The only thing more disappointing than missing the perfect shot at a once in a lifetime trophy is making the shot but being unable to recover the trophy due to poor tracking skills. But tracking your wild game is about more than simply recovering a trophy. If you cannot track an animal after the shot then you are wasting that animal and depriving other hunters of their own possibility to harvest it instead. Recovering every animal possible is your responsibility as an ethical hunter.
Start at the beginning
One of the biggest mistakes poor trackers make is trying to anticipate what a wounded animal will do and going to where they think it will be rather that following it to where it actually is. The only true method of finding a wounded animal is to follow it from the point where it was shot with your rifle or crossbow to where it expires or beds too weak and exhausted to continue. This means your start where the shot was made, follow to the point you lost sight and then continue to follow it until you find it. Doing anything else is like reading book by starting at chapter 10.
Blood tells the tale
The first step to tracking a wounded animal is determining how seriously injured the animal may be. This not only tells you how far it may go but also provides insight into how long you should wait to start tracking it. If you start too early it is likely you will continue to spook the animal pushing it from hide to hide and unnecessarily extending the track. The blood you find at the point of impact is the first clue you will have.
|Blood Appearance||Injury Type||Wait Time Before Tracking|
|Pink, Frothy||Lung||30 minutes to 1 hour|
|Dark Red||Liver or Kidney||2 to 3 hours|
|Bright Red||Large Tissue Area||3 hours or more|
As you begin tracking your target you will also need to evaluate the blood trail itself. How much blood you observe, and where along the trail, will provide additional clues for you to follow.
|Blood Pattern||Clue it provides|
|Heavy spray on both sides of trail||Major pass through injury, extensive injury|
|Heavy spray on one side of trail||Major injury without a pass through, not immediately fatal|
|Droplets that increase as trail grows||Internal bleeding with increased sigh as body cavity fills|
|Heavy blood on passing brush etc.||Hit high on body, large wound but not likely any organs|
Once you have identified the type of blood present and the spray pattern you will have a better idea of the injury type and pattern to search for. Continue looking for this pattern and any changes which may indicate a change in behavior. If you see an increase in visible blood chances are the bleeding has intensified and your trophy should be close. A decrease in blood or signs the animal has bedded and move again indicates a less serious wound and you may need to back off, giving it more time to succumb.
Good luck and good hunting!