Recovering Wounded Animals – Part II
The shot looked good. The arrow was slick with blood from head to vanes. Judd gets me on the place where he took the shot, 33-yards and I find blood where he saw the deer last. It has been 12-minutes since he shot. Game on.
I am the lead Judd is in the wing. I can see blood for several yards and we walk slowly but steadily. I do not want this buck to lie down. My thinking, with which Judd concurs, is to push him steadily. Judd, as am I, is a guide and outfitter. He has trailed more animals than most people have ever seen. Here is why we don’t want him to lie down.
What is the first thing an EMT tells an accident victim? Lie down do not move. Good advice when trying to save a life. It is also the opposite of what you want when you are trying to recover a wounded animal. Just think about it. You want them to bleed out, not clot up. You do not want them resting.
As long as I can see a blood trail, providing I can determine the wound is at least potentially fatal, I want that deer moving and bleeding. That philosophy has enabled me to recover many animals that I am sure I would otherwise have lost. I do not want a deer to bed down, rest, have the wound clot up and stop bleeding and then, the animal gets up and moves, leaving no blood trail. This is especially true of a gut shot deer.
Some years ago in South Dakota, I shot an antelope with a bow. I knew it was a high, single lung hit. The outfitter, forbid me to push the animal. So I didn’t. Instead, I watched him through binos and a spotting scope. I watched him bed down, watched him get up two hours later and the next day, watched him calmly feed within 50-yards of where I shot him.
Had I pushed him, pushed him steadily, I feel sure I could have recovered him. I could have collapsed that single lung and he probably would have died.
What about a non-fatal hit like a nothing brisket or a leg? Those wounds bleed like the devil but they are seldom fatal and if you push an animal with a wound like that, they may just leave the country simply because they just are not hit hard enough to slow them down. Those animals I will let lie down. Perhaps I can slip up and get a second shot. Perhaps they will stiffen up and do something stupid.
I need, almost must have, a good idea on where the hit is. Hair color is some indicator however, the best is blood and hunter information when they are calm and can logically replay the hit with a bow and sight picture with a firearm. I want them to describe animal reaction and body posture. I want to know speed and if they are moving fluidly or jerkily. I want to know if they left the way they came in or took a different route. I have to judge if they (the animal) is thinking or reacting or in a blind panic. Then, I start the trail
Blood trails do not always start immediately. Frequently, an animal may travel some distance before the first blood is found. That is why it is so important for the shooter to take special pains to mark where the animal was standing when shot and where he was last seen. That is also, why it is important for the shooter to give directions from the stand, not on the ground. Things look considerably different from ground level. I always try to mark at least three landmarks that I can find from the ground.
A wounded animal may do anything. I have found them in ponds, creeks, hidden in brush piles and lying in plain sight. I have had them double back, follow clear trails, turn off clear trails and take two steps and fall over. I recall a nice bull elk that ran 20-yards when shot with an arrow and then start browsing. After a few seconds, he just fell over. I have had bear run 200-yards and never bleed a drop and I had a poorly shot whitetail doe pour blood as if from a bucket. She bled out in less than 30-seconds.
As the head trailer slowly works a faint trail, the wingman slowly works the sides. More than a few times, the wing will pick up the trail. A wounded animal does not always know where it is going when it runs. That is why logic may not work in unraveling a trail. The wing looks for the illogical move, the, "Why in the heck did he do that?" Last fall I shot a doe with my rifle. It was a good shot at 60-yards. She ran 50-yards, jumped a fence and ran another 50 yards. Then, she turned around, ran back, jumped the same fence and ran 50-yards. She, then, turned 90-degrees, ran 50-yards and jumped another fence, made a big circle, jumped the same fence and dropped within 30-yards of where she was shot. I sat in the stand and watched it all. From the same stand, during muzzle loading season, I shot another doe in about the same place. She turned and walked straight toward me and fell dead almost under my stand tree.
I use a trailing stick most of the time. I invented the name but not the device. That is simply a short, stiff stick, I use an old arrow that I can use to point out something, lift up a branch or turn a leaf. So much sign is found on the underside of things, I cannot imagine not having my trailing stick. An animal moving through thick brush will leave as much blood on the underside of hanging branches, as it will on the ground. Double that for grown up fields. Always look on the underside of fences at likely crossings. Quite often, a wounded animal will walk some distance to cross a fence where they can crawl under or where the wire is lower. The stick or arrow in my case, allows you to turn things over without disturbing what is close to it.
What is the shooter’s duty in recovering an animal? First, he must be sure of the shot point of impact and the angle of the shot. That gives the trailer an idea of wound severity. Second, he must be 100% sure of where the animal was standing when shot. Third where the animal was seen last. However, I have seen many instances when none of that was available. That is when it gets tough.
You have a general idea of where the animal was. You start by looking in the most logical places for the shot-openings between trees etc. You look for scuffed leaves or thrown debris. In snow, this is relatively easy and the same is true on deep leaves or mud. On hard, open ground, it can be tough especially with a gun. I once shot a bull elk across a narrow canyon. My hunting partner, Mike Gabbell and I, totally disagreed on where I shot the bull. We were almost 100-yards apart in location. It turned out we were both wrong. However, we did find the bull because we could agree on where it ran.
I especially like veteran, women hunters to work the wing and sometimes even take the lead in blood trailing. There are two main reasons. Once you get them calmed and started, they are more meticulous than many men are and they will work much slower. I cannot stress enough how important it is to work slowly when the trail is faint or lost. Inches at a time on hands and knees are the ways to do it.
When on a trail, always be conscious of birds in the distance making a racket or scolding. The same is true of squirrels. Obviously, on a two-day, trail, you keep an eye out for scavengers and buzzards. Though the meat may be lost, there is satisfaction in finding and saving the antlers. By the way, it is a personal call but even if I can’t save the meat, I tag the carcass. I feel it is just the right thing to do. I found a buck in WY two days after I shot it. Oddly enough, it was a good shot, double lungs and it was relatively open country. The shot was 43-yards with a compound bow and the arrow went all the way through. He just made a move or two we could not decipher. So I ate the tag instead of the tenderloins.
Animals shot late in the day, just at dark, I often leave until the next morning. This is especially true if it is cold and I feel the meat will keep. Obviously, if I have a big blood trail that I can easily see by lantern light, I keep going. But if it starts to weaken, in most cases, I back off and wait for morning. Bumbling around in the dark is a good way to ruin what trail you may have.
Of course, impending weather such as rain or snow must be factored in as must scavengers. In one area of Manitoba, the coyotes are so bad, if the animal is not found within an hour or so, they get it all. You can’t even drag one to the roadside and leave while you get the truck.
Blood trailing is a jigsaw puzzle. You keep putting pieces together. Almost any hunter can follow a clear blood trail. It takes experience to "work" the tough trails. The more you do of it, the better you get. I was taught at an early age, the basics. Through the years, for me, it became almost a passion to the extent I would travel quite some distance to work a tough trail. Often, I would get calls to "come help".
About 20-years ago, I met a young man who showed some interest in learning about blood trailing. I worked with him on several trails. Showed him what I was doing and why. I have heard he is coming along well. As it is with hunting in general, blood trailing is an art that needs to be passed on. After all, it is the second most important part of big game hunting.
In part one, I discuss the basics of tracking wounded animals.
If a trail goes under a fence, always…always give it a good look including the underside of the wire.
I found this WY buck after two days of looking. He just kept doing the "wrong" things and had me literally going in circles. I tagged him anyway.