How to Track Wounded Game

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The goal of all hunters is a quick, humane kill where the animal drops in it's tracks and is dead within seconds. But in a pursuit that has as many variables as hunting, sometimes things don't quite go according to plan. However, game can be tracked and recovered with the right skills and with patience.

First of all, you need to wait the right amount of time after the shot before tracking a wounded animal. I've heard estimates of waiting 30 minutes for a hit in the vitals and 5-8 hours for a gut shot. Waiting overnight might be even better on very poorly hit animals. You don't want to push it. Be patient and wait it out. If you push a wounded animal, and he gets adrenaline flowing, the odds are against you finding that animal.

You need to mark the exact spot where the animal was when it was hit. This will save you much time in searching for blood. Also mark the position where you took your shot from in case you have to return to it to regain that perspective. Once you find the trail that the animal took after the hit you should try and identify where you hit that animal. Dark blood can indicate a liver or muscle wound; bright red blood with bubbles in it is a good sign and indicates a hit in the lungs; green liquid or bits of food matter in the blood indicates a gut shot.

Take it slow and mark blotches of blood with flagging tape every 25-50 yards to trace the trail from afar to determine overall direction the animal took. Just remember to go back and pick up the tape when you're done. You should walk to the side of the trail so as to not disturb the sign. If you lose the trail and can't find more blood, start fanning out and walking circles from the last place you had blood.

When tracking a wounded animal it is easy to get caught up in just looking at the ground, trying to find that next speck of blood. You should be aware of what is 100 yards out in front of you as well and be ready for a killing shot if the animal should get up in front of you.

If you take it slow, be quiet and be thorough, finding wounded animals can be done on a consistent basis. Follow these tips to help find the game that you might have not put the best shot on.


Retired2hunt's picture

  Great tips Hawkeye.  And


Great tips Hawkeye.  And everyone else who provided a tip or tips within their responses.  All of them are good. 

I made the mistake of not waiting the 30 minutes on an animal that dropped immediately in front of me.  I thought he was down for good.  Luckily after I watched him trot away while I had an unloaded gun hanging from my deer stand supply rope - he was down just on the other side of the field.  I always wait that 30 minutes now.

My son one year hit a deer well late in the afternoon during bow season.  We used my new flashlight that also had the red and blue lights.  It did work but I had found more blood with the regular white light than trying to squint in the dark using the red/blue lights.  We ended up going back the following morning and finding the deer about 50 yards further down a ravine.

We have the best ethical intentions I'm sure.  Stuff happens on where exactly the bullet or arrow hits and that is why I read this in the first place.  Thanks for the tips fellow hunters!



arrowflipper's picture

Very good

Very good advice.  I have found that waiting for half an hour or so before taking up the trail is good in all situations unless you saw the animal fall.  I have several animals hit in the gut and in every case; they reacted in the same manner.  They hunched up and then ran off for a short ways.  In almost every case, they lay down very quickly, often still in sight.  This leaves you with two alternatives; sneak up as close as you can and add another shot to the animal, or wait five hours or more.  In some cases, waiting that long is risky.  Where I hunt mule deer, if you leave an animal over night, you'll more than likely come back to half a deer or what the coyotes haven't eaten.

I agree with you about flaying the blood trail and going back to remove it later.  I've seen too many flag trails in the woods from a lazy hunter that didn't return to remove the tape.  It also does give you a good perspective on the general direction the animal is going.  Take note to add a roll of flagging tape to your daypack.

Like someone said, if you jump the animal once and he gets up and runs away, back off a while and give him time.  It's really easy to hurry your tracking and push the animal farther.

The one thing that I might add to the excellent advice that Hawkeye270 gave, would be to carry a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide.  It does froth white when you spray on blood, even dried blood.

Great advice as none of us wants to leave a wounded animal in the field.


hunter25's picture

All good tips, especially

All good tips, especially about staying off of the blood trail because you might need to come back and start over to get perspective. And just because you think you know by the veidence where you hit it you might be wrong. When I got my buck in Texas this year he did not go down right away and we tried to follow a little to soon and jumped him about 50 yards grom where I had last seen him. The trail only had slow spts of blood and bone fragments where he had been standing. Fearing a low leg hit and since it was getting dark we decided to wait until morning to follow. It was a long sleepless night for I was sure I was in trouble with this one. As it turned out in the morning we found him down just another 100 yards up the trail. The bone fragments were actually from the exit wound as the bullet had traveled his whole body and broken the back leg on the way out. If we had waited just a little longer in the first place we would have found him dead where I first jumped him.

groovy mike's picture

good tips

Thanks for reinforcing these tips guys.  I actually hit a deer that I did not recover this year and it still makes me sad to think about it.  It was a leg hit judging by the bone fragments.  I'm wondering if I followed him too soon.  I of course expected to follow a blood trail to a dead deer, but it didn't work out that way.  I'd really liek to do a better job of tracking and recover next time (of course ideally there wont be a next time because teh deer will fall where he is shot!)

Any tips specifically for dealing with a deer that is going on three legs?

Especially how long would you recommend waiting once you believe that you have broken a leg before pursuit?  Any and all suggestions would be most welcome -

Thanks in advance,


steven_seamann's picture

Ethical hunters should always

Ethical hunters should always do their best to deliver a clean lethal shot that ends the life of game quickly. We should "pass up" shots that are less than sure. There are occasions however when our best intentions require us to track game. Out of respect for the wildlife we hunt, we should make every effort possible to find the game we have shot. From the moment we raise our hunting weapon of choice the tracking process begins. When the arrow is released or the trigger is pulled pay close attention to every detail. Watch the deer carefully after the shot and study it's reactions, a grazing shot, rib shot, heart or lung shot can make the deer jump and run off at full speed. A gut shot deer often holds it's tail down and hunches it's back as it leaves the scene. A deer that has been shot in the gut or paunch is usually the most difficult to recover. Wait 2-3 hours before trailing a deer you believe was gut shot. Always follow up on any deer you take a shot at. Never make the assumption that you missed completely.

Here are some tips for tracking a wounded deer:

Notice the direction the deer or other game was traveling when you shot.

Notice where the game is standing when you shoot.

Look carefully for the exact area of the entrance wound or for a protruding shaft of an arrow after the shot.

If the game runs after the shot, note the spot the deer was standing and the direction of travel as it ran.

If you know you hit the deer and it runs off, wait at least 30 minutes before trailing.

Before you begin trailing, mark the location from which you shot.

Always walk in the direction your bullet or arrow traveled, checking for nicks in vegetation or any other signs that your shot was possibly deflected.

Carefully inspect the area that the deer was standing when the shot was made.

Look for blood and hair at the scene. Lots of hair usually means a grazing shot , while a little hair means a body shot.

If there is mostly brown hair the shot was high, mostly white, the shot was low.

If there are bone fragments at the scene there is a possibility of a leg hit.

Mark this area and don't disturb it, you may have to return later.

When you find the blood trail always walk beside it, not on it, do not destroy the clues.

If you lose the blood trail , go to the spot the last blood was found an mark it.

Look for any other sign that may indicate the direction of travel of the deer (i.e. up turned leaves, broken vegetation).

Search in a circular pattern around the last spot of blood you found. If you still cannot locate the game, go get help. Every effort must be made to retrieve a wounded animal before resuming the hunt.

You cannot predict the behavior of a wounded deer. Once you start trailing, move quickly to avoid giving blood time to dry and become harder to find. Always be ready to shoot, never assume the animal is dead.

Blood Sign Heart, lung or large blood vessel hit: Fine droplets sprayed on both sides of the trail for 75 to 100 yards, sometimes several feet up on trees and vegetation. Usually a clean kill and the deer should not travel far.

Gut shot Food particles and putrid smelling blood. Blood trail is difficult to find at the location the shot was made. Bloody spots appear in about the first 50-75 yards and steadily decrease. Do not follow this deer too closely. Allow 2-3 hours before trailing. The deer will bleed to death when it beds down if you don't chase it.

Leg, back muscle, neck, or body cavity hit Large spots of blood at the spot where the animal was hit, turning to continuous drops that diminish after about 150 yards. Bleeding continues while the animal is moving but stops when the animal lies down.

numbnutz's picture

thanks for sharing

thanks for sharing

Critter done's picture

Great Point

Most of my buddies run threw it and step all over the blood trail.

ManOfTheFall's picture

Very good tips. The animal

Very good tips. The animal deserves our best try at the recovery.