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Deer Hunting: When Blood Stops

What to do when the deer's blood trail disappears.

March 09, 2023
Deer Hunting: When Blood Stops

I remember it as though it were yesterday. My arrow had completely penetrated the huge 11-point buck, but had missed the vital lungs by just a couple of inches. The blood trail leading away was sparse for the first 100 yards.

We tracked the deer for much of the day. It was stressful, and to make matters worse, I flushed the buck out of a bed a short distance from where we found the last blood.

Upon returning with two others the following day, the search for the deer began at the bed. A short time later, after finding no blood, we organized our plan to search for the deer. I remained confident, simply because we knew that it is not always the external bleeding that leads you to a downed deer.

External Bleeding

We know that internal hemorrhage kills far more deer than external bleeding. External bleeding is seldom a factor unless major arteries are severed. Be aware that in order for a deer to die from blood loss alone, it must lose approximately one-third of its blood, or about three pints.

The location of a wound has much to do with external bleeding. For instance, muscle wounds are sometimes superficial. However, these deer often bleed profusely externally for a given distance, unlike some abdominal wounds that result in little or no external blood loss. Nevertheless, an abdominal wound does bleed internally and will result in a downed deer.

Locating Beds

The possibility of a wounded deer bedding down is dependent upon the severity of the wound and the pursuit by the tracker. If time allows, most deer will bed down. I always consider this theory when the blood expires, and always keep an eye open for beds.

A wounded deer that is not bleeding externally will typically leave blood in a bed. The deer's hide still becomes saturated, causing blood to end up in the bed. However, it could be only a small amount of blood and, if dried, will be difficult to see.

Thickets and Water

Wounded deer might lay down anywhere, but the thickest cover available provides the best opportunity to find a downed deer when a blood trail doesn't exist. A wounded deer will usually penetrate a thicket just far enough to remain hidden and, sometimes, watch its backtrail.

You should also check waterholes and drainage areas for a downed deer. Stomach and/or intestinal-shot deer, typically go to water due to dehydration. I have recovered several wounded whitetails lying near water. The last was an intestinal-shot deer that traveled about 250 yards to get to water

Trails and Crossings

The farther you track a wounded deer, the better the chance it will eventually follow a trail and use crossings to get from one spot to another. Thus, when the blood stops, you should concentrate your efforts in these locations instead of meandering around.

scanning ground for pinhead droplets of blood

The author says you will be surprised what you can see when you are down on all fours.

For example, pinhead droplets of blood are difficult to spot when your eyes scan the ground from an upright position.

Once you locate a trail, follow it for a considerable distance before searching for another route. I usually walk a trail for 100 yards or more looking for just one more drop of blood, or a bed.

You should also check crossings, such as those locations where deer cross ditches/creeks. Fresh tracks might not show along trails, but you can often spot tracks easily on banks.

Smears and Pin Drops

Everyone loves following a blood trail that shows up like a hickory nut in a bucket of acorns. Unfortunately, these blood trails seldom continue for a long distance. You either find the deer quickly, or the blood seemingly comes to a halt.

You'll be surprised what you can see when you are down on all fours. For example, pinhead droplets of blood are difficult to spot when your eyes scan the ground from an upright position.

Also, consider that a deer's hide will eventually become saturated with blood. Even when no blood gets to the ground, blood is left behind whenever the deer passes through high weeds, rubs against limbs and other high brush.

Search-and-Find Tactics

I have always been a firm believer that too many people following a blood trail can make things worse. When the tracking is tough, I prefer only one other helper. However, when all efforts have failed and there's nothing left to do, but look for a downed deer, the more the merrier, and the better the chance someone will see the downed deer.

Concentrate the beginning of your search where the blood stops. Although it's probably best to look in the general direction the deer traveled, I suggest you widen the search as you look. For example, searchers should spread out only a short distance apart, but go farther to the left and right as they continue getting farther from the last blood.

The better you know the area, the better the chance you can locate the downed deer. Knowing where every thicket is, each trail, waterhole, or any other area that might attract the deer, will keep your efforts working overtime. That's what helped us to locate the buck mentioned at the beginning of this article. We found him about 150 yards from where we had jumped him from the bed on the previous day.

We always hope for everything to go well once we release the arrow. Nonetheless, we are human and the unthinkable does happen. With this in mind, it's to your advantage to know how to track a deer, even when blood doesn't exist.

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