Deer tracking tips


8 pointer
Sep 21, 2011
If you have a suggestion or tip to add, by all means do so, I look forward to them every year and I certainly too try to learn from everyone as well.

One of the biggest reasons why many animals are not recovered after being shot is that all too often bow hunters take up the trail too soon, simply bumping the animal away, never to be found again. What you do following the shot can make or break a successful recovery.

When mortality wounded 90% of deer will bed within 250 yards of the shot. If an animal dies beyond this, most likely some outside factor pushed the animal. Think about all of the animals you've taken, found or lost. You've probably found at least one if not multiple beds within this distance.

Now I' m not proclaiming myself the ultimate tracker/hunter but I can testify that my hunting partners and I have not lost an animal that has died or that we not seen another day, in many, many years and several of these recoveries were because of waiting for the right moment to trail the animal,rather than the initial shot placement.

I'll give you an example of an animal that I made a poor shot on because I neglected to stop the animal and shot him on the move. At 25 yards I placed my arrow too far back on the buck. As soon as I saw the arrow hit further back than I wanted, I knew immediately not to take up the track until at least 6 hours later. I shot this animal at 7:30 am and got out of my tree at 11:00 and left the woods. At 3:30 I returned to the woods and found my buck not 50 yards inside a woods at the last point I saw him. Had I not waited, there is a very good chance thatI wouldn't have found him due to all the standing cornfields surrounding the woodlot he was bedded in.

In this particular case I also glassed the animal immediately following the shot to verify the hit. One important note or tip that I always like to make is, that binoculars are an invaluable tool for archers not only to glass an animal post shot, but also to watch for his movement once he moves off. Quite often we as hunters get caught up in the heat of the moment and become unsure of our arrow's point of impact. A good set of binoculars and some quick thinking can help you verify your shot placement and help you formulate the proper game plan for recovering your animal. Binoculars aslo allow you to see past foliage. A deer can move out of eye shot and bed but you may catch it's movement with binoculars.

The following is a list of several tips that I feel are invaluable for bow hunters to use when deciding what to do both before and after the shot. In the past, many members of the Message Boards have helped to tweak and add their own priceless tidbits of information as well. Hopefully one of the tips here or posted herein will aid you in a speedy recovery this hunting season.

1. Use bright fletch. You need to be able to see your arrow in flight, in the animal, and on the ground afterward. Dark arrows will not do you any good if you yourself can' t see them. If bright fletching isn"™t enough, try using lighted arrow nocks for better visibility in low light conditions, if legal in your state or even white or bright arrow wraps. Find your arrow, your arrow is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle you may have.

2.Binoculars - use them post shot! They may be one of the most important tools you have after the shot.

3. Watch the animal after the shot. Quite often an animal's body movement will help indicate to you what type of shot you got. An animal that jumps straight in the air and bounds off out of sight is most likely mortally wounded and will not travel far. However, if the animal hunches up and walks off or moves off slowly there is a good chance the hit was too far back or forward and you may need to wait at least 6 hours before taking up the trail.

"I hit him, now what?"

Here are several sure fire steps towards recovering your animal safely and securely:

1. Unless you witness a double lung pass through, I firmly believe to let an animal go for a couple hours rather than the common misconception of a half hour wait. Too many times a half hour isn't enough. The only shots that put an animal down quickly are double lung hits and heart shots. If you don't see your animal fall within site, your best bet is to wait it out.

2. If you are not 100% sure of your hit, simply put.... wait!!! The animal isn't going to go anywhere, he's dead, why hurry? Sit back, collect your thoughts, and replay the shot, the hit, and where the animal went. Also, this gives you a chance to listen and relax. If your arrow was a pass thru, get down and get the arrow and study it and wait. Mark the direction but don' t pursue, if you wait, he'll be there or he'll live another day.

3. If you think it' s a single lung hit because of the angle, wait at least 4 hours. This includes shots that are just under the spine and because of the angle you might have caught the second lung but missed the first. Wait and let him expire. Many people believe in "the void" which they claim is an area between a deer's lungs and spine where no vital organs reside. This is a myth - if you place an arrow under the spine, you will catch the upper lobes of at least one lung.

4. If you think you caught the liver wait and the animal will bleed out. Wait at least 4 hours to take up the trail. Gun hunters can move on an animal quicker because of the damaged involved however with archery equipment it's recommended to wait at least 4 hours - the animal will not go anywhere if given the chance to expire. Jump him and he may go forever.

5. If you catch the guts only, you're in for at least a 6-hour minimum wait with 8 hours being more preferable and overnight being a worst case. It's recommended that an animal be recovered as quickly as possible but if they are not expired, your not going to recover them. Waiting overnight could be detrimental to the meat, tainted the flavor however not making them inedible. A quicker recovery means better tasting meat. If you hit an animal in the guts at 6 pm, you need to recover the animal around 2am to ensure the best meat. This should be considered when shooting late into the evening. We owe it to be conservative and ethical. In case of rain or snow you should get down, find your arrow, find the blood trail, and wait for the next morning. If you know your property, you'll find him close.

It's important to get the organs out and blood out as quickly as possible, that quickness is regulated by the type of hit.

6. Coyotes can and will give the location of your animal, if your worried about them, get down, listen for the them and move on them if you know they are on your animal. IF they are there, your animal won' t be so move on the coyotes and they may lead you to the animal.

7. Whether your shot hits lungs, liver, or guts the key to a successful recovery is towait. The animal is going to die just wait him out and your blood trail should be adequate a couple hours later.

8. There are few hits that force you to move on an animal quickly to bleed them out. These hits are the most difficult to determine and more times than not you will make the wrong decision and push an animal that might otherwise lay down and expire. Again, if your unsure of the hit, wait it out. A mature whitetail carries roughly 8 pints or 1 gallon of blood in their circulatory system. They need to loose roughly 2.4 pints of blood to go into shock and not recover. Think about this, we give a pint of blood when we donate, that does not affect us. One pint of blood is alot of blood on the ground when spread over a couple hundred yards. Something to think about.

9. Many states now allow the use of tracking dogs, leashed or unleashed. Utilize their availability in your state. Many organizations are available such as the United Blood and Deer Recovery that offer services for tracking wounded animals free of cost. Look into such an organization prior to going hunting this season as a worst-case or even best case scenario.

10. Many wounded animals seek water. If there is water on your property and you can't find a blood line, look toward your water sources. They may even circle and I've read or have been told that a deer will circle to the direction of the side he's hit hardest on. I don't know this to be gospel but it's worth mentioning.

11. Looking for blood doesn't necessarily mean just on the ground, many times a higher hit will leave blood 2' or 3' off the ground brush or overhanging vegitation as well as under plant leaves.

Let' s recover the animals"™ bowhunters, we owe it to them, we owe it to each other, and we owe it to ourselves. Good luck out there....

Here's a link to a deers anatomy in case you wish to review what we already know.

And a link to dog trackers, United Blood Trackers

from huntingnet forum


12 pointer
Jun 12, 2005
" Between the Rivers "
I'm definitely no expert either ....and everyone thats posted has provided some great tips.

In reality ...the recovery begins the moment you release the the one thing I've learned over the years is to really pay attention to the deers reaction to the hit.

A solid vital hit.... heart / lung shot....or even a liver shot....the deer will react like it was stung by a bee and usually kick his hind legs. Thereafter....he may run off full throttle or sometimes just be plumb confused..and go a short distance and stand...and possibly fall within site. On the other side of the coin.... a hit too far back..gut shot.... I've yet to ever see a deer that did'nt run off hunched up. Not saying you will always witness these reactions and some hits can just not cause a reaction we expect...especially if the deer was really nervous prior to the shot.

It is those few minutes imediately after the shot.... be quiet & avoid unecessary movement. I know we all see guys on tv hollering & high fiving the shot...even getting on their cell phones.. but thats not an accurate portrayal of how we should act...and may possibly make for a longer recovery...or no recovery at all. Even a less than marginal hit ...chances are that deer will die if we give it enough time to succumb to its wounds without disturbing it.

Next...again after you stayed still, quiet and giving at least 30 minutes.... go to the impact site of where you hit the deer. You may or may not find your arrow...could still be in the deer...but if you find it...look at the blood...smell the shaft...make an attempt to decipher what you see...and what vitals you hit. Look for hair... pieces of meat...blood...cartilage. In all honesty...just the hair alone ...and being able to recconize what part of the deer you hit can give you a little confidence. You may have wacked some grey hair on entry but exited taking a chunk of belly / chest hair you a better idea on the angle and what vitals you got.

All I'm really saying... is half the equation of tracking an animal is at the beginning. Dont just find your arrow ...see a little blood & blunder off through the woods. Do little things up front to slow yourself down at the beginning..which is hard to do with the excitement thats built up in us. Ultimately... you can be so wound up... we miss or destroy sign in the process.... then the fustration sets in....and many give up all together....way too easy.

Last.... I know theres some cool looking fletches but when hunting...use ones you can attempt to see & follow through the shot. I like white, yellow..even flo orange...for the most part. I also wont comment on mechanicals vs. fixed blades .... but personally I wont risk the unknown...and like to keep it simple. Archery hunting is hard enough to get the stars aligned and make things happen perfectly. So... I dont put things on my arrows ..or bow for that matter... or even attempt filming my own hunts that adds to the confusion....again keep it simple.

I also want to say.... it's great & proper advice to back out when in doubt ...or know a less than marginal hit was's exactly what we all should do. But... unlike many of the tv shows we watch where they let a deer lay over night.... our coyote populations in KY is a reality. In my opinion...chances are on a less than marginal hit...gut shot... we wont recover because yotes have pushed or even gotten the deer. So ...while the old saying holds true.... it's even better to not shoot at all when theres doubt involved. Low light....bad shot conditions such as rain .... best to be patient & pass when those situations are prevalent.


8 pointer
Feb 15, 2011
Tallahassee, FL.
Lots of good advice so far. The only thing I will add is to make sure your blades are SHAVING SHARP. I hear folks say all the time it dont matter if you hit them right you could use a field point. BS. I made the mistake of shooting a doe perfectly broadside center punched with my snake broadhead( dull head I use for mocassins and varmits) once. It was on accident that I pulled that shaft out of my quiver. I shot the doe at first light, sat for 3 hours waiting on another. Got down and trailed her up still alive. Perfect double lung on the first shot. 2nd shot with a sharp head and she expired quickly. Archery equipment kills by cutting. A semi dull BH pushes through the vitals and doesnt sever tissue like a sharp head. If you miss or shoot your BH into a target for practice only once. It must be resharpened.


Jan 20, 2002
central ky
watch for the "granddaddy long legs", they will come to blood. Not something to actually live by, but when in doubt and youve lost the trail, that bit of info might just be what helps pick the trail back never know


12 pointer
Feb 21, 2007
One thing I would like to see is pics of different blood. I have a hard time just telling what kind of hit I got from the blood. I know liver blood is darker and lung blood typically has bubbles in it but when you are out there with nothing to compare it to its kinda hard for me to tell the difference.
A valuable tool I use is a simple compass. You can shoot an azimuth to the last spot you had visual contact with the deer after it responded to being shot. Then when you come down out of the tree you can use that same coordinate to put you on the spot. Things often look different when on the ground compared to being in a tree.

Animals tend to flee back in the direction they come due to the fact that they had made it safely up until they were shot. In addition, deer are like rabbits and often run in circular patterns when fleeing. They are also right or left side dominant like we are. Studies of humans that became lost in the woods show that they will travel in circular patterns and favor their dominant side. I have found this true in wounded deer.

Wounded deer do not always take the path of least resistance but rather the most efficient mode of escape to the most efficient availability of cover. They will run straight up hill through a briar patch!

When tracking get down on the deer's level. By getting your eyes down to the level that a deer's eyes are you often see obvious things. You can often determine the best choice of direction a deer will travel around obstacles or terrain features. You will also see much more sign at that level.

Look for more than blood! Blood will not always be present nor will it always be immediate. Look for disturbances on the ground, leaves, broken limbs, grass laid over etc. Don't put all your chips on a blood trail. A many a deer have been killed grave yard dead without bleeding a drop from impact to death bed.

Listen. Not just for crashing but also to the other wild life. Squirrels, birds, and chipmunks will often go bonkers when a wounded deer crashes through the woods pay attention to the directions these sound come from while on stand. They may be a clue that will put you back on trail if you happen to lose it.

When trailing in a group, designate jobs. One man should be on point, one should mark last blood, and if you have another have him watch and listen from behind at a distance. Nobody should pass the point man. Doing so compromises the sign and trail. The marker should stay put, hold his mark, and observe the surrounding for other clues. The rear man will often see or hear a deer that is not down jump up. The point man and the marker may not hear or see this from the noise they make walking and from paying attention to the trail and not what's in front of them.

Use your knowledge of the lay of the land and of the travel patterns of your deer herd. Sometimes when there is no sign available, searching high percentage areas may lead to recovery.
Last edited:


8 pointer
Jul 9, 2009
The most important thing when trying to recover a deer is before you even take the shot... Never take a marginal shot at a deer. I think to many times hunters get excited and take a bad shot on the deer.


Welcome to Fantasy Island
Staff member
Nov 19, 2003
The Island
Shoot a fixed blade broadhead and you just stroll up to the deer already packaged and labeled, ready for the freezer. They're that much better. :D

Joking aside, good blood evidence photos for reference after a deer is trailed and recovered might be a valuable asset here.


8 pointer
Apr 8, 2012
I've read tracking tips before that said a wounded animal will head toward where water is. This proved to be the case in my son and my search late last night. He got a good hit on a big doe and we tracked her for about a mile through the woods and ended up finding her in a small water hole. We also lost the blood trail a few times as I suspect she wa running out of blood. My son would stay at the last spot of blood while I searched ahead looking for the trail again. Worked out pretty good., finally got the deer.


8 pointer
Apr 11, 2010
Fairdale, KY
All excellent tips above and not a lot to add. One item I have seen is people get rattled and start telling me they shot the deer at one spot, and when I get looking the impact spot was maybe 10-12 yards different. I have them get back up in the tree or the blind and tell them to recreate the shot and try to pinpoint exactly where they hit the deer. This works great if the shot was taken right at the end of legal shooting time with heavy shadows, etc, and it is hard to find the spot with a flashlight. It does not help with a deer regards saving the meat, but I have helped buddies retrieve several nice bucks by going back the next couple days and watching for the buzzards. They will lead you right to it most of the time! At least you can salvage the rack that way.


Dec 12, 2001
Garrard County, Ky
An Identification Guide to Whitetail Deer Hair

Heart and Lung Hair Very coarse, very long dark hair, with black tips.
Stomach or Side Hair Very coarse, hollow, brownish gray and medium length. Tips are not dark as they are higher up on the deer.
Navel Hair All white, hollow, very coarse and very long. Will appear curly and twisted.
Spine Hair Very coarse, hollow, long dark gray hair with black tips.
Top of Back Hair Very coarse, hollow, long dark gray hair with black tips. Shorter than spine hair.
Ham Hair Very coarse, medium length, and dark gray with dark tips,
Lower Leg Hair Coarse, medium to short in length, gray to brown in color with dark tips.
Hair Between Hind Legs Not hollow, very fine, white and silky, and also curly.
Brisket Very coarse, long and dark gray, with dark tips. Very stiff, but can curl.
Neck Hair Dark gray and short. Front of neck will be light gray to white, also short.
Tail Hair Top hair is dark and wavy, very long and tipped in black. Underneath is white and also wavy.

Blood Chart
Last edited:


6 pointer
Sep 19, 2010
Grayson co
alot of good info here. but im not an expert at this but basically experienced.


Use fresh eyes. Alot of the time when two or three of us are tracking an animal, we tend to get tunnel vision. sometimes i can follow a trail like a blood hound and see every drop for a long ways, then go stone cold, and not see a drop. another fresh set of eyes often pick up on what we miss.

CARRY A WEAPON: you dont know whats out there, and the 9mm on the dresser is worse than the law on the phone.

the toilet paper is an awesome idea, use it as markers so u dont get lost. and its easy to check that spot of moisture to see if its blood or if its dew/rain/pee/etc. it may also be needed for its primary use :)

dont push unless its necessary. take your time and wait it out. if the weather is under 50 degrees the meat will not spoil, for hours and hours.

take a variety of lights. i have even found it easier in the dark as in the daylight. Coleman lanterns are an old favorite for a reason, they work. they are cumbersome, dangerous, and kinda aggravating.

i take a single high intensity, handheld LED flashlight with me every trip to the stand. when trailing, i pack that light, a single halogen bulb spot light, a worklight (i like the one that fits my 19.2volt craftsman rechargeable battery for my drills), and a simple mag-lite, my tracking buddy brings a high dollar coonhunters light, AND A SPARE. The lights work wonders in their right situation. The led lights are so bright they reflect on the blood kinda like a mirror. The halogen bulb lights show up well against leaves and light colored grass an foilage. a good shop light is a necessity for broadcasting a ray of light around the area, instead of a beam to the ground. the coonhunters light is great for looking ahead and seeing a way out or a trail we may have missed. The spare is the most important, when all the others are dead, use the spare light for the walk back to the truck.

Find a water or ditch line. many animals we recoverd we near, or in creek or pond. many times chasing towards water is their last ditch efforts. when you are off the trail and looking for the animal itself, this is very handy.

CARRY A WEAPON: you dont know whats out there, and the 9mm on the dresser is worse than the law on the phone. this was listed twice as it was intended to. a 9mm with a light or .22auto might save your hunt and possibly your life.

a machete or handheld hatchet comes in handy for bushwhacking and for cuting the bone during the field dress (if u do find it)

we have a rule, the person in the lead is in charge. one stays back on the trail marking (or remembering our location) and the others follows the trail and look for sign.

Have a phrase... FREEZE.. this is a necessity, to understand when tracking. a couple of the animals were not dead, and were either pushed or bedded down dieing. A distant russel of the leaves can mean alot of things, but if junior behind you is tromping along the trail behind you like hes wearing concrete boots, you cant hear it. (Sorry Chris, lol) a simple FREEZE is concise and quick. The "be quiet, i think i hear something up over there" isnt as efficient. any other trespassers or other people hearing that will likely freeze.

when a deer crosses a wide open field, they will likely make a straight line across it. we send one person to the other side to look for sign and the others to follow the trail. if by chance we can find sign on the other side, we saved tons of time step tracking.

Be quiet as possible. even if it is not a fatal hit, the animal is likely still in the area and can be hunted again. dont ruin the chances of you or others by tromping and stomping around unnecessarily.

if needed, shoot him again, bullets are cheap. (please refer to weapons section above if you missed it, lol)

im not a pet person, so i do not have a dog or blood hunting hound, but ive seen a time or two id loved to have one. having a buddy with one in your iphone contact list could be handy

have fun and good luck


8 pointer
Nov 17, 2003
A lot of good advice. Waiting long enough is prob the best general advice that folks have mentioned. Don't get in a hurry and if you lose the trail start circling. If you STILL can't pick it back up I have recovered several deer by going to a fenceline or ditch in the general direction and looking on the opp side, where the deer would have hit the ground harder throwing the blood off.

Hunt him while you are tracking too. Don't just walk along only looking for blood talking to your bud that may be helping. Go after him like he is still alive and you have to spot him first - slow and always watching.

Good luck

Latest posts