MARQSCOUTSponsored by: The Archery Hall of Fame

By: M.R. James

IN LAST MONTH’S COLUMN, I detailed the keys to consistent bowhunting success, namely the deadly combination of proper shot placement and razor-sharp broadheads. I rightfully noted that the lungs always should be a bowhunter’s primary target, since broadhead penetration results in instant hemorrhaging, deflated lungs, and shorter blood trails.

Veteran bowhunters and all Bowhunter Education instructors constantly preach this same gospel. It’s based on decades of in-the-woods experience and common sense. Bowhunting magazine feature articles and deer hunting seminar speakers drive home this same point year after year. “Hit them where they live” is the same sage advice that grandfathers have passed along to their own sons and daughters – and to the grandkids who beg ol’ grandpa to please take them deer hunting.

Regardless, despite all the well-intended communication efforts, it’s obvious some of today’s deer hunters haven’t a clue about what to do once their arrow smacks a deer. Since the 2018 seasons opened, I’ve seen far too many “I just hit a deer. What do I do next?” or “How long should I wait?” text messages and Facebook posts. Even worse are the guys who ask, “What do bubbles in the blood mean?” And, all too often, these SOS call-for-help messages are accompanied by a photo of a bloody arrow or crimson droplets in the leaves.

Arrow-hit deer usually tear from the area but leave cut hair, blood, tracks, and other signs a hunter can follow to claim the trophy. Shots that penetrate the chest cavity’s heart-lungs-liver area generally mean short blood trails and quick kills.

Good Lord! Did these guys sleep through Bowhunter Ed class? Did they even take a class, and if not, why not? Didn’t they ask experienced deer hunters what to expect and listen to what they said? Didn’t they read bowhunting how-to articles and books that explain how arrows cleanly and quickly dispatch the biggest bucks and does if the arrow flies true and the shaving-sharp head does its job after impact?  Don’t they study diagrams showing where a deer’s internal organs, major arteries and veins are? Don’t they understand their obligation to fully prepare for any hunting situation that leaves them with a good blood trail to unravel?

“Apparently not” is one obvious conclusion to be drawn from so many post-shot requests for assistance and information. My best advice is to educate yourself as much as possible before going hunting and shooting a deer. To help start things rolling in the right direction, here are a few facts and tips that newbies – and most everyone else –  needs to know and remember before drawing and releasing an arrow.

Basic Blood Trailing Thoughts & Tips

*Watch closely and mentally mark where the arrow hits. Light-colored fletching and lighted nocks (where legal) can help, especially with modern bows that deliver blazing FPS arrow speeds. Resist the temptation to climb down from an elevated stand or leave the blind too soon. Arrow-hit deer often bed close by when feeling the arrow’s effects, but they may jump up and run at the first sounds of pursuit.

*Even if you think you’ve shot just under or over a deer, double check the ground as you look for your arrow. It’s possible you hit the animal and don’t realize it. A clean arrow shaft dispels all doubts; blood on the fletching or shaft (or weeds, leaves, or grass) tells you the truth that you’ve got a deer to track and recover.

Massive blood loss drops animals quickly. The Illinois buck that left this trail barely made it out of sight before going down for keeps.

*Replay the shot in your mind (or on a video cam if taping the hunt). Exactly where did the arrow hit? Did it completely pass through the deer’s body? If not, how much penetration was there? Mark where the deer was standing. Look for cut body hair and blood. If you recover your arrow, check it by sight and smell. Gut-shot deer may leave a distinctive smell on the arrow, along with tiny bits of partly digested food. (If you know the animal is gut-shot, wait for hours or even half a day or more, weather permitting) before taking up the trail. Give the deer plenty of time to bed and die where it lies. Jump a wounded deer too soon and you run the very real risk of trying to find a deer that is no longer bleeding and may still be capable of going a long way.

*Liver-hit deer will die but it usually takes time. Tracking too quickly and jumping a dying deer makes recovery more difficult. When in doubt, wait.

While unexpected rain and snow can wipe out or cover a good blood trail, hunting after a fresh snowfall can help tracking deer after the shot. My son Dave took this Montana on our Flathead Valley ranch after an overnight blanket of white covered the land. Blood and tracks stand out dramatically increase chances of recovery.

*Deer hit through both lungs are dead on their feet, especially if the lungs collapse or quickly fill with blood. Some hunters believe it’s good to immediately pursue lung-hit animals to force physical exertion. Others, including this writer, prefer to take plenty of time rather than risk spooking a dying deer bedded close by that’s still capable of standing and running or walking away. Notably, it’s lung-hit deer that may have tiny bubbles in the blood left behind.

*Carry toilet paper or fluorescent tape to mark blood sign as you track your wounded deer’s trail. Walk off to the side of the deer’s blood trail to avoid stepping on and obliterating sign. If you’re with another tracker or two, have one stand at the last blood sign while looking ahead for more crimson drops or smears. Keep talking to a minimum, because the sound of voices can alert and spook wounded game.

Few things in bowhunting are more personally satisfying than following a blood trail and recovering your trophy. The keys to consistent success are razor-sharp broadheads and proper shot placement. Believe it!

*So what happens if the blood sign plays out and there’s no sign of your animal. Several viable options exist and are worth brief examination. First, where it’s legal, a tracking dog can easily follow the trail of a wounded deer where human eyes fail to see any sign. Even a family pet or hunting dog on a leash can track by scent alone and locate dead or dying deer. Also, getting several buddies or family members together to make an organized grid search of the area can work well. Finally, try repeatedly returning to the area – checking area ponds and other water sources while listening for scavenger birds or coyotes can lead to what’s left of the deer. It won’t stock the family freezer with tasty venison, but it should offer some solace to the hunter who discovers the fate of his deer. Responsible hunters are eternally troubled by not recovering any arrow-hit animal.

For more please go to: Thoughts and Tips with M.R. James