Two things are a must have when having to recover an arrow shot deer that does not drop within eye sight. They are patience that comes naturally, and the skill to blood trail a deer that only comes with practice. In a nutshell, the more patient that you are, the longer you will wait before beginning to follow the trail which translates to doing whatever is necessary to find your deer even if it means crawling on your hands and knees. All this means the more success you have at recovering the deer.

I am willing to bet that almost any bowhunter you talk to has lost a deer or two if that person has hunted for any amount of time. One of the biggest reasons hunters fail to recover their arrow hit deer is because they take up the trail too soon, and they do not have the knowledge to properly trail a deer.
Blood trails are not created equal, but the same basic techniques to follow a trail can be used for all circumstances.
You were born with five senses. It is important to employ all of them, except for tasting, when blood trailing a deer. Do not walk throughout the woods hoping to luck into finding your animal. Keep your search area to where the blood trail is. By noticing the direction the pointed edges of the blood drops point will indicate the deer’s direction of travel.
Do not focus only on blood and miss other good sign that is left behind. Disturbed leaves and soil, broken limbs and tracks also help in the recovery process. Study the track of the deer you are following and memorize it. It should be second nature to be able to distinguish that track from the recovery process. Another good tool to have is to be able to notice ants, flies and other insects that have gathered together. These critters often accumulate on blood along the trail that is so small that hunters often overlook it.
Unfortunately, hunters shoot a deer in the paunch, and this requires waiting several hours before picking up the blood trail. This is when the hunter should look and listen for buzzards, crows and jays that might have recovered your animal before you. I have had coyotes find my deer first, so I always keep an ear open for them as well. It does not take long for a coyote to find a deer either. I have had coyotes on a deer within twenty minutes of being shot. Listen for a deer bounding off that you might have jumped, and also for a deer gasping for a breath or struggled movements.
Smelling your arrow will help you recognize where the deer was hit. A gut shot deer will leave an arrow that smells as if it passed through the intestines.
The main thing that must be done when tracking a deer is to stay diligent in the task at hand. This is the most valuable tool to be successful in finding an arrow shot deer.
Wherever you might shoot a deer, there are telltale signs that will help you find the animal. These signs are the sound of the hit, how the deer reacts, what the arrow looks like and the appearance of the blood trail.
A deer hit in the lungs will sound as if it was just hit with a wooden bat hitting a green tree when the arrow impacts. Expect the deer to take off on a run with it tail tucked between its legs and its body low to the ground, not caring what it crashes through. At times the deer will kick up its back legs when the arrow hits. The arrow will have bright pink/red blood with small bubbles the entire length of the arrow. Any hair from the deer will be brown with black tips. Do not expect to see a lot of blood for the first 30 yards or so. When you start to see blood it will look just as it did on the arrow. Keep in mind though that sometimes the deer may only bleed internally, and leave very little blood. The deer should not go more than 150 yards after you wait one hour before picking up the trail.
A heart shot will sound the same as a lung shot deer and the run will appear the same, often called the “death run”. Hair left on the arrow will be brown to gray in color. The blood trail will appear the same minus the bubbles. Again, wait one hour and go find your deer.
The sound of a deer shot in the liver will sound the same as a lung and heart shot deer, but the animal will trot a short distance then begin to slowly walk away, stopping from time to time. At times the deer’s back will be hunched and its tail will twitch. Look for thick, dark red blood on the arrow with medium length brown/gray hair. There will not be much dark red blood on the ground. The deer is not likely to go more than 200 yards if not pushed and might even head towards water. After 4 hours of being patient, take up the trail.
A gut shot deer is a hunter’s worst nightmare and it can prove difficult to recover the animal, but it can and often is done when pursued correctly. An arrow striking a deer in the paunch will sound as a hollow thump like a wooden bat hitting a dry, hollow log. The deer will trot off with hunched back and will slow to a steady, slow pace. Sometimes the tail twitches. The arrow will have small amounts of watery blood with brown stomach contents. The arrow will smell of stomach contents. A high hit will leave medium-length, brownish gray hair on the arrow. With a mid-level hit, lighter brown hair and a low hit will leave white hair on the arrow.
After twelve hours of waiting you will find small amounts of watery blood with brown stomach contents on the trail with a distinctive smell. A deer can travel a few hundred yards before bedding. If the deer is not bumped it will die where it first bedded. This is why important to wait twelve hours. A jumped deer that has been shot in the paunch might never be found.
If you follow this advice almost any deer is recoverable. Just remember to be patient and persistent on your next blood trailing job.


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Jason Houser
Jason Houser is an avid traditional bowhunter from Central Illinois who killed his first deer when he was nine years old. A full-time freelance writer since 2008, he has written for numerous national hunting magazines. Jason has hunted big game in 12 states with his bow, but his love will always be white-tailed deer and turkeys. He considers himself lucky to have a job he loves and a family who shares his passion for the outdoors. Jason writes full time and is on the pro staff of two archery companies; in his free time, he fishes and traps as much as possible.