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Hunting Strategies

After The Shot: Blood Tracking Whitetails

by Jerry Allen   |  September 22nd, 2010 8

The biggest mistake by far that hunters make when taking up a blood trail is not waiting long enough and not giving the deer enough time to lie down. Most wounded deer will bed down within 40 yards of where they were shot. However, if you push a deer too quickly, it may end up traveling 400 yards or more before being found.

You’ve scouted and set up stands. You’ve sighted in your guns or practiced with your bow. Finally the buck you’re looking for comes in and the shot is made. How long will the trailing process take you? Will you find your buck?

Understanding how to track and find blood can make the difference between having meat in the freezer and a trophy to hang on the wall or coming home with nothing at all. You make a plan when you hunt to increase your chance of success, but if you attempt to track without a plan, your chances of success are greatly reduced.

I sell blood-detection products to law enforcement, and my business has given me a lot of information on what to look for and what a blood trail can tell you about the hit you’ve made on a deer. I’m often called to help look for wounded deer after all hope seems to be lost, because people know that I can find blood that is not easily seen.

Blood trails can be misleading. A lot of blood does not necessarily indicate a mortal wound. Nor does a seeming lack of blood necessarily mean the animal isn’t dead. The reaction of the animal and the blood pattern will give us a better understanding of how to go about making a plan to recover an animal. Normally, deer do not bleed to death. An animal that weighs 160 pounds must lose 45-plus ounces of blood to die from blood loss alone. Deer will die faster from trauma than from blood loss, and a combination of both is by far the best scenario.

Most deer can travel very fast when wounded. They can hit 35 mph, and even if they die quickly after the shot, they can travel a long distance before collapsing. A wounded deer will not go far unless it is pushed. Therefore it’s always a good idea to sit still for at least a half-hour after the shot, unless you want to make the tracking job a lot more difficult.

Deer often travel in loose family groups, and those in the rear of the group can help by showing you where the wounded animal traveled. Spooking these deer could remove helpful clues as to the whereabouts of your trophy, so always use caution.

Pay attention to the reaction of the deer the moment it is shot, as this is your first clue to helping you know how to find it. The reaction can be deceiving, but it is still important. I have shot deer and had them look at me like nothing happened, only to watch them fall over where they stood. I have also had many hunters tell me that they knocked the animal down, only to watch it suddenly jump up and run off, leaving lots of blood. That’s the one that I hate to hear the most.

First of all, body shots that do not hit the neck or spine will rarely make deer drop, and if the neck or spine is hit, the animal is usually disabled and will not be able to get up. Experience from the “dropped and got up and left lots of blood” situations tells me it was most likely a low shoulder or leg shot. The falling down likely means the leg was broken. Leg-muscle hits leave lots of blood in the first 100 yards, but then the blood trail fades fast. There will be lots of large spots of blood as the animal stands in one spot or leans against a tree. Even with a broken leg (or two), a deer can run very fast.

Another common scenario is this: “I thought I hit him, but there was no blood.” Anytime there is a wounded animal, there will be blood, even if it cannot be seen. Blood droplets, which are forced out of the body by gunfire, produce a high-velocity-impact splatter pattern. The pattern can be smaller than 1mm at the beginning of the trail. Shots taken with a bow leave medium-impact blood splatter patterns and will leave droplets around 3mm in size. Both can be difficult to see, even in the snow, so trust your instincts and follow the trail the deer took.

If the deer was hit, the blood will appear soon. If it was a high lung hit, it can take time for the body cavity to fill and blood to be forced out. Lung-shot deer often run right after the shot, and this causes blood trails to be harder to see, as the blood is spread over a larger distance. If there is no visible blood trail, wait and let the animal bed down. It will not go far and should die quickly.

Another common animal reaction is the hind leg kick. Although many lung-shot deer kick out after the shot — whether the projectile that hit them was an arrow or a bullet — this reaction could mean that the animal was hit farther back in the gut. The blood pattern and the color of the blood will be very important. Darker blood is from the stomach or liver. A liver shot is always fatal, but liver-shot deer are often hard to find because they can travel a long distance.

Green matter or food is from one of the deer’s four stomachs. A stomach shot is also fatal, but it could take 24 hours or longer for the deer to die. Give this animal at least three hours to bed down and follow up for the kill in the daytime. Make sure to circle ahead from the downwind side.

The low forward double lung shot is the best-percentage shot to take. By hitting the arteries and lungs, it will cause massive internal bleeding and drowning, causing death within about 150 yards. This pattern can start out with little blood, but it will increase as the animal starts blowing blood out the mouth and nose.


  1. Always try to pinpoint the exact spot where your deer was standing when shot.
  2. If you deer runs off, always try to pinpoint the spot where it was last seen.
  3. Unless your deer goes down within sight, always wait a minimum of 30 minutes before taking up the trail.
  4. Use trail markers and a compass while following a blood trail.
  5. Working in pairs is best. Never have more than three people follow a blood trail.
  6. In addition to looking at the ground while following a blood trail, always look at the brush and foliage on either side of the trail.
  7. Bright ref or pinkish blood indicates an artery or lung shot.
  8. Blood with green or brown matter in it indicates a liver shot.
  9. If you think your deer is still alive, send a shooter around and ahead of the animal to try to dispatch it as you continue tracking.
  10. When all else fails, consider getting a tracking dog (where legal) or use a luminol-based blood-detecting product like Bluestar.:

Quartering-away shots cause the most damage, as the projectile will travel a longer distance through the body. Shots from a raised area (tree stand) generally give a better blood trail, as the exit hole will be lower and allow blood to leave the body cavity in greater volume.

Shooting for the tail is the worst shot anyone can make, and it often leaves only a wounded animal or spoiled meat. If the shot hits the back of the thigh, it will bleed well but the deer will not die soon, as the muscle will tighten up and help stop the bleeding. A deer shot in the anus will spread bacteria all over its insides, and the damage will be even worse if the bladder is also hit. This type of shot requires the animal to be cleaned immediately and thoroughly washed out in order to save any of the meat.

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