now I virtually never lose a deer.
All blood trails are different, of course, but general principles apply to the recovery of all game animals. From the experience I've gained in recovering my own animals and from helping other hunters trail and recover many deer, I have developed "A Bowhunter's Guide to Blood-Trailing Deer," a concise, easy-to-read reference chart you can carry in the woods with you. If you apply the principles in the chart on the next two pages, you won't be hanging your head at the end of a blood trail. You will be celebrating.
General Tracking Comments
Use all of your senses. At the moment you shoot, watch and listen carefully to gather all clues. While tracking, look, listen, smell, and feel. Do not wander aimlessly, looking for the deer. Stick with the blood trail. The pointed edges of blood drops point in the direction of the deer's travel.
In addition to looking for blood, look for tracks, broken limbs, and disturbed leaves and soil. Imbed the size, shape, and stride length of a wounded animal's tracks in your mind so you recognize those distinct tracks immediately. Also, look for concentrations of insects and spiders. Ants, flies, daddy longlegs, and other little creatures rapidly find and feed on the blood and stomach contents along a blood trail. They will find sign you would otherwise never see.
If you must wait several hours to track a deer — as with a paunch hit — look and listen for buzzards, ravens, crows, and jays that may have found your deer before you do. Listen for coyotes that sometimes call others when they find a ready-to-eat deer. Look for a large mound of leaves and dirt where predators or scavengers may have fed on and buried your deer. As you're tracking, listen for the crashing sounds of a jumped deer, and listen for the sounds of labored breathing or struggling movements.
Smell your arrow to determine if it has passed through the stomach or intestines, and smell for stomach contents on the ground to assist in determining a gut-shot deer's direction of travel. Many deer, particularly during the rut, have a strong musky smell, and a well-trained human nose can detect this smell for many yards on a steady, mild breeze. Occasionally, feel the blood while tracking to determine if clotting has begun. Also, the thickness of blood can indicate where the deer was hit. Use a dog where legal to assist in finding the deer.
Above all, be persistent. Dogged determination may be your most valuable tool in recovering any arrow-shot animal.
The author hails from Northport, Alabama.