By John Trout
Nothing beats a downed deer at the end of a blood trail. You know how it goes. You follow the blood for a few minutes, and suddenly you see it. No more blood to search for, no more tracking and no more wondering whether you’ll find the deer.
However, we know there can be another side of the story. The blood stops with no deer at the end of the trail, and the tracking becomes more difficult.
I get very concerned when a blood a trail comes to a screeching halt. Suddenly, anxiety sets in. An insecure feeling comes over me as my confidence dwindles.
Nonetheless, lack of blood doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t recover a wounded deer. In fact, that’s the best time to believe, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The going might get tougher, but you can still find the deer. That possibility increases if you have a sound understanding of why the blood stopped.
Why Blood Ends
Although there are several reasons why a blood trail ends, let’s address the worst news first. Superficial muscle wounds that might result in extreme blood loss the first 200 yards or so often coagulate. Coagulation reduces the amount of blood reaching the ground. It might happen when a deer is wounded in the leg, neck or even the shoulder when the lungs are spared.
Where to Look
If you cannot find any more blood along the trail you followed, don’t assume the blood has totally stopped. In almost every case of following a wounded deer in which the blood runs out, I almost always find blood again somewhere ahead if I search the most likely areas.
Let’s face it: Following a trail without blood is almost impossible. Sure, you can begin by searching for additional sign, such as hoof marks if the deer is leaving tracks. Alternatively, you might spot curled leaves where the deer’s hoofs have walked in woods or find debris to the sides of tracks as the deer ran. However, if there’s no blood, it becomes more difficult the farther you track. Eventually, that telltale sign expires or interferes with sign left by other deer that passed through the area.
Thus, when the tracking ends, it’s time to expand the search. After determining the general direction the deer traveled, begin by walking any deer trails nearby. Wounded deer that walk almost always follow trails. Follow them for no less than 50 yards. It only takes a small drop of blood to get you back on track. I can’t tell you how many times I have lost a blood trail only to pick up just one more drop an hour and 100 yards ahead.
You also should search ditch and creek banks for fresh tracks where deer have crossed. Many wounded deer that seemingly stop bleeding externally will leave more blood after traveling uphill or up a steep bank. If you locate fresh tracks where a deer has crossed a creek or ditch, look closely on top for several yards to see if more blood appears. It’s common for a wounded deer to seek a hideout — a sanctuary to bed down. Whenever I lose a blood trail and expand my search, I always search every thicket nearby. I’m not suggesting you break away from your trail and walk hundreds of yards to get to a thicket to look for a wounded deer — at least not yet. But when you lose the blood and look ahead without achieving positive results, always take a peek in bramble-bush thickets, dense areas of honeysuckle and around logjams.
When a wounded deer seeks a place to bed down, it often uses the thickest available cover. Some will lay down and watch their back trail. Most will not penetrate deep into the thicket. Typically, they will go inside a thicket only a short distance to bed. Deer almost never penetrate far into extremely dense areas. Though it wants to hide, a wounded deer will always want an escape route. Areas that are infested with thick briars or logjams are not appealing if the deer cannot get up and easily run out the opposite side.
The reason you should always keep searching for one more drop of blood is simple: The less distance you have between that drop and the downed deer increases your chances of finding it.
The Eleventh-Hour Search
If all efforts fail to locate another drop of blood and it comes down to finding a downed deer, always seek help. Granted, quiet tracking with only one or two other hunters is usually best. However, if your only hope is to spot the deer, it’s better to have more eyes looking.
A good place to start searching is where the blood trail ends. Using a zigzag pattern is very beneficial and lets you to cover the area extensively. In the direction the deer was traveling, move to the left for a short distance and then back to the right. The more open the area, the farther you should expand the zigzag routine. Expand the zigzag search the farther you get from the last drop of blood. In other words, when you begin, consider a 75- or 100-yard search to the left and right of the last blood. As you increase the distance from the last blood, broaden your zigzag search to the left and right by 150 to 200 yards.
Finally, always consider that a downed deer might be visible only when you walk a certain direction. In many cases, you’ll see the white belly first. However, if you walk one direction and the deer’s belly faces the opposite direction, you might not see the deer until you walk back.
Leave no stone unturned. Ending the search before you’ve checked every possibility could cost you.
Here are two assumptions you should always consider: First, never assume that you can’t recover a deer when the blood stops. Second, never assume that a lot of blood will lead to a downed deer. Both facts will help you become a better tracker and make certain you put your best effort into recovering a wounded deer.
This article first appeared in Deer and Deer Hunting