Bare-ground tracking

Tracking a buck without snow can be very challenging and difficult. Hunters must follow some simple rules to insure they stand the best chance to find their animal.

Hunting with a bow puts an extra amount of responsibility on the hunter.

Even a well-hit deer can be devilishly hard to find. Many times, even on a well hit deer, the blood trail can be very slight, the chest cavity having to fill with blood before it flows out the wound channel.

Every precaution must be taken after you’ve shot to give yourself the best opportunity to find the animal.

What steps should you always follow after firing at an animal with any weapon? A responsible hunter needs to be disciplined and remember to always follow a few simple rules to ensure he or she is being fair to the animal and to the ethics he or she should hold.

After you’ve fired, especially if there is no snow, it’s important to mark the exact spot you shot from if on the ground. Use a Kleenex, glove, hat or piece of plastic tape and hang it in a tree. In fact, carry tape with you.

Next, on the ground or in your stand, look closely for a stump, an odd shaped tree, fallen limb, log or some other easily remembered landmark where the deer was standing when you fired.

Keep your eyes fixed on that exact area and mark that spot. This is critical.

If you’re an archery hunter, you may have to wait some time, depending on your shot placement, to actually hang your ribbon. Your buck may only have run a short distance before lying down and you don’t want to spook him by walking forward.

A deer hit in the liver seldom travels far before lying down, but may take some time to expire. Whatever you do, don’t spook him out of this bed, he can go 200 yards or more if you do, making it very difficult if not impossible to find him.

As a general rule of thumb, wait an hour on a great hit and two hours on a liver hit. Don’t wait overnight; your venison may be spoiled by then.

If the deer is safely out of sight, you may wish to quietly and stealthily sneak out of your stand and return later, but, be positive you remember his location when you fired and where he was last seen. Immediately mark those locations on your return.

If the animal reacts to being hit, flinched, jumped or kicked, begin searching in the direction the animal ran if you don’t find tracks or a blood trail at first. Attempt to find your arrow and check it for hair and blood.

REMEMBER, deer don’t always bleed at first, even when hard hit. After 50 or so, look back at your ribbon to establish the direction the animal is traveling. If you can’t find a sign quickly, return to your last marker and make sure you were searching the correct area.

It is easy to be mistaken, especially if you’re in thicker cover. If on a blood trail, continue marking the trail so your ribbons are in sight of each other.

These markers, though simple, are critical to finding your animal. I know one hunter and his guide who lost a moose, yes, a MOOSE, in a large brush covered clear-cut simply because they did not mark the spot they had shot from.

It was a long shot and, in the excitement, and unable to walk directly toward the animal because of the tall, thick brush, saplings, logs and old tree tops, they became confused where the moose had fallen. Everything looked the same.

Because they hadn’t marked the spot from which the hunter fired, they were unable to return to the spot he had shot from, making it impossible to line things up again and though they searched for hours, they couldn’t locate the moose.

But, hopefully you’ve been wiser, and since you marked the spot from which you shot and carefully fixed the location the animal was standing when you fired and was last seen, you now have a base for your search. Simply finding the blood trail may be all you need to do to find your quarry.

If the blood trail is slight, marking the trail every 30 yards or so will help determine the animal’s direction of travel. If you run out of sign, mark the last tracks or blood and search carefully in the direction the animal was headed.

But remember, many deer I’ve followed many times turn sharply to the sides, 90 degrees, many times and especially just before they drop, not making your job any easier.

No luck? You will need to circle your last marker until you find more sign, but don’t mess the area up, hiding tiny drops perhaps.

If you need help, return with friends. Lining five or six of your buddies up and searching in the animals last known direction for 300 to 400 yards should find a mortally hit deer. If you cannot find the animal, you will at least have the peace of mind that you did all that was possible and hope the wound was a slight one, the deer escaping to live another day.

Good hunting, and don’t lose that hard-hit trophy simply because you didn’t follow a few simple steps that can spell the difference between success or bitter failure.

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