After The Shot – Blood in motion a forensic guide to blood tracking

After the Shot

Blood in Motion – A Forensic Guide to Blood Tracking

It takes a lot of work to set up and execute a hunt, but what happens after the shot will determine if the hunt is truly a success.

You scouted and set up stands. Sighted in you guns and bows. Maybe planted a food plot and even hauled bait into the woods. Hard work to say the least and finally the animal comes in and the shot is made. How long will the trail take you? Will you find the animal? Understanding how to track and find blood can make the difference between having meat and a trophy to show for all the hard work that you have put in or nothing at all.

You make a plan when you hunt to increase your chance of success. If you track with out a plan your chances of success is greatly reduced.

Blood Detection Products

My business in selling blood detection products to law enforcement has giving me a lot of information on what to look for and what a blood trail tells about the hit. I am called to many deer trails after all hope seems to be lost because many people know I can find blood that can not be seen. Not understanding a blood trail can be misleading to the hunter. Just because there is lots of blood does not mean the shot is mortal just as not being able to see the blood does not mean the animal is not dead.

Animal Reaction After the Shot

What we look for is reaction of the animal and the blood pattern. Together this information will give us a better under standing on how to prepare our recovery. As a general rule animals do not bleed to death as an animal that is #160 pounds live weight must lose 45+ ounces to die from blood loss alone. Animals will die faster from trauma than blood loss and a combination of both is by far the best.

Most animals can travel very fast when wounded deer can hit 35 mph and even if they die fast they can travel a long distance. A wounded animal will not go far unless it is pushed or sees movement. Sit still for at least a half-hour or you will make the tracking more difficult. Now that multiple tags are common this will also give you a chance to get another animal, if you shot a large buck it is still possible there is a larger one is close behind it. Most animals travel in loose groups the animals behind can help by showing you where the wounded animal traveled by its actions. Spooking these animals will remove helpful clues to the whereabouts of your trophy and may cause a second opportunity to be wasted.

Pay attention to the reaction, as this is your first clue to helping you know how to find the animal. The reaction can be deceiving but it is still important. I have shot deer and had them look at me like nothing happened only to watch them fall over. I have had many hunters tell me they knocked the animal down and all of a sudden it jumped up and ran off but it left lots of blood.

Muscle Hits Create a Lot of Blood

This is the one that I hate to hear the most. First of all body shots that do impact the neck or spine rarely make animals drop and if the neck or spine is hit they usually become disabled and can not get up. The clues of the dropped and got up and there was lots of blood tell me it was most likely a leg or low shoulder hit. The falling down as the leg was broken, lots of blood meaning a muscle hit. Muscle hits leave lots of blood in the beginning which last about 100 yards and fades fast there will be lots of large spots of blood as the animal stands often and will lean against trees. Even with 1 or 2 legs missing or broken an animal can run very fast.

No Visible Blood Trail

I have had a lot of people tell me. I thought I hit it but there was no blood. Any time there is a wounded animal there is blood even if it can not bee seen. Blood droplets, which are forced out of the body by gunfire, are called a high velocity impact splatter pattern. It can be smaller than 1 mm in the beginning of the trail. Shots taken with a bow are medium impact blood splatter patterns and will leave droplets around 3 mm in size. Both can be hard to see even in the snow. So trust your instinct and follow the trail the deer took. If it was hit the blood will appear soon. If this is a lung hit it can take time for the body cavity to fill and blood to become forced out. Also animals may run in the beginning of the trail this will cause blood trails to be harder to see as the blood is spread over a larger distance. If there is no visible blood trail wait and let the animal lay down it will not go far and should die quickly. When the animal runs the blood pattern is harder to see as the blood trail is spread over a longer distance but they will not run unless pushed.

Gut, Lung and Quartering Shots

Another reaction that is common is the hind leg kick, this reaction shows the animal was hit farther back most likely a gut shot. The blood pattern will be very important even more important will be the color of the blood or any thing else found on the trail. Darker blood is stomach or liver. A liver shot is always fatal but is still a poor shot. Green matter or food is from 1 of the 4 stomachs a fatal shot but will most likely take till the next day or later to die. Give this animal at least 3 hours and follow up in the daytime after placing hunters ahead and push the animal to the standers and shoot it again. Any time there is dark blood wait 3 hours to track.

The double lung shot is the best percentage shot it will cause massive internal bleeding and drowning causing death within 150 yards. This shot will start out with little blood and will increase as the animal starts blowing blood out the mouth and nose.

Quartering away shots cause the most damage as the projectile will travel more distance through the body and gives a better chance of becoming fatal. Shots from a raised area will give a better blood trail as the exit hole will be lower and allow blood to leave the body cavity in greater volume.

Shooting for the flag is the worst shot ever leaving only a wounded animal or spoiled meat. If the shot hits the back of the thigh it will bleed well but will not die soon as the muscle will tighten up and help stop the bleeding. An animal shot in the anus will spread bacteria all over the insides and will be worst if the bladder is also hit. This type shot requires the animal to be cleaned immediately and thoroughly washed out.

So I have a wounded animal now what?

Much time is spent looking on the ground but little looking at the brush where more than half the blood is brush can reveal how high or low the shot hit helping in the recovery plans. No hunter should be with out a compass. Use it to get a bearing on the trail taken using a marker like a unique tree to track to. Working in pairs is the best. Have one tracker circle ahead 75 to 100 yards in case the animal is alive. Then have the second person take the trail. Repeat this until the animal is recovered. Remember to be safe when tracking. All animals are dangerous when wounded. Proper gun handling and line of fire rules must be followed to avoid injury.

Timing is very important. Tracking too soon is the main reason mortally wounded animals travel a long distance and make recovery difficult or impossible. Tracking to slow will cause the meat to spoil. Reading the clues properly will make the difference in how good the meat taste since recovery shortly after death is important.

Meat with a gamey taste can be caused by slow recovery, not cleaning properly or hanging in warm weather.

Adrenaline runs high after the shot and humans have a hard time controlling it. Relax, breath deep and take a few moments to reflect about what happened. The beginning of the trail is the most important place to get the facts of what happened and how to proceed.

First thing we do at a crime scene is cordon off the area this keeps people from altering evidence. Then we use only a few people to process the scene – again to keep from altering or destroying the evidence. Walking on the trail will transfer the blood pattern from its original spot to some where else or destroy it completely. Never more than 3 on a trail unless it is hopeless to recover with out extra people. Mark the trail as you progress this will give you a travel pattern to study for clues.

Unless the animal drops within sight, no trail should be taken with in 30 minutes. The animal you just shot will be looking at the spot where it was wounded to see what happened. It will lay down soon and try to lick or heal the wound usually with in 40 yards if there is cover. Do you want to turn a 40-yard trail into a 400-yard trail?

Many times I am asked to follow a blood trail that had a small amount of blood that suddenly had twice as much blood then nothing. This usually means the animal has turned 180 degrees and walk over the same trail twice and then cut off at a 45 or 90 degree angle after it decided the trail it was following was not safe.

Blood Clues

The blood left on the ground or brush is important as it can tell much about the wound. Bright red or pink is artery or lung shot. Many animal trails I have done are shot low in the shoulder or leg and there are large amounts of blood. The blood is slightly darker with a very narrow trail 4 to 8 inches in width. This animal will need a second shot. Make plan to get a person ahead to dispatch the animal. Trails of blood 2 plus feet wide are complete pass threw shots and increase recovery greatly. Blood trails that have squirts of blood on the side of the trail 2 feet or more are arterial shots in the neck, heart or other major artery time should be taken to track to let it bleed out. Brown or greenish blood or blood with green or brown matter is always a gut shot or liver both will need extra time before recovery. The liver shot will kill faster but may take 2 hours or more. Blood with green matter is a 5 or 6 hour wait to track. The tracker should attempt to put a shooter ahead to dispatch the animal after waiting 2 to 3 hours to kill it if it is still alive.

Many visual blood trails disappear when the heart stops and the blood pressure drops as the blood is no longer being forced out of the body. Most animals can still travel 30 to 45 seconds before dropping which is 65+ yards after the heart stops and the blood trail will be almost impossible to see with out blood tracking aids. Bluestar® will come in handy as the animal will be close by but may not be seen because of terran or brush.

If all options have been used and there is no recovery many times I have found animals with in 40 to 50 yards of the stand dead after running 250-300 yards in a long arching circle. Always down wind trying to get back to the spot they were safe in before the shot. Knowing the bedding areas helps a lot if you can not find the animal.

Any time an animal is wounded there is blood every where it goes it is the trackers responsibility to find it. There are tools we can use in tracking. Dogs are now legal in many states and are a great tool if there is no rain or snow.

Most people do not have dogs or the time to train one or the money to pay a dog tracker. Fees vary but usually end up around $150.00. Lights made for finding blood do not work very well as blood absorbs light. Regardless of what you see on TV law enforcement do not use lights to find blood. There are a few luminol-based products (Tink’s® and Bluestar®) that make blood glow in the dark. I prefer Bluestar® because it was first made for forensic use.

The inventor Dr. Loïc J. BLUM, with a Ph.D. in chemiluminescience has perfected the mixture making it the easiest and strongest blood finder in the world used in over 70 countries by law enforcement and hunters alike.

Bluestar® picks up hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the cells. Hemoglobin contains iron, which is a basic element of earth, which is next to impossible to destroy with out fire.

Much time was spent to produce a product that the investigator would need little or no training and could tell the difference between blood and other items containing iron so if encountering bleach or plants containing iron there would be 2 completely different reactions.

Being sold in tablets that you add to water this is the best tracking agent on the market today. At a cost of $19.95 to track 4 animals cost is not an issue. You can usually cover 100 yards in 10 minutes or less. The time saved will be worth the money spent.

Small and lightweight and sold in 4 packs giving the hunter plenty to do even the longest trails. With out weighing the tracker down. Bluestar® also will work well in evergreens and moss because the reaction with blood is so much different from false positives that any one can tell the difference. Bluestar® was made for law enforcement to find blood amounts so small the DNA profile can not be done. Even in the crime scene, clothing or items have been cleaned over and over will still glow bright blue were blood was present.

Many times the hunter can not find the beginning of the trail. Before you leave the stand use a waypoint to know where the animal was standing when the shot was taken. A compass is perfect for this using a marker such as a tree to find the spot.

Many times I use Bluestar only to find the start of the blood trail. To do this spray while walking across the trail as soon as you find the blood see if you can follow it with your eyes if not continue to use the Bluestar®. Lots of times I use it to regain a trail when an animal changes terrain going from leaf litter to grass fields for example.

Bluestar® will work in the rain or snow making it a perfect complement to even the best trackers fanny pack.

You will learn a lot about trailing when using Bluestar® since you will see the whole trail every time you use it and can key in on the evidence the blood trail leaves.

Since it glows in the dark, bright blue, color blind and people of advanced age can follow the trail with out any help. No glasses or lights are needed just water and a spray bottle. Water can be taken from streams, lakes, and ponds along with any tap, bottled water or in extreme cold you can use window washer solvent.

Another advantage of Bluestar® is total darkness is not needed just low light after shooting hours end. Mix a set of tablets in a sprayer and spray on the ground where the animal was standing and if the animal was hit there will be a bright blue glow. I do not always do the whole trail only in the spots where blood is not visible.

Blood is easily transferred from one place to another so stay off the trail or you will leave footprints of blood all over the woods. There will be a unbroken trail of blood were the animal went when using Bluestar®. If you just find blood spots here and there, these are transfer patterns made by people and animals walking on the blood trail. Blood will last for a very long time. There has been a forensic study on civil war sniper holes at the Shriver house museum in Gettysburg PA with blood found after 143 years. Blood will last in the woods for months but there is a big difference in the brightness between old trails and new ones. Blood on the hands of a hunter after gutting an animal with out gloves will remain for weeks no matter how well the hunter washes. This is used all the time in murder cases.

Last but not least use trail markers. This will help if you need to leave the trail for any reason and will help anyone who is trying to join later on find the trackers. This also give a pattern of travel which most likely will be a arch traveling back to the bedding area down wind of the stand. Bedding areas are thick with a good view and take advantage of wind direction. Which provide a perfect area for a wounded animal to try and recover.

So no matter what happens before or after the shot there are tools that cost very little and will save lots of time. By using these tools we can be more ethical, save time and have more enjoyable hunting experiences.

For more info on Bluestar® go to

You can call Jerry any time on his cell phone if you need help figuring out a trail. 1-269-579-1965 Toll free.

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