During our pursuit of game, we’ll all need to track an animal leaving a less than desirable blood trail to follow, which is usually the result of a poor hit or due to conditions out of our control. It could be raining or maybe the animal just doesn’t leave a heavy blood trail to follow. So what do you do then?
Today, many hunters rely on a guide or tracking animals to assist with the recovery of game. But what if this option isn’t available? As hunters, we owe it to the game we pursue to be proficient in tracking and locating wounded or dead animals. In some cases the animal may survive, in those cases an exhaustive pursuit is in order.
I recently found myself in two such situations over the course of a single week. I was hunting wild hogs and deer at Wild Things in southern South Carolina. During my first sit, it started raining an hour before dark. Not long after the rain began, I caught movement a hundred yards or more to my left. A large sounder of hogs were making their way towards my location. I selected the largest hog, as the rain picked up, drew, and released my arrow. The shot was perfect and entered behind the last rib on a steep quartering angle, but did not pass through. I watched as the hog (a large sow) ran approximately twenty yards and stopped at the edge of the clearing. After a brief pause, she proceeded into the woods where I lost sight of her in the dwindling light.
With the rain still falling, I made a mental note of the spot she had stopped. I wanted to go straight to that location and immediately assess the situation. I arrived to find a decent amount of blood and was sure the animal had already expired. I began to follow the trail immediately, instead of the usual half hour. I found her 30 yards later. Thom arrived shortly after to look at the kill and examine the blood trail, but the rain had already washed it away in the 15 minutes it took him to get there. Experience told me to adjust to the situation and I was rewarded with a quick recovery instead of a lost animal. Fresh pork ribs were now on the menu.
I hunted a spot nearby at the end of the week. Conditions were much better, as it had been dry for several days. I’d seen a small buck an hour into the sit, but little else until the light began to fade. I’d just started collecting my gear when the subtle sound of hoofs interrupted me. I picked up my longbow and waited, but it was getting darker by the minute. The steps grew increasingly closer until I could make out a large form moving to my left. Then a large boar exited the brush below me several yards from my stand. I closed my eyes tightly, hoping my dilating pupils would make use of what little light remained. I remember finding his front leg and feeling my back muscles tighten as I drew my bow. The longbow thumped with the release of the string and I heard the arrow strike the large boar with a wet “thud”. The boar turned inside out and tore out of the area leaving nothing but rattling palmetto leaves in its wake. When the rattling subsided, the woods fell silent.
I climbed down and looked for my arrow, but was unable to find it. I picked my way through the palmettos until I found blood, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I decided it best to give him time to expire and headed back to camp.
Two hours later, I returned with help, and picked up the trail. It was as weak as when I left it, which was disappointing. We proceeded down the trail, marking every drop of blood with toilet paper. This would determine the path the animal had taken and serve as a reference should we decide to stop that evening. After one hour of searching, and over four-hundred yards traveled, we decided to halt the search until morning and avoid encountering a large wounded boar in the dark.
Thom and I spent several minutes searching for the arrow the following morning, but to no avail. We then retraced our steps from the previous night to review the blood trail. While we found blood we missed the night before, the trail was still less than satisfactory. We pressed on and, after about a half mile, found the arrow broke in two. Having shed the arrow, I was hoping the trail would improve. That wasn’t the case. In fact, the blood was becoming less frequent and harder to find. We soon found ourselves on hand and knees, spraying Hydrogen Peroxide on anything that resembled blood.
We had traveled well over a mile in thick cover when we decided to give up on the hog. I was disappointed, but also confident he’d survived. I replayed the shot over-and-over in my head and concluded I must have shot high. I was sure I hit the boar above the vitals, resulting in some bleeding, but little else.
As I sat in my stand later that afternoon the one positive thought that came to mind was this; we had tracked that boar hundreds of yards, following specs of blood the size of a period at the end of a sentence, and even picked through a floor of pine needles with peroxide. Many would have given up or abandoned the trail long before that. This brought me comfort and planted the seed to pen this article. I also came up with a list of the top 5 rules for blood trailing an animal.