There are many important points to keep in mind when tracking arrowed game. A bowhunter’s eyes can easily be fooled as to the exact location of a hit since most shots are taken in low-light situations. The eyes can easily be fooled even in bright sunshine. Since the reflexes of big-game animals are so quick, the animals will often begin reacting before the arrow even reaches them. The eyes can also be mistaken as to whether an arrow hit the animal at all since you can lose sight of your arrow and sometimes animals give no indication that they have been hit.
You should always assume that the arrow scored. Unless you actually saw the animal collapse, wait at least 30 minutes and quietly search the entire area for your arrow and/or blood sign. It is extremely important to mark the exact spot where the animal was standing the moment the arrow was released. You can use nearby vegetation or trees to help you get a good mark. Wounded animals usually will lay down within several hundred yards. It’s important not to move for at least 30 minutes after the shot because you could push him from his bed if you rush the tracking job.
Quietly move to where the animal was standing when you shot. If you find the arrow, ideally it will be covered in fresh blood, indicating you hit a major organ. If you can’t find the arrow, don’t spend too long looking for it. It could be buried under the grass and leaves or still in the animal. If you don’t see blood right away, that’s okay, too. Bleeding doesn’t usually start until the animal has taken a few bounds and the heart is pumping harder.
If you hit a major organ, you should see blood within 20 yards. You’ll see the blood best on dead leaves and rocks. It’s more difficult to spot in the dirt or green leaves. Tracking across a corn field can be quite challenging. Look on brush and trees for blood as well since it won’t just be on the ground. Bring fluorescent tape to mark the first blood evidence. You’ll be happy you did if the animal changed directions or doubles back. You’ll also be glad you marked the blood trail if you’re unfamiliar with the area or are tracking after dark.
Ideally, you’ll hit both lungs of an animal with your arrow. Animals usually only live a few seconds with a hole through both lungs, but can travel a long distance with one lung. Either way, with a lung shot, the blood trail will be constant. It’s a good idea to only take high percentage shots and try to connect with the lower portion of the chest to maximize chances of complete arrow penetration.
Where legal, it’s a good idea to use a good cold-trail dog. They have an incredible sense of smell and can help you in the toughest of tracking situations. Dogs are especially useful when there is little or no blood to follow or when rain washes away blood and tracks.
As bowhunters, we owe it to the animals to spend as much time recovering the game as we do shooting the game. If you hit an animal, put all your know-how together and track it down. A successful blood trailing job is a very rewarding part of the hunt. Remember, keep your blood-trailing skills sharp and never push an animal that may not be down!