Whitetail: Effective Blood Trailing
By Patrick Meitin
Whitetail: Effective Blood Trailing – Blood trailing game after a hit is a vital skill every hunter should strive to perfect. Tracking skills equate to higher percentages of recovered game, and we should all aim for 100 percent recovery for obvious reasons. This requires patience most of all. Patience comes into play after the shot, giving an animal enough time to fully expire before taking the track, but most especially while blood trailing. I always strongly emphasize that staying on blood, however sparce or difficult, provides the highest odds of recovery. Take it slow and mark each discovered spec (surveying ribbon or toilet paper best) for later reference should you lose the trail or to gain insight into a general line of travel. In my experience impatience tempered by anxiety causes many hunters to abandon the trail much too quickly and begin wandering in hopes of getting lucky. Staying on blood and working a trail out drop by drop is no doubt frustratingly tedious, even involving getting down on hands-and-knees for a closer look, but is always your best avenue to recovering game.
When more than one person is involved in trailing it seems there is always that person who wants to be the hero, running ahead hoping to be the one to save the day. It’s important to rein these types in, as they do nothing more than erase sign and confuse the situation. It’s better to employ them to stand on next blood while you range ahead carefully.
Sticking with blood is always your most reliable option because that blood links you irrevocably to that animal. Even when terrain or physical barriers seem to indicate a predictable travel route, that deer represents a spec in a sea of habitat and plays by n preconceived notions. This is especially true in thick vegetation where it might require tripping over game to find it. Should blood fail (common with high hits with no exit wound), do your best to follow tracks, scuffs in soil, displaced dew or leaves, or bent grass stems.
Grid searches come into play only when you’ve exhausted every other feasible option, or wet weather has obliterated all possible traces of passage. Successful grid searches require well-laid plans. This isn’t random wandering, but systematic gridding that ensures every square foot of viable ground is covered with maximum efficiency. Knowing the lay of the land is a plus, helping eliminate possible escape routes or dead ground. Cliffy terrain, impenetrable fences or large rivers or lakes are barriers not likely to be crossed, for instance. Harvested fields can be easily scanned with binoculars.
Solo grid searches are most taxing but guarantee you know exactly what ground has been covered and eliminates duplicated efforts. Start by slowly walking out obvious escape routes, like defunct logging roads or major trails in brushy habitats, or along brushy creek-beds or windrows in open prairie—though don’t discount open CRP grass/weed or unharvested agricultural fields. Even when gridding, be on a constant lookout for additional blood or spilled bodily fluids.
If this proves unsuccessful return to the point of first impact. Consider a general line of travel or funneling features, and start by walking parallel lines 25 to 50 yards apart, depending on vegetation density. When moving away from a known point of travel—the last place an animal was observed or where sign disappeared—parallel lines often grow slightly wider with each pass. Remedy this by marking turn-arounds with ribbon or toilet paper, usually conducted at blatant landmarks such as fences, open field edges or ridgelines, making it easier to keep track of ground already covered.
In situations where the direction of travel is less certain, especially in more open or gentle terrain, try describing a series of ever-widening circles, like a massive snail’s shell. This is an old trappers trick when grapple hooks are used on rocky or frozen ground where a stake can’t be driven and drag marks don’t show well. It helps to earmark landmarks occasionally or even drop the occasional swatch of biodegradable toilet paper to assure you’re not spacing passes too widely or covering the same ground repeatedly.
More efficient grid searches can be organized by assembling a group of family, friends or hunt-club/lease members. More people allow covering additional ground more quickly—but only if the group remains well organized. A lot of time can be wasted if individuals are off running on their own tangents and leaving wide gaps in the search line. Group gridding is most efficient in areas including patches or strips of obvious cover, or more defined parameters such as corn or CRP fields. Ideally, searchers are spread 10 to 25 yards apart—depending on vegetation thickness—and proceed through a patch of habitat like a comb. When cover is thoroughly combed or a band of cover exhausted the line is repositioned to sweep back through cover in the opposite direction.
With limited but thick cover don’t hesitate to give an area several passes, as a dead animal might be easily overlooked. Also, if all else fails, check cover that might seem unlikely, or grid in a different direction than a departing deer seemed to be headed. Wounded animals often circle widely, leaving you with a false perception of the line the animal was taking. I once spent half a day searching in the wrong direction after hitting a mature deer just before a heavy snowstorm in thick forest. After the hit that buck circled widely to return to the ground he had appeared from before the shot. I believe animals often strive to get back to familiar ground, having just come from that habitat and considering it safer than charging off into the unknown.
Successfully recovering wounded animals after blood fails or moisture washes sign away can require stubborn determination. It can push you to the edge of physical exhaustion and lead you to the end of your mental rope. But every animal deserves your best effort.
Whitetail: Effective Blood Trailing