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After the shot – the recovery

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A good pass-through hit on the vital organs is what every bowhunter wants. If you achieve it, oftentimes you’ll watch your deer topple over after a short distance, or at the very least, you should have an obvious trail to follow. But what happens when your hit is not immediately fatal? What you do next will have a huge influence on whether or not you recover the animal. Learning to blood trail can be every bit as important as learning to shoot!

After the shot, watch and listen intently. Pick a landmark so you can identify and pinpoint the exact spot where you last saw the animal. Choosing an identifiable landmark is important because once you get down from your tree stand, or out of your blind, things will likely look very different.

Continue listening after you cannot see the animal any longer. Can you hear branches breaking, water splashing, or a wire fence squeaking? These sounds can give you further clues as to the direction of travel.

Seeing your arrow in flight and where you hit is valuable, but with the fast arrow speeds these days, it can be difficult. Some brightly colored fletching will help, which is why I like to fletch my own arrows with three white feathers and a white nock. It’s easier for me to follow in flight.

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When they bolt from the shot, mark the exact spot where the animal was standing when you took the shot. If you can’t find “first blood,” use it as a reference point and line it up with the last spot where you saw the animal. This can save loads of time when you’re trying to pick up the trail.

Next, try to recover your arrow. If you can locate the arrow, examine it carefully. The color of the blood, hair samples, or the smell of the arrow can often tell you exactly where you hit. Dark red blood typically means a liver hit. Pink, frothy blood almost always means a lung hit. Bright red blood may be from the heart, arteries, or muscles. In this case, the volume of blood you see is a good indication of your shot. If you suspect a gut shot, you should detect a foul smell on the arrow.

Unless you saw the animal expire, I suggest leaving it for at least half an hour. Many suggest a full hour, but in this heat, I try to keep in mind that there’s urgency.

An exception to the “give the animal time” rule is in cases of inclement weather. If rain is moving in, some will skip the usual wait time and take to the trail immediately. Only if they bump the animal out of bed will they retreat and wait longer. Fresh signs are so much easier to track than those that have been diluted and wet.

On tough trails, examine every tiny clue carefully. If a track is not evident, inspect blood splatters for the direction of travel. Remember that a blood sign may not only be on the ground; whitetails brush up against many things like trees, brush, and tall grass. One thing I have learned after being on hundreds of wounded deer trails is that they almost always “head home” if they suffer a wound that’s not immediately fatal. In this case, a buck will almost always head toward his primary bedding area. Scouting, trail cameras, and knowing the buck you’re hunting obviously help here.

If you’re on a difficult-to-follow trail, carry small pieces of ribbon, toilet paper, or something else visible you can use to mark new signs and keep you on line. If you lose the blood trail, lining up those markers and following the same heading will usually put you back on track. It all depends on how easy the trail is to follow. When the sign is harder to come by, marking the trail can really benefit you.

As always, if you have any comments, questions, or maybe even a story to share, reach out to me at [email protected]. God Bless, and good hunting!

Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit is a best selling novelist and professional outdoorsman with thirty-five years of experience guiding and outfitting for big game all across America. Toby is a renowned archer and turkey hunting expert who manufactures custom game calls and is a regular judge at NWTF sanctioned turkey calling events across the Southeast.
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